The Leeds University team point to the fish’s omega-3 fatty acid content as significant in slowing down oocyte maturation, ovulation and breakdown of the ovarian follicles.
Further support of this theory comes from the study’s findings that associate the antioxidant properties of vitamin B6 and zinc with the natural menopause occurring at a later age.
“The age at which menopause begins can have serious health implications for some women,” said study co-author, Janet Cade, professor of nutritional epidemiology and public health at the university.
“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.”
The observational nature of the study was a point picked up by professor Saffron Whitehead, emeritus professor of endocrinology at St George’s University of London who said that while the study results did show some trends most of the results obtained were “insignificant”.
“There are many caveats to this study and, as the authors acknowledge, it is simply observational.
“So, we cannot say that eating more grapes, oily fish and food with anti-oxidants can make a difference.”
Small body of evidence
Only a few previous studies have reported diet in relation to age at natural menopause with a limited number of food items/groups included.
One European study found high carbohydrate consumption and high intake of vegetable, fibre and cereal products were inversely related to the age at natural menopause.
Additional outcomes found women with higher intake of total fat, protein and meat experienced a delayed onset of natural menopause.
A closely related Japanese study also found high green and yellow vegetable consumption linked to a later age at natural menopause.
Women with an earlier menopause spend longer without the physiological benefits of oestrogen compared with women who become menopausal around the normal menopausal age range.
This 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.
The UK Women’s Cohort Study (UKWCS)
The study used data from The UK Women’s Cohort Study (UKWCS) that featured over 14,150 women located in the UK. A reproductive history and health survey was taken as was a diet questionnaire.
A follow up survey and questionnaire four years later enabled researchers to assess the 900 women and their diets who had experienced the onset of a natural menopause.
Dietary data collected found that high intakes of oily fish were associated with a delayed start to menopause by nearly three years.
A diet with lots of refined pasta and rice showed that menopause was more likely to occur one and a half years earlier than average.
Further study and proof needed
“There are a number of causes that have been considered for the relationship between age and start of menopause, such as genetic factors or behavioural and environmental exposures. But there are fewer studies that look at the impact of diet,” said Yashvee Dunneram, study lead author and postdoctoral researcher at Leeds University.
“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.
“But further studies are needed to improve understanding on how this may impact health and wellbeing.”
Dr Channa Jayasena, clinical senior lecturer and consultant in reproductive endocrinology at Imperial College London said, “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.”
Source: Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health
Published online ahead of print: doi.org/10.1136/jech-2017-209887
“Dietary intake and age at natural menopause: results from the UK Women’s Cohort Study.”
Authors: Yashvee Dunneram, Darren Charles Greenwood, Victoria J Burley, Janet E Cade