A new study suggests that a woman's diet plays a role in when menopause begins. UK researchers emphasize that their research doesn't show cause and effect—meaning they're not advocating that anyone change their diet—but the bottom-line findings are drawing attention. The average age of menopause in the study was 51, but women who ate a diet high in refined white pasta or rice tended to see it start about a year and a half earlier, reports New Scientist. On the other hand, those who ate a lot of oily fish (salmon, sardines, and mackerel) generally saw it begin three years later than usual, reports Live Science. A diet rich in legumes (think peas and beans) also was associated with a later onset, though to a lesser degree than oily fish.
"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," a nurse who serves as chairwoman of the British Menopause Society tells the BBC. In their study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the researchers theorize that legumes and oily fish keep menstruation going because they contain or stimulate antioxidants, while the refined carbs have the opposite effect by raising the risk of insulin resistance and interfering with sex hormones. While early menopause is linked to a higher risk of osteoporosis and heart disease, it's also linked to protection against breast and ovarian cancer, notes Live Science. (Read more menopause stories.)