Last week, I linked to a story about a popular vegan blogger, author, and influencer who found herself going into menopause at the age of 37 despite doing “everything right.” She exercised, she ate raw, she avoided gluten and refined sugar, and, most importantly, she avoided all animal products. Now, this wasn’t a randomized controlled trial. This wasn’t even a case study. But it was a powerful anecdote from someone whose livelihood depended on her remaining a raw vegan. It wasn’t in her interest to make it up.
So, it got me wondering: How do diet and lifestyle influence the timing of menopause?
Now, before I begin, let’s just state the obvious: Menopause isn’t a problem to be avoided. It’s not something to be feared or maligned. It’s not “the end.” I wrote an entire series on menopause last year, and there will always be more to come on the subject because it’s an important time of life with its own questions and possibilities. While it’s a natural, evolutionarily-preserved part of being a woman, it also follows a natural cadence. Menopause at the right time in accordance with your genetics is normal, expected, and healthy. Menopause that occurs earlier than your genetics would direct suggests something is amiss. Sure enough, early or premature menopause—defined in most places as menopause before the age of 40—has a number of troubling links to poor health outcomes.
Early menopause is linked to:
- A shorter life and an increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Reduced physical function in later years.
- Lower cognitive function.
- Increased heart disease.
Not to mention that all the other things normally associated with menopause, like osteoporosis and changes in mood, also have the potential to occur, only earlier.
Okay, so early menopause can have some health consequences. Is veganism actually linked?
What Research Says About Diet and Menopause Timing
There was one study that found people who’d never been a vegetarian developed menopause at a later age, which is a roundabout way of saying that vegetarianism may increase the risk of early menopause.
Other lifestyle factors linked to later menopause included regular strenuous exercise, never smoking, midlife weight gain, and drinking alcohol. Strange mix of behaviors, both classically healthy and unhealthy.
But then another study in Han Chinese women found the opposite—that vegetarianism was associated with a lower risk of premature menopause.
Those are the only direct (if you can call it that) lines of evidence, and they conflict. No solid answers there. That said, there’s more indirect stuff pointing toward a link between exclusion of animal foods and earlier menopause:
- A high intake of vitamin D and calcium from dietary sources has been linked to a lower risk of premature menopause. Oddly enough, supplemental vitamin D and calcium were not linked to lower risks, suggesting that it’s the food—dairy primarily, but also bone-in small fatty fish like sardines—and not the nutrients alone. So a vegan might not be in the clear simply by supplementing with D and calcium.
- The amount of protein and carbs a woman eats throughout her life seems to predict the age at which menopause occurs. More protein, later menopause. More carbs, earlier menopause. Protein is harder and carbs are easier to come by on a plant-based diet—that’s for sure.
- Another fairly consistent finding is that polyunsaturated fat intake “accelerates” menopause. Women who eat the most PUFA tend to have menopause earlier. High PUFA intakes are pretty unavoidable when your diet is awash in seeds, nuts, and other plant-based fat sources.
Then there was a different connection in another study.
The Nurses Health Study found that women who ate the most plant protein were more likely to avoid premature menopause; animal protein intake had no effect. They even found beneficial links between specific foods and protection against early menopause, including dark bread, cold cereal, and pasta. Those are about as unPrimal as you can get.
How Can We Make Sense of Conflicting Research?
In addition to smoking (which we all know is trouble for almost all markers of health), one thing that keeps appearing in all these observational studies—and they’re all observational studies, unable to prove causation—is that underweight BMIs predict early menopause. In the Nurses Health Study, for example, BMIs under 18.5 were linked to a 30% greater risk of early menopause and BMIs between 25 and 29 were linked to a 30% lower risk. If that’s true, and if that’s actually a causal factor, then the most important thing a woman who wants to avoid early menopause can do is avoid being underweight. In that case, filling up on foods known to cause weight gain in susceptible people like bread, pasta, and cereal would be protective (at least for early menopause).
And that could really explain why the vegan blogger developed premature menopause. In her own words, she “had run out of fuel.”
