Early periods increase diabetes risk

2 minute read

Starting menstrual cycles before the age of 13 linked to adverse health outcomes, according to new research.

“Girl, you’ll be a woman [with diabetes] soon” – Neil Diamond. 

Previous research has hinted at associations between early menarche and adverse health outcomes, but the exact link remains unclear as existing studies only included older, postmenopausal women. 

Now, a new US study, published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health, suggests women who got their first period before the age of 13 had greater odds of developing type 2 diabetes and stroke in later life.  

Researchers used responses from 17,000 women aged 20 to 65 years who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The median age of menarche was 12.7 years, and 10% of the sample went on to develop type 2 diabetes.  

Women who had their first period at age 10 or younger had a 32% increase in the odds of developing type 2 diabetes compared to women experienced menarche at age 13, after accounting for factors such as age, race/ethnicity, BMI, family diabetes history and physical activity. 

These women also had a 1.6-fold increase in the odds of having a stroke when accounting for similar factors. There were no other associations between menarche age and coronary heart disease or myocardial infarction.  

Women who started menstruating at age 12 had a 29% increase in the odds of developing type 2 diabetes. Getting your first period after age 13 was not associated with diabetes risk.  

The researchers propose the extended oestrogen exposure associated with an earlier age of menarche as a potential mechanism to the development of type 2 diabetes through the hormone’s role on insulin signalling and resistance. 

“Studies in both men and women show that sex hormone binding globulin, bioavailable testosterone and oestradiol, and high plasma oestradiol are all associated with insulin resistance and glucose levels independent of adiposity,” they wrote.  

The findings could play a key role in prevention of future disease, according to the researchers. 

“These findings support the possibility that age at menarche may be incorporated into early-life strategies for preventing diabetes and [the] progression of diabetes complications,” they concluded.  

BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health 2023, online 5 December 

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