Diet may counteract menopause metabolism change, ZOE study shows

In the largest study to date, ZOE researchers find that menopause leads to significant changes in women’s metabolism — linked with excess weight and a higher risk of heart disease — along with greater sugar consumption and worse sleep. But it’s possible to counteract these changes through diet, improvements in gut health, and hormone replacement therapy.

For many women, menopause comes with sleep problems, muscle loss, and increased risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions. Menopause is also linked with weight gain.

Personalized nutrition company ZOE runs the largest study of nutrition and menopause in the world, along with expert academic collaborators.

Their latest research, published in eBioMedicine, highlights the impact of menopause on women’s metabolism, particularly the effects of what they eat and how this relates to their health. 

Women who have been through menopause had, on average, higher blood pressure and blood sugar, a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years, worse sleep, and more body fat. 

Crucially, the team’s analysis found that diet and the bacterial species that were present in women’s guts were at least partially responsible for the changes.

Eating a healthy diet and focusing on gut health could lessen these changes, as could taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT), the researchers conclude. 

“Menopause has historically been vastly understudied and women have been under-represented in health research, especially in relation to diet and health,” comments senior study author Dr. Sarah Berry, an associate professor in nutritional sciences at King's College London and Lead Nutritional Scientist at ZOE.

“Our research shows that menopause is a time of major metabolic upheaval, which can have [a] significant impact on long-term health,” she continues.

How menopause affects metabolism, sleep, diet

In their study, the researchers analyzed data from 1,002 participants of the PREDICT 1 trial to look at the effects of menopause on body composition, sleep, heart disease risk, gut microbiome composition, and the impact that eating has on these factors.

Dr. Kate Bermingham, a postdoctoral researcher at King’s College London and first study author, says, “ZOE’s PREDICT study gives us an opportunity to study nutrition and health in thousands of people in unprecedented depth. Our insights are helping to unravel the complex connections between lifestyle, hormones, metabolism, and health in a way that simply wasn’t possible before." 

“Small diet and lifestyle changes have the potential to make a big difference to how women manage their symptoms and improve this transition.” — Dr. Kate Bermingham

The team saw significant changes in women before and after menopause.

On average, post-menopausal women had worse blood sugar markers like fasting glucose, insulin, and HbA1c, greater insulin insensitivity, a sign of a greater risk of pre-diabetes, and a higher 10-year cardiovascular risk score than pre-menopausal women. 

They also had worse sleep and ate more sugary foods, mostly in the form of sweets and desserts. 

In addition to these changes, the team found that after women consumed food, they had worse blood sugar responses and greater levels of inflammation, which are risk factors for chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

This was independent of age, which means that menopause was the likely reason, not aging.  

Women who took HRT after menopause, on the other hand, had better blood sugar and blood fat responses to food and lower body fat.

What can reduce these changes?

When the scientists looked into what factors may be responsible for these changes, they found that diet played at least a part in increased fat around the belly. 

The composition of the gut microbiome — the trillions of microbes in the gut that are crucial for our health — meanwhile showed a link with inflammation, body fat, and blood sugar control.

“The good news is that what you eat may partially reduce the unfavorable health impacts of menopause, either directly by reducing inflammation and blood sugar spikes or indirectly by altering the microbiome to a more favorable composition,” Dr. Berry comments.

Eating a healthy, varied diet, rich in fiber, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and healthy proteins — and saving sweets and desserts for an occasional treat — may therefore lessen the impact of these effects of menopause on women’s bodies. 

Improving gut health by supporting beneficial gut bacteria could likewise lessen the impact.

Foods high in fiber, like vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains, are great for gut health, as are fermented foods.

“ZOE’s personalized nutrition program promotes a healthy gut microbiome and targets diet-induced inflammation, postprandial responses and body weight. We’re committed to continuing to incorporate our scientific learnings on menopause into our program to better support women through menopause.” — Dr. Sarah Berry

The ZOE at-home test kit analyzes your blood sugar and blood fat responses as well as the makeup of your gut microbiome. Based on your unique results, the ZOE program gives you personalized nutrition advice to find the best foods and meals for your body and your metabolism, at your current life stage.

You can take our free quiz to find out more.