Carb conundrum: The link between pasta and early menopause
FETTUCINE CARBONARA TASTES SO GOOD, BUT NOW IT’S SUGGESTED THAT PASTA AND OTHER REFINED CARBOHYDRATES COULD BRING ON AN EARLY END TO YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE
‘This could lead to your egg supply running out faster’
Whatever our age, we all know that a diet high in refined carbohydrates – such as white bread, pasta and rice – isn’t the best for us. It can pile on the pounds during our 20s, 30s and 40s, and even put us at risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. But, it turns out, it could also be responsible for bringing on menopause prematurely. So why is a bowl of tagliatelle to blame? We look at the research and speak to nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville to find out more.
THE PROBLEM WITH PASTA
When the experts say to eat a Mediterranean diet, sadly they don’t mean bowls of Bolognese. And the latest research from the University of Leeds has revealed that eating large amounts of white pasta and rice could bring menopause forward by one and a half years. The average age for this hormonal change is 51, meaning women could be suffering from symptoms in their 40s. “It’s thought that refined carbohydrates cause problems with blood sugar and insulin resistance,” explains Dr Glenville. “This could lead to your egg supply running out faster,” she adds. And the end of egg production signals the start of menopause.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
If more children aren’t on your wish list, what’s the problem with an early menopause? It’s going to happen eventually, and surely the thought of no more periods after years of menstrual cycles should be a welcome relief? The thing is, menopause signals much more than just the end of your monthly bleed. It also indicates the decline in oestrogen, which is key in keeping our heart and brain healthy, and also protects our bones. “If a woman goes through the menopause too early, this increases her risk of osteoporosis, as she will be without the female hormones, particularly oestrogen, for longer,” explains Dr Glenville. Osteoporosis is a serious fragile bone disease that is thought to affect one in two women over the age of 50 and can cause debilitating fractures. So, apart from cutting back on the simple carbs, what else can we do to prevent a premature menopause?
Dr Glenville advises quitting smoking and reducing stress, as well as avoiding chemicals in products such as non-stick pans, carpets and paints. “A study in 2011 found that women with high levels of perfluorocarbons (PFCS) in the body had lower concentrations of oestrogen than women with low PFC levels, causing some women to go through the menopause as young as 42,” she explains. The University of Leeds found a diet rich in oily fish could also be key in delaying menopause. “Oily fish contains omega 3 essential fatty acids, which your body can’t make. They stimulate your antioxidant capacity, which helps slow down the ageing process, including in your ovaries,” explains Dr Glenville.
IS LATER BETTER?
Not necessarily. “With nature, it’s always a question of balance,” says Dr Glenville. Experiencing your last period over the age of 55 – means that higher levels of oestrogen will have been circulating for longer. “This could increase the risk of conditions that feed on this hormone, including endometriosis, fibroids and certain types of breast cancer.” However, with the chances of developing osteoporosis four times greater than our likelihood of getting breast cancer, she believes, “It’s worse to go through the menopause too early than too late.”
Diet can also affect how well we cope with menopausal symptoms. Chickpeas, lentils, soya, and kidney beans can “significantly reduce hot flushes and night sweats”, says Dr Glenville. A balance of essential fatty acids is also key. Too many omega 6s can increase inflammation, leading to arthritis, colitis, heart disease and cancer, explains Dr Glenville. She recommends omega 3 fish oil supplements to improve memory and concentration, and to ease aching joints, dry skin and fatigue. “Plus, it has a protective effect against Alzheimer’s by preventing damaging plaque from forming in the brain,” she says.