There’s been a flurry of interest in the menopause recently, with more attention – finally – on the debilitating symptoms women suffer as their oestrogen levels plummet. And it gives rise to the question: could the loss of oestrogen seriously affect a woman’s health?
The answer may come from Predict, the largest study of its kind, which is exploring how menopause affects day-to-day metabolism such as cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
The study involves scientists from King’s College London, the personalised nutrition company Zoe, and Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital in the US.
The hormone changes that occur at the menopause (defined as 12 months without a period) mean women are more susceptible to fluctuations in mood, sleep, inflammation, blood sugar control and cholesterol levels.
These changes contribute to an increased risk of heart disease and other health problems.
Dr Sarah Berry of King’s, and study lead, says: “Menopause has historically been vastly understudied and women have been underrepresented in health research, especially in relation to diet and health. Our research shows 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 study found key differences in inflammation and blood sugar levels in post-menopausal versus pre-menopausal women. Loss of blood sugar control is a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
A surprising finding was the link between menopause, higher body fat and inflammation being partly down to poor diet and the microbiome, meaning diet has a potential role in lowering these risks. It seems post-menopausal women eat more sugary foods and have poorer sleep than pre-menopausal women, increasing their risk of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
The study also observed differences in the microbiome between pre and post-menopausal women, including bacteria which are linked to inflammation and obesity.
Kate Bermingham, also from King’s, says: “Our insights are helping to unravel the complex connections between lifestyle, hormones, metabolism and health in a way that wasn’t possible before.
“Small diet and lifestyle changes have the potential to make a big difference to how women manage symptoms and improve this transition.”
Dr Berry adds: “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, altering the microbiome to a more favourable composition.”
A great step forward for women.