A change of diet can reduce some of the adverse health effects associated with menopause, such as blood sugar control and cholesterol levels, according to a new study led by King’s College London.
The researchers found a fall in blood sugar control, a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, is not just an inevitable part of ageing but a direct consequence of changing hormone levels and can be mitigated by altering dietary habits.
Diet changes in peri-menopausal and menopausal women could also indirectly alter the gut microbiome to a more favourable composition.
Changes in dietary habits and gut microbiome composition are two potential targets that can be modified to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with a loss of oestrogen due to menopause.
The findings are published in The Lancet.
Menopause is defined as the time a woman has not had a period for twelve months and usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 as a result of changing hormones. During menopause, women are more susceptible to weight gain and changes in mood and sleep patterns. Blood sugar control and cholesterol levels also vary, leading to unfavourable health outcomes.
The study involved scientists from King’s College, ZOE, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Massachusetts General Hospital and is part of the PREDICT study, which explores how menopause affects day-to-day metabolism.
Researchers analysed data from 1102 women, of which 366 were pre-menopausal, 55 were peri-menopausal, and 206 were post-menopausal. The diet and gut microbiome data for each participant were analysed, as well as their cardiometabolic blood measurements between zero and six hours after a meal, including continuous glucose monitoring (CGM).
Participants took part in a 14-day intervention, the first day of which was a clinical visit to hospital to record baseline measurements and undertake a controlled test-meal challenge. For the next thirteen days, participants had at-home test meals as well as their own food and drink. They were monitored for physical activity, sleep and sleep quality using digital devices and their blood glucose levels were monitored using a CGM on their upper arm.
The results showed key differences in inflammation and blood sugar levels after eating in post-menopausal versus pre-menopausal women. Post-menopausal females had higher glucose levels and insulin levels, and CGM measures were unfavourable after meals. In addition, higher fasting blood measures, sugar intakes and poorer sleep were recorded in post-menopause versus pre-menopause women.
Dr Sarah Berry, from King’s College, who led the study, said: ‘Menopause has historically been vastly understudied and women have been under-represented in health research, especially in relation to diet and health. Our research shows that menopause is a time of major metabolic upheaval, which can have significant impact on long-term health. These findings will help us deliver simple yet more personalised nutrition and health advice with greater efficacy to reduce the health burden of menopause.’
The researchers hope the insights from this study will unravel complex connections between lifestyle, hormones, metabolism and health and show how small diet and lifestyle changes have the potential to make a big difference in how women manage their symptoms and improve their transition through menopause.
Dr Berry added: ‘The good news is that what you eat may partially reduce the unfavourable health impacts of menopause, either directly by reducing inflammation and blood sugar spikes or indirectly by altering the microbiome to a more favourable composition.’
Earlier this year, organisations and experts said practice nurses and GPs should receive standardised menopause training, focusing on the root causes of symptoms and how they overlap with other conditions.