Topics » Nutrition Science » China Report: Menopause
T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

As every woman knows who rides the wave of shifting hormones, these small, chemical components of our blood can take us for quite a ride—from bloating to hot flashes to depression. And while we may not be able to completely smooth the hormonal journey, we can ease the way.

Menopause is, well, a hot topic. But it seems it is less “hot” for some women. Researchers have found that the core symptoms of menopause—including hot flashes, night sweats, and depression—are not experienced equally around the world. For instance, Chinese women report significantly fewer hot flashes and headaches, and Japanese women report fewer symptoms almost across the board.[1] While we don’t know the precise reason for this, we do know the following very provocative facts:

  • One theory was that cultural differences, particularly in the language and expectations surrounding menopause, might have hidden the truth about menopause in Asian populations; however, later research suggested legitimate biological differences must be accounted for: “In those societies where subjective reporting of symptoms [. . .] is low, such findings should not be dismissed as the result of learned cultural expectations that mask reality.”[2]
  • American women tend to have higher estrogen levels than Chinese women.[3]
  • Many researchers suspect that difficulties with menopause are caused by the degree to which estrogen levels fall. In other words, if estrogen levels are not so high to begin with, their fall is far shorter, leading to fewer symptoms. Meat, chicken, and dairy products contain foreign estrogens used to increase weight and production, but these added hormones also lead to higher estrogen levels in the human consumer.[4] Moreover, even animal products without added hormones contain natural estrogens.
  • Diets rich in vegetables, whole grains, and legumes provide magnesium and vitamin B6, which appear to reduce symptoms of PMS and possibly menopause.[5]
  • Many plant foods, such as soy products, contain phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) such as genistein, which bind to estrogen receptors in the breast or endometrium, “locking out” the “bad” estrogens associated with cancer.[6] In addition, these phytoestrogens provide a natural and gentle source of estrogen as women’s levels drop during menopause. Many researchers hypothesize that the high intake of soy products in Asia—tofu, soybean juice, miso—may be partly responsible for easing Asian women’s passage through this mid-life transformation.


  1. Shea JL. Parsing the ageing Asian woman: symptom results from the China study of midlife women. Maturitas. 2006;55(1):36-50. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2005.12.010
  2. Lock M. Symptom reporting at menopause: a review of cross-cultural findings. J Br Menopause Soc. 2002;8(4):132-136. doi:10.1258/136218002100321965
  3. Falk RT, Fears TR, Hoover RN, et al. Does place of birth influence endogenous hormone levels in Asian-American women?. Br J Cancer. 2002;87(1):54-60. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6600339
  4. Aksglaede L, Juul A, Leffers H, Skakkebaek NE, Andersson AM. The sensitivity of the child to sex steroids: possible impact of exogenous estrogens. Hum Reprod Update. 2006;12(4):341-349. doi:10.1093/humupd/dml018
  5. Fathizadeh N, Ebrahimi E, Valiani M, Tavakoli N, Yar MH. Evaluating the effect of magnesium and magnesium plus vitamin B6 supplement on the severity of premenstrual syndrome. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2010;15(Suppl 1):401-405.
  6. Zava DT, Duwe G. Estrogenic and antiproliferative properties of genistein and other flavonoids in human breast cancer cells in vitro. Nutr Cancer. 1997;27(1):31-40. doi:10.1080/01635589709514498

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