Eating oily fish, peas and beans could delay the menopause, while eating more rice and pasta could bring it on faster, a study has found.
According to researchers at the University of Leeds, an additional portion of refined white pasta or rice a day could lead to women reaching the menopause about one-and-a-half-years earlier.
It comes after the study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, took data from about 14,000 women in Britain and followed up with a survey four years later.
They found more than 900 participants between the ages of 40 and 65 experienced a natural start to the menopause during that time, at an average age of 51-years-old.
But scientists found diets could determine its timing and that it could have “serious health implications for some women”.
Refined carbohydrates were found to increase the risk of insulin resistance which could interfere with sex hormones and boost oestrogen levels, increasing the possibility for an earlier menopause.
The study showed those who go through the menopause earlier were more prone to developing osteoporosis and heart disease, while those who do so later than usual were more likely to develop ovarian, womb and breast cancers.
Co-author of the study Janet Cade said: “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.”
An extra daily serving of oily fish – such as mackerel, sardines and salmon – was linked to a menopause delay of more than three years. Omega 3 fatty acids found in the fish are thought to stimulate antioxidant capacity in the body.
Diets high in fresh legumes such as peas and beans – which contain antioxidants – saw women reach the menopause about a year later on average.
The researchers said a higher intake of zinc and vitamin B6 also appeared to slow down the onset of the menopause.
“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,” said lead researcher Yashvee Dunneram.
“But further studies are needed to improve understanding on how this may impact health and wellbeing.”