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Refined pasta and rice intake linked to earlier menopause

And diet higher in oily fish, legumes, vitamin B6 and zinc associated with later menopause

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 02 May 2018

A diet rich in oily fish, fresh legumes, vitamin B6 and zinc was associated with delayed onset of natural menopause whereas a diet with higher amounts of refined pasta and rice, and a vegetarian diet, were both associated with earlier menopause, in a UK cohort study*. The researchers said in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health that their findings are important at a public health level because women with a later onset of menopause are at greater risk of breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers, but an earlier menopause results in more years of being deprived of the benefits of oestrogen, increasing the risk of problems such as osteoporosis and heart disease.

The research team, from the University of Leeds, analysed data on 35-69 year old women from England, Scotland and Wales enrolled in the UK Women’s Cohort Study. In this study, baseline data were collected from participants via postal questionnaire and follow-up data were collected, on average, four years later. These data covered demographic details, weight history, physical activity, reproductive history (age at last period; number of periods in last 12 months; use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), anthropometric and other health-related factors.

Of the 14,172 women who participated at both baseline and follow-up, 914 women had a natural menopause during the follow-up period. From their model, the researchers reported that for each additional portion of oily fish and fresh legumes, age at menopause was increased by 3.3 years (99% confidence interval, CI 0.8 to 5.8) and 0.9 years (99% CI 0.0 to 1.8), respectively. On the other hand, each additional daily portion of refined pasta and rice was associated with an earlier menopause by 1.5 years (99% CI −2.8 to −0.2). They added: “Stratification by age at baseline led to reduced associations between the various food groups and age at natural menopause. The CIs were wider because of the smaller samples in these subgroups.”

The analysis also showed that natural menopause was delayed by approximately 0.6 years per mg intake of vitamin B6 (99% CI 0.1 to 1.2); and by 0.3 years per mg intake of zinc (99% CI −0.0 to 0.6). Non-vegetarians reached a natural menopause 0.8 years later compared with vegetarians (99% CI 0.2 to 1.4).

The authors said their study couldn’t show causality as it was observational, and also pointed out that food frequency questionnaires rely on recall, which can be unreliable. However, their sample included women from a range of different backgrounds, and they carefully adjusted their analysis for likely confounders.

They said: “Women with an earlier menopause spend more years deprived from the benefits of oestrogen compared with women who become menopausal around the normal menopausal age range, which puts them at a greater risk of some future poor health outcomes such as osteoporosis and heart disease. On the other hand, women with a later onset of menopause are at greater risk of breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers.”

They concluded: “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. Health practitioners might thus also need to take into account the diet of women when dealing with menopause-related issues.”

*Dunneram Y, Greenwood DC, Burley VJ, et al. Dietary intake and age at natural menopause: results from the UK Women’s Cohort Study. J Epidemiol Community Health Published Online First: 30 April 2018. doi: 10.1136/jech-2017-209887.

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