- Protein from vegetable or plant sources such as whole grains, soy, tofu may protect women from early menopause.
- Women consuming approximately 6.5 percent of their daily calories, equivalent to 3 or 4 servings of vegetable protein had a significant 16 percent lower risk of early menopause.
- No similar reaction was observed in those who eat animal sources of protein.
Long-term, high intake of vegetable protein from such foods as whole grains, soy and tofu, may protect women from early menopause and could prolong reproductive function.
Consuming enriched pasta, dark bread and cold cereal were especially associated with lower risk, while they observed no similar relation to eating animal sources of protein.
‘Early menopause, the cessation of ovarian function before age 45, affects about 10 percent of women and is associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and cognitive decline.’
"A better understanding of how dietary vegetable protein intake is associated with ovarian aging may identify ways for women to modify their risk of early onset menopause and associated health conditions," write first author and then-graduate student Maegan Boutot, with her advisor, professor Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson.
Few studies have evaluated how protein intake is associated with menopause timing, they add, and to their knowledge this is the first to look specifically at early menopause.
Dietary Risk Factors For Early Menopause
Boutot, Bertone-Johnson and colleagues in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at UMass Amherst, with others, evaluated the relationship between diet and risk of early menopause among members of the Nurses' Health Study II (NHS2), an ongoing prospective study of 116,000 women aged 25-42 when they entered it in 1989.
Participants were asked to report how often they ate a single serving of 131 foods, beverages and supplements over the previous year, from "never or less than once a month" to "6+ per day." They observed that women consuming approximately 6.5 percent of their daily calories as vegetable protein had a significant 16 percent lower risk of early menopause compared to women whose intake was approximately 4 percent of calories.
For a woman with a 2,000 calorie per day diet, the authors explain, this is equal to three to four servings of such foods as enriched pasta, breakfast cereal, tofu and nuts, or about 32.5 grams a day
. They adjusted for age, smoking, body mass index and other possible confounding factors.
Boutot and Bertone-Johnson add, "Though relatively few women in our study consumed very high levels of vegetable protein and our power for analyses of more extreme intake levels was limited, women consuming 9 or more percent of their calories from vegetable protein had a hazard ratio of 0.41 (95 percent confidence interval = 0.19-0.88)" compared to those eating less than 4 percent.
For the NHS2, follow-up questionnaires have assessed nurses' lifestyle behaviors and medical conditions every two years. Nearly 90 percent have continued to participate in followup.
Diet was assessed five times over the 20-year study, allowing the researchers to capture within-person variation in changes in food and nutrient intake over times, Boutot explains.
Boutot and Bertone-Johnson suggest that more prospective studies of their findings are warranted, including studies that compare soy-based and non-soy vegetable proteins.
Foods that Help Deal With Menopause
- Omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts, flaxseeds, salmon, tuna act as a precursor toprostaglandin PGE1 which regulates hormonal balance and alleviates menopausal symptoms.
- Phytoestrogens (isoflavones and lignans) are plant-based estrogens which mimic the action of estrogen. Lignans in flaxseeds, sesame seeds, nuts; isoflavones in soy products, legumes and coumestans in beans help reduce hot flashes and night sweats.
- Calcium-rich foods like low-fat dairy products, finger millets, white sesame seeds, sardinesare important since decreased estrogen levels are associated with low bone-mineral density and risk of osteoporosis.
- Consuming green leafy vegetables, eggs, nuts and wholegrain cereals provides magnesium and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) which help combat mood swings.
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, wholegrain cereals and pulses to up fiber uptake, which promotes satiety, helps control over eating and weight gain.
- Author nameMaegan Boutot et al., Eating more vegetable protein may protect against early menopause, American Journal of Epidemiology (2017).