New research led by scientists at Leeds University in the United Kingdom suggests that a diet rich in legumes and fish may put off the natural onset of menopause, while foods rich in carbohydrates may accelerate it.

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Legumes — such as beans, peas, and lentils — may delay the onset of menopause, suggests a new study.

The age at which a person experiences their menopause can impact their health in various ways.

In fact, in addition to the inability to become pregnant, premature menopause (or getting menopause before 40) or early menopause (occurring at ages 40–45) can bring with it numerous complications.

A loss of bone density, a higher risk of heart disease, and a loss of sexual desire are only some of the consequences of premature or early menopause.

Experiencing one’s menopause at a later age, on the other hand, might have some health benefits. For instance, a recent study suggested that a later menopause onset might keep cognitive decline at bay in senior women.

Given these health effects, knowing which factors influence the onset of menopause is important.

This is what prompted Yashvee Dunneram, who is a researcher at the School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, and colleagues to conduct a study on the link between diet and menopause onset.

Their findings were published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Dunneram and colleagues examined the data available from the UK Women’s Cohort Study — a survey of over 35,000 British-based women aged between 35 and 69.

In addition to information about the age at which these women got their menopause, the study included information on potential confounding factors such as weight and reproductive history, physical activity levels, and hormone replacement therapy use.

Using the data drawn from food frequency questionnaires, the researchers were able to estimate the daily intake of 217 food items that the participants consumed.

Of all the women, 914 experienced menopause naturally between the ages of 40 and 65.

On average, the age at which the women got their menopause was 51, and the study found that certain food items were linked with the timing of this onset.

Specifically, each portion of carbohydrates, such as pasta and rice, consumed per day correlated with experiencing menopause 1.5 years earlier.

By contrast, for each daily portion of fish and fresh legumes, such as peas and beans, the delay in menopause onset was of over 3 years. Additionally, a higher daily consumption of vitamin B-6 and zinc was also associated with later menopause.

When comparing vegetarians with meat eaters, the researchers found that eating meat was linked with a 1-year delay in menopause onset.

Among women who had not had any children, a higher intake of grapes and poultry was linked with later menopause.

As Dunneram and her colleagues conclude:

Our findings confirm that diet may be associated with the age at natural menopause. This may be relevant at a public health level since age at natural menopause may have implications on future health outcomes.”

This was an observational study, so it cannot explain causality. However, the scientists speculate on some potential mechanisms behind the associations that they found.

Their explanation involves reactive oxygen species, which are free radicals, or oxygen-containing molecules believed to damage our DNA.

The maturation of eggs and their release, says the team, are affected negatively by reactive oxygen species. But legumes contain antioxidants, which might counter these negative effects and delay the onset of menopause.

Also, omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in oily fish, are thought to trigger antioxidant activity within the human body.

By contrast, refined carbs are thought to be a risk factor for insulin resistance, which, in turn, may increase estrogen production, leading to an early menopause onset.