New study sheds light on how a runner’s diet affects menopause

According to a new study, eating a diet high in pasta and rice can bring on a natural menopause a year and a half earlier than the average age of 51.

The study was conducted by University of Leeds and looked at 914 women in the UK. The study, published in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, also found that a high intake of oily fish, fresh legumes, vitamin B6 and zinc were associated with a delayed onset of natural menopause. A 90g daily portion of oily fish was found to delay the onset of menopause by 3.3 years.

The women were aged between 40-65 and were asked to complete a food survey as part of the study. Of course, it’s difficult to draw true conclusions from the study, as there are many other factors, including genes, that can influence the onset of natural menopause.

The researchers took into account factors such as woman’s weight, reproductive history and the use of HRT, and offered possible explanations for their findings. For example, legumes, which include peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas contain antioxidants, which may preserve menstruation. Oily fish is a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acid which can potentially improve antioxidant capacity.

Related: 8 commandments of good running nutrition 

In turn, a high consumption of refined carbs can increase the risk of insulin resistance, leading to increased oestrogen levels. High oestrogen levels cause release of the luteinising hormones which triggers ovulation, which might imply more cycles and rapid depletion of oocytes, leading to an earlier onset of menopause.

Despite finding that fresh legumes were associated with a later menopause, the researchers also found that women who were vegetarian, on average, experienced the menopause a year earlier than meat eaters. This is thought to be because of the lack of animal fats, which may affect the levels of the luteinising hormone and the length of the menstrual cycle.

Kathy Abernethy, Menopause Specialist Nurse and Chair of the British Menopause Society said: "We welcome research like this as age of menopause can affect future health, with women experiencing menopause at a young age having greater health risks later in life if they don not receive appropriate treatment. This study doesn't prove a link with the foods mentioned and there are lots of other factors that contribute to the age of menopause, including some you cannot control, like genetic factors. The foods mentioned as being good, such as oily fish and legumes are also good for other health measures so might be recommended for other reasons, along with reducing carbs. However, whether or not you can change the age of your own menopause simply by diet is much less clear."

Dr Channa Jayasena, Clinical Senior Lecturer and Consultant in Reproductive Endocrinology at Imperial College London said: “This is a larger study looking at diet and the age of menopause in a population of women. The body’s metabolism plays an important role regarding ovulation and having periods.

“The authors suggest that women who took more refined carbs, savoury snacks and being vegetarian had an earlier menopause. It is tempting to speculate that this provides a recipe for delaying menopause. Unfortunately, a big limitation of these observational studies, is their inability to prove that dietary behaviour actually causes early menopause. Until we have that type of proof, I see no reason for people to change their diet.”