A 1999 Japanese study showed that high intake of green and yellow vegetables was associated with delayed onset of menopause. This same study showed that high levels of exercise (defined as 8-10 hours a week) was associated with earlier menopause. Total fat as well as saturated fat, which comes largely from animals, not statistically relevant to the timing of menopause. Smoking was confirmed as being linked to early menopause.
It is interesting to look at this from a TCM perspective. Early menopause may sound like a good idea (as long as you are not trying to conceive). It means you do not have to worry about PMS, losing Blood, or getting pregnant. However, it is also an indicator of loss of vitality and a depletion in hormone production, meaning premature aging.
Premature menopause, or Premature Ovarian Failure (POF), is defined as menopause that occurs prior to age 40. The average age of an American woman going through menopause is 51, with the normal range being 42-58. As menopause is triggered by a depletion of Yin (and Jing), premature menopause would indicate more substantial Yin (and Jing) deficiency. In order to keep ourselves young and delay menopause, we want to nourish our Yin and protect our Jing.
Going back to the study, let’s look first at the intake of green and yellow vegetables being linked to later menopausal age. Eating more green and yellow vegetables*** ensures higher levels of many vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants. These vegetables would also have a cooling and moistening action on the body. Not only would a higher intake of green and yellow vegetables help to delay the onset of menopause, it would also alleviate menopausal symptoms (which are hot and dry in nature). That vegetables are good for us is hardly surprising news. The findings on exercise, however, run contradictory to what we are told.
We run on the assumption that because people are increasingly getting fat and lazy, the more we exercise the better off we will be. This is not the case. What we should strive for is balance. Too much exercise can cause its own set of problems including premature menopause. In Western terms, rigorous exercise decreases estrogen levels. Lean, muscular, sinewy physiques are associated with higher testosterone levels. In TCM terms, rigorous exercise is Yang in nature. It makes us more pumped, aggressive, and raises our temperature. If we overdo it, cardio, long distance running, and hot room yoga deplete Qi and Yin (and eventually Jing), while lifting weights deplete Qi and Yang (and eventually Jing).
I believe that the amount of exercise necessary to cause hormonal imbalance varies from woman to woman. It depends on her genetics and lifestyle. However, it very important for all women to balance exercise with rest and Yin activities, such as meditation, qigong, Yin or restorative yoga, sitting in contemplation, gardening, being in nature, daydreaming, and gentle breathing exercises (not kundalini).
Another reason why I think exercise is associated with premature menopause and aging is that most women who exercise do not stop during menses. During menses the body naturally becomes more Qi and Blood deficient. Exercising during this time taxes the body additionally and makes it harder to recover. Over time this will weaken a woman’s body and deplete Blood which eventually leads to Yin deficiency.Thus, I believe if we listen to our bodies and avoid overtraining, practice Yin activities regularly, and do not exercise during menses, we can avoid the negative impact of exercise on our hormone levels.
Smoking was already known to decrease estrogen levels and to be linked with premature menopause. In TCM terms, in depletes Yin and introduces pathological Heat into the body.
*** Some yellow (orange) vegetables: pumpkin, butternut squash, yam, and carrot. Examples of green vegetables: broccoli, spinach, green beans, kale, asparagus, arugula, celery, and brussel sprouts.
Andrews, Lia. “The ‘Three Golden Opportunities’: Key Times Women Can Improve or Damage their Health.” (The Journal of Chinese Medicine, October 2013, Number 103).
Andrews, Lia. “7 Times a Woman; Ancient Wisdom on Health & Beauty for Every Stage of Your Life.” (Alcyone Press: San Diego, 2013).