Menopause describes the changes women go through before and after menstrual cycles. This ultimately marks the end of the reproductive period, in which the ability to have children is over.
While menopause is a normal and healthy part of aging, it can come prematurely. This can be dangerous for women's health and increase the risk of medical conditions.
However, there is an ongoing body of research that suggests diet may play a role in delaying menopause. Find out which foods may be most beneficial to do so.
What Is a "Normal" Menopause?
Most women experience menopause around age 50. But the actual transition, known as perimenopause, occurs around age 40. During perimenopause, the ovaries start to decline in function and lesser amounts of estrogen and progesterone are produced.
An egg is no longer released consistently each month and women start experiencing variances in menstrual cycles. Additional signs and symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, and mood changes.
While the transition and change are considered to be normal, some women may experience premature menopause. The premature transition is diagnosed if a woman develops menopause before the age of 40. About 1 in 100 women have menopause before the age of 40 according to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). The cause is not well-understood and warrants a thorough evaluation.
Menopause can also be the result of medical conditions and treatments, including a hysterectomy. Radiation, chemotherapy, and certain medications can induce menopause. A rarer condition, known as primary ovarian insufficiency, likewise disrupts normal periods in women aged 40 or younger. A blood test may report signs of menopause and of very few eggs left in the ovaries.
Premature or early menopause increases the risk of long-term health consequences according to published research in Maturitas. These include increased risks of:
• Overall mortality
• Cardiovascular diseases
• Neurological diseases
• Psychiatric diseases
The risks of developing adverse outcomes increase with earlier age at the time of menopause, too. However, Women may be recommended or turn to natural remedies to delay the onset of menopause.
Natural Remedies for Menopause
Natural remedies for natural menopause mostly include diet recommendations. Other lifestyle factors can help as well.
Foods to Delay Menopause
Diet can play a large factor in delaying menopause. Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health confirms this notion.
Researchers from the University of Leeds examined the links between diet and the onset of menopause in British women. "There are a number of causes that have been considered for the relationship between age and start of menopause, such as genetic factors or behavioral and environmental exposures. But there are fewer studies that look at the impact of diet," states lead author Yashvee Dunneram in a press release.
The postdoctoral researcher at the School of Food Science and Nutrition further mentioned, "This study is the first to investigate the links between individual nutrients and a wide variety of food groups and age at natural menopause in a large cohort of British women."
What Did the Study Show?
The study showed a high intake of oily fish and legumes was associated with a later onset of the menopause. High consumption of refined white pasta and rice was associated with an earlier start. More specific results included:
• Just one portion of oily fish per day delayed menopause by 3.3 years. Adding a portion of fresh legumes delayed onset by another year.
• On the other hand, one portion of refined pasta and rice lead to a 1.5 year earlier start date.
• Higher intakes of vitamin B6 and zinc was also associated with later age at menopause.
• Non-vegetarians reach natural menopause 0.8 years later compared with vegetarians. Non-vegetarians showed an earlier menopausal age associated with increased consumption of savory snacks.
These link between these foods and outcomes remain unclear, but it may be related to insulin resistance. "Refined carbs are one of the main culprits for insulin resistance," Dunneram mentions in HealthDay.
"A high level of circulating insulin could interfere with sex hormone activity and boost estrogen levels, both of which might increase the number of menstrual cycles and deplete egg supply faster, thus causing an earlier menopause."
Insulin resistance may not only induce early menopause but increases the risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes.
How Can These Results Be Applied In Real Time?
While going full vegetarian is not for all, the general population can benefit from reducing animal products and eating more plants. Besides, eating a plant-based diet can protect from chronic diseases and improve overall health. (Just steer clear of vegetarian-friendly products rich in refined carbs and sugars!)
Use these tips to increase plant-based food intake with ease:
• Select a new fruit or veggie from the produce aisle each week.
• Swap out dairy milk with plant-based milk, including almond, soy, and cashew varieties.
• Use avocado in place of butter.
• Double the amount of veggie servings currently consuming.
• Experiment with plant-based proteins, including beans, chickpeas, tofu, peas, and lentils.
• Top salads with unsalted nuts or seeds for crunch and flavor rather than cheese and meat.
A Mediterranean diet can also be of benefit and protect from weight gain, heart disease, and osteoporosis as estrogen levels fall. The diet encourages whole, plant-based foods, and healthy fat sources. Healthy fats specifically include monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which are considered to be anti-inflammatory nutrients.
A more specific breakdown includes whole grains, cereals, fruits and veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds, olive and canola oils. Fresh herbs and spices are additionally used to offer extra nutrients and flavor without the need for salt.
Ultimately, women should balance their diet with nutrient-dense foods. Healthy food sources include whole grains, fresh produce, lean and plant-based proteins, and healthy fats. They should likewise reduce the intake of overly processed foods rich in refined flour, oils, sugar, and salt.
These dietary changes not only protect from early menopause but proven to improve overall health. Women can also age healthily by including regular exercise, managing stress, and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. Working with a doctor and dietitian can assist in making healthy lifestyle changes, too.