A high carbohydrate diet could lead to earlier menopause, according to new findings from the University of Leeds.
Greater consumption of carb-heavy foods such as pasta and rice was associated with women reaching menopause one-and-a-half years earlier than the average age of women in the UK, which is 51.
While it’s not clear if this association is causal, the findings indicate another possible downside to eating a high level of carbohydrate and particularly refined carbohydrate. This type of study can only show associations and further research would be needed to validate these findings.
Menopause is the general term that describes the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle, where reduced oestrogen can lead to hot flushes and night sweats, among other symptoms.
As part of the study, women aged 45-60 were examined to assess their onset of natural menopause. They also filled in food frequency questionnaires to assess associations with diet.
A diet high in refined pasta and rice was linked with earlier menopause, while legumes and oily fish – the former is still relatively high in carbs within the context of a low carb diet – delayed the onset of menopause. Overall, a higher intake of carbohydrate was linked with earlier menopause by 0.2 years among women 50 years old and younger.
One theory behind the findings is that legumes, which have been linked previously to reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, contain antioxidants, which may inhibit menstruation for longer. Meanwhile, because heightened carb consumption increases the risk of insulin resistance, menstrual cycles could be affected due to increased oestrogen and altered hormone levels.
Kathy Abernethy, menopause specialist nurse and chairwoman of the British Menopause Society, who wasn’t involved in the study, said: “This study doesn’t prove a link with the foods mentioned, but certainly contributes to the limited knowledge we currently have on why some women go through menopause earlier than others.”
The University of Leeds researchers, led by Professor Janet Cade, ruled out confounding variables such as weight, reproductive history and use of hormone replacement therapy in explaining the results, but were unable to consider genetic factors, which can influence age of menopause.
“A clear understanding of how diet affects the start of natural menopause will be very beneficial to those who may already be at risk or have a family history of certain complications related to menopause,” said Prof Cade.
The research appears in the Journal of Epidemiology &Community Health.