When analysing their diets, the researchers found women who had a diet rich in oily fish and fresh legumes like chickpeas and lentils were more likely to have a delayed start to the menopause by an average of almost three years.
"This study doesn't prove a link with the foods mentioned, but certainly contributes to the limited knowledge we now have on why some women go through menopause earlier than others", a nurse who serves as chairwoman of the British Menopause Society tells the BBC. However, those who go through the menopause later are more at risk of developing breast, womb and ovarian cancer.
"The age at which menopause begins can have serious health implications for some women", study co-author Janet Cade, Professor at the University of Leeds, said. "But there are fewer studies that look at the impact of diet", lead study author Yashvee Dunneram, a postdoctoral researcher also at the University of Leeds, said in the statement. Through this method, researchers were able to assess the diets of women who had experienced menopause the onset of a natural menopause in the interim. And they had to eat 90 grams of oily fish a day to experience menopause 3.3 years earlier, according to the Independent.
The research is published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
About 14,000 women were tracked for four years post-survey, during which just over 900 experienced natural menopause. The women answered questions regarding diet, weight history, reproductive history, exercise levels and using hormone replacement therapy.
Experts caution that women shouldn't rush to change their diets as the result of this particular study. Additionally, a higher daily consumption of vitamin B-6 and zinc was also associated with later menopause.
A diet high in legumes, which includes peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas, delayed menopause by one-and-a-half years, on average.
Also, omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in oily fish, are thought to trigger antioxidant activity within the human body. Researchers said the antioxidants found in legumes might affect the maturation and release of eggs, helping to preserve menstruation for longer. But refined carbohydrates boost the risk of insulin resistance, which can interfere with sex hormone activity and boost oestrogen levels. "I am not yet convinced that diet alone can account for the age of the onset of the menopause", she said in a statement.
Scientists have described how women can delay the arrival of menopause. Unfortunately, a big limitation of these observational studies, is their inability to prove that dietary behaviour actually causes early menopause.