A big downfall of many plant-based diets is that they starve you. They starve you of vital micronutrients you can really only get in animal foods, like B12, zinc, creatine, cholesterol, and others. They starve you of vital macronutrients, like protein and animal fat. And they starve you of calories. It’s hard to maintain your weight and physical robustness eating a diet of leaves, twigs, and seeds (unless you’re a gorilla). Oddly enough, I think vegans who eat grains and vegan “junk food” like fake burgers and weird nut cheeses are probably better off than the gluten-free ones who live off salads, simply because they’re getting more calories. It’s true that there are many ways to eat vegetarian and even vegan—and some are healthier than others (I’ve written about Primal recommendations for vegetarians and vegans in the past), but the more restrictive a person is with animal products, the trickier it will be to stay well-nourished.
If I had to make a bet, it’d be that any diet that provides sufficient nourishment in the form of micronutrients, macronutrients, and total calories will help stave off early menopause.
What about you? What’s your take on this? Has anyone out there experienced premature/early menopause that didn’t follow natural, familial patterns? What can you recall about the diet and lifestyle leading up to it?
Wang H, Chen H, Qin Y, et al. Risks associated with premature ovarian failure in Han Chinese women. Reprod Biomed Online. 2015;30(4):401-7.
Velez MP, Alvarado BE, Rosendaal N, et al. Age at natural menopause and physical functioning in postmenopausal women: the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. Menopause. 2019;
Sujarwoto S, Tampubolon G. Premature natural menopause and cognitive function among older women in Indonesia. J Women Aging. 2019;:1-15.
Løkkegaard E, Jovanovic Z, Heitmann BL, Keiding N, Ottesen B, Pedersen AT. The association between early menopause and risk of ischaemic heart disease: influence of Hormone Therapy. Maturitas. 2006;53(2):226-33.
Purdue-smithe AC, Whitcomb BW, Szegda KL, et al. Vitamin D and calcium intake and risk of early menopause. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;105(6):1493-1501.
Sapre S, Thakur R. Lifestyle and dietary factors determine age at natural menopause. J Midlife Health. 2014;5(1):3-5.
Boutot ME, Purdue-smithe A, Whitcomb BW, et al. Dietary Protein Intake and Early Menopause in the Nurses’ Health Study II. Am J Epidemiol. 2018;187(2):270-277.
Szegda KL, Whitcomb BW, Purdue-smithe AC, et al. Adult adiposity and risk of early menopause. Hum Reprod. 2017;32(12):2522-2531.
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On June 23rd, the world changes. Every RV, Subaru Outback, and pickup truck in every neighborhood across the country disappears from city limits. Expect the swoosh of fiberglass poles sliding through tent fabric to resound across the land and millions of campfires to produce enough smoke to block out the sun. Molted marshmallow flows will destroy hundreds of homes, and millions of fathers sitting on Doug fir rounds by the fire will tell so many ghost stories that they summon actual phantoms from the spirit world. The nation’s circadian rhythms will get a hard reset back to the superior factory settings, thanks to avoidance of artificial light after dark. Or so we could hope….
June 23rd is the Great American Campout, that time of the year when the National Wildlife Federation arranges a series of mass public camping sessions across the country and encourages everyone else to do the same in their local communities. If you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone.
The unfortunate truth is that the vast majority of people still don’t camp. Chances are, the average person won’t even be aware that the Great American Campout is happening. This is a tragedy.
Regular camping could change the world. Imagine if every citizen spent at least a couple nights per month under the stars, gazing into a dancing campfire, getting fresh air and plenty of natural sunlight during the day, going on hikes, lounging in hammocks with a book, and ignoring their smartphone (because there’s no reception). The world would be a better place. People would be happier, healthier, and more tuned in to everyone’s ancestral homeland: the wilderness.
You might think it’s cheesy, or lament the imagined crowds, but you’d be making a mistake. Getting more people to enjoy and experience the outdoors will ensure we hold onto them for years to come.
There are many ways to take part:
- Host a public campout. Arrange your own public campout in your community.
- Attend a public campout. Go join in on the fun.
- Just go camping. Participating in the Campout doesn’t have to be formal or registered. You can just camp in solidarity with everyone else.
If you’re new to camping, want to level your camping up, or are just interested in why camping is so important for our health, take a look at the posts I below.
- Here are the main benefits of camping.
- Here are tips for mastering the wilderness.
