Chills. Hot flashes. Night sweats. These are just some of the unpleasant symptoms that can come with the “change of life.” More serious is the fact (covered in Issue #493) that the plunging estrogen levels associated with menopause are damaging to certain brain cells and increase the risk of dementia.
Many women would happily put off menopause. Now it seems there are some major advantages in doing so.
Dr. Ellen Gold from UC Davis School of Medicine says, “Later age at menopause is associated with better health, longer life and less cardiovascular disease.”
Now a new study suggests it can improve memory too.
If drugs and surgery were the only way to postpone menopause, it would be of little interest to health-conscious people. However, there’s a natural way of achieving this. It all depends on the foods you choose to eat. . .
“Could Translate to a Reduced Risk of Dementia”
Scientists from University College London used data that followed women throughout their lives, starting with their births in 1946.
For the study, 1,315 British women were shown 15 words, one at a time, which they had to later recall. This was repeated twice more for a total of 45 words. A separate test measured processing speed. This involved performing a mental task under time pressure. These tests were carried out on four occasions when the women were aged 43, 53, 60-64 and 69.
The researchers looked at the age the women experienced menopause and whether this occurred naturally or through surgical removal of ovaries. Findings were also adjusted for hormone replacement therapy, body mass index, smoking, education, childhood cognitive ability and occupation – all factors that could affect cognition and memory.
Results showed the age at which a woman entered menopause had no effect on processing speed, and there was no change in memory ability when the change of life came about through surgery.
But every additional year before entering menopause the natural way resulted in slightly improved outcomes for verbal memory. On average, an extra premenopausal year resulted in the ability to remember an extra 0.09 words, or about one extra word for every decade menopause was delayed.
Professor Diana Kuh, who led the study said, “The difference in verbal memory scores for a ten-year difference in the start of menopause was small but it’s possible this benefit could translate to a reduced risk of dementia years later.
“This study suggests that lifelong hormonal processes, not just short-term fluctuations during menopause, may be associated with memory skills.”
Prof. Kuh speculates the memory benefits come from estrogen receptors in the brain which are able to continue regulating the gene that governs BDNF, a protein responsible for the growth and proper function of brain cells.
Menopause Delayed by Three Years
There’s nothing you can do to influence the age of menopause (apart from not smoking). At least that’s the conventional medical viewpoint. It’s determined by genetics and ethnicity, they believe.
However, a new study suggests the timing of menopause can, to some extent, be under a woman’s own control.
Researchers from the University of Leeds in the UK looked at a wide variety of food groups eaten by 14,500 women aged between and 40 and 65.
The women were questioned about their health and reproductive history. They also completed a detailed food questionnaire.
After four years follow-up, of the 900 women whose menopause began naturally, without medical intervention, those who consumed at least 90 grams (nearly 3¼ ounces) a day of oily fish were able to enter menopause 3.3 years later than those who didn’t eat sardines, salmon, herring, trout or mackerel.
That’s a remarkable difference, although I would think the number of women out of 900 who ate fish every day was pretty small.
Those eating 90 grams of peas, beans and lentils saw a one-year delay. Higher intakes of zinc and vitamin B6 also put off menopause as did eating meat. Meat eaters entered menopause a year later than vegetarians.
But – on average — if a woman enjoyed foods like white rice, refined pasta and savory snacks every day, she could expect to see the onset of menopause 1½ years earlier than the average age of 51.
The researchers believe foods high in antioxidants, or that stimulate antioxidant activity, preserve a woman’s ability to menstruate. In contrast, insulin resistance caused by eating too many refined carbs increases estrogen, depleting egg supply more quickly.
Lead author Yashvee Dunneram said, “This study has shown there are some specific associations between food groups and nutrients with the onset of natural menopause.”