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Vegetable protein could prevent early menopause

Eating lots of vegetable protein may protect women from an early menopause, according to US research.

A study of the link between diet and early menopause has found that eating lots of vegetable protein, such as soy and tofu, into the diet over the long-term may reduce the chances of women having an early menopause and extend their reproductive function. The research has been published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Calorie intake

Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst tracked 116,000 women from 1991 to 2011. The women were aged between 25 and 42 when they entered the study, and had not yet reached the menopause at that point.

The participants were asked to report how often they had certain foods, drinks and supplements over the previous year.

Analysis of the results showed that women whose daily calorie intake was made up of 6.5% vegetable protein had a 16% lower risk of having an early menopause compared to women whose intake of vegetable protein made up just 4% of their calorie intake.

Those women whose diet was at least 9% vegetable protein had a 59% lower risk of an early menopause. However, very few women involved in the study actually met the 9% vegetable protein level; but 20% of women did reach the 6.5% level.

No link was found in relation to eating animal protein.

Early menopause

Having an early menopause is when ovarian functions ceases before the age of 45. It affects around 10% of women. The average age for women to reach the menopause is 51. Previous studies have shown that women who reach the menopause before the age of 45 are at a greater risk of heart disease.

It is thought that vegetable protein may protect the ovaries and reduce depletion of the follicles, which are vital to the reproductive process. 

Foods that contain vegetable protein include tofu, soy, nuts, brown pasta and rice, and whole grains. For women eating 2,000 calories per day, a 6.5% vegetable protein intake is the equivalent of having three to four servings of foods containing vegetable protein.

Ovarian ageing

Study authors Maegan Boutot and Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson said: “A better understanding of how dietary vegetable protein intake is associated with ovarian ageing may identify ways for women to modify their risk of early onset menopause and associated health conditions.”

Further research is now suggested, particularly to look at the difference between soy-based and non-soy vegetable proteins and their impact on menopause.

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