- Here is where I explain why artificial blue light after dark is so bad for our sleep and circadian rhythm. A big reason to go camping on a regular basis is that it removes the worst source of nighttime artificial light, like electronic devices and street lamps.
- Here is where I explain how to access and foster your wild side.
- Here’s how to grill.
- Here’s how to take better hikes.
- Here are some ideas for good Primal non-perishables.
Go to the website, make the pledge, and start getting friends and family together for an awesome time together. There’s no way you’ll regret camping. Even the rough situations, like storms in the middle of the night, make for great stories—but you almost certainly will regret letting the opportunity slip through your fingers. Chances are, camping is one of those things you “resolve” to do more of but never actually do. Now’s your chance. Consider it a mini-challenge within your 21-Day framework.
Want some inspiration for camping and other active vacations? Some of our Worker Bees are sharing their favorite trips today. And be sure to leave your own anecdotes/suggestions for camping and active vacations in the comments for today’s contest (details below).
My favorite type of vacation is a good balance between relaxation and activity. I love getting up in the morning for a hike or taking a walk on the beach at sunset. Then, finding time to read, recharge and connect with the natural beauty of my surroundings is where it’s at! Also, water is a must! I feel the most relaxed near the lake or an ocean. This photo is a Rocky Mountains camping trip. – Ana G.
Destination races! My husband and I sign up for races as an excuse to visit other countries, like when we ran the Great Wall of China Marathon. It’s pretty much the opposite of sitting poolside with a mai tai! You get to meet amazing people—other participants, race volunteers, and locals—you’d never normally encounter and see things the average tourist misses. It’s a wonderful way to travel. – Lindsay T.
My favorite active spot around the globe to vacation is Costa Rica! I especially love Dominical, a little surf town on the Pacific Coast. Great for yoga, kayaking, surfing, hiking, running, and swimming, there are literally endless adventures to be had in a place so rich in different ecosystems and outdoors escapes. – Annie M.
Morning run in Tel Aviv, Israel! – Chloe M.
One of my most memorable places for vacation was Lake Tahoe, absolutely gorgeous scenery and amazing time spent with family. We paddle boarded, canoed, and fished! – Michelle F.
I spend a lot of time in the North Woods and North Shore (Minnesota). It’s beautiful hiking there, and we enjoy gorgeous sunsets on the rocky beaches. – Jen W.
I’m lucky to live just a few hours away from Big Bear, California, and it’s definitely a favorite getaway spot. With breathtaking views, epic hiking trails and calm water, there’s no shortage of activities to keep you moving!
Last time I was there, I linked up with the Bee the Wellness tribe for one of their adventure retreats. It’s so nice to just show up somewhere with all your activities and (paleo!) meals planned, so you can sit back and really enjoy your surroundings. In fact, I’ll be joining them again this July in the Redwoods! If you miss PrimalCon, you’ll LOVE this (and you might see a few familiar faces too). – Liz M.
Favorite active vacation spot: San Diego, CA
1. Hiking in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve (attached photo taken on one of the trails that overlooks the beach)
2. SUP/paddleboarding in Mission Bay
3. Family bike riding on Coronado Island
4. Kayaking and jetskiing in Carlsbad Lagoon
5. Trail running and hiking in the San Elijo Hills
– Sabrina T.
Now For the Contest…
The Bees and I want to hear your stories and suggestions for camping adventures and active vacations. Simply leave a relevant comment here by the deadline, and you’ll be entered to win.
The Platinum Package is the ultimate in supplementation, and a daily dietary boost favored by Mark Sisson, his wife and thousands of other health-conscious devotees. This comprehensive supplement plan includes: Primal Master Formula, Primal Fuel, Primal Probiotics, Primal Omegas and Primal Sun. With a 30-day supply of a high-antioxidant multivitamin complex, omega-3 fish oils, healthy probiotics, vitamin D and a 21-day supply of delicious, coconut-based Primal meal replacement shake, the Platinum Package is a complete, convenient and cost-effective way to live a healthy, Primal life in the modern world.*
The Deadline: Midnight PDT, June 19th, 2018
Thanks for stopping in, everyone. Take care.
The post Great American Campout, Worker Bee Trips, and a Contest! appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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