Early Periods: A Red Flag for Diabetes?

Diabetes risk may climb for girls who start menstruating between ages 8 and 11

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Early puberty in females has been linked to a greater risk of heart disease, cancer and obesity. According to a new study, menstruation at an early age may also boost the odds of getting diabetes.

A female can start her period anytime between the ages of 8 and 15, though less than 10 percent of US girls start to menstruate before 11 years old.

Research has shown that these girls may face more health problems than those who have a first period at the average age of 12.

A new study found that girls who started menstruating between 8 and 11 years old may be at a heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

"Be aware of health risks if menstruation began at early age."

Cathy Elks, PhD, with the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the Institute of Metabolic Science with Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, United Kingdom, led the investigation, involving 15,168 women.

Menarche is a girl’s first menstrual cycle. The average age at menarche has been dropping in many countries, and the occurrence of type 2 diabetes has been rising.

Dr. Elks and her colleagues discovered that women who had menarche between ages 8 and 11 had a 70 percent higher incidence of diabetes compared to those who had a first period at a median age of 13, in this case.

The scientists speculate that weight gain may play a role. Previous studies have established that early menarche is associated with a high BMI (body mass index) later in life, and elevated BMI itself is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

“It is conceivable that part of the association between menarche timing and type 2 diabetes risk is explained by increased adiposity [body fat],” wrote the authors.

Investigators added that women who were at an older than average age at menarche did not show a reduction in diabetes risk.

The authors suggested that taking steps to avoid becoming overweight or obese may help lower the risk of getting diabetes in females who have early menarche.

Dr. Elks told dailyRx News, “In practice, the only current recommendation [for girls] would be to maintain a healthy body weight given that increased body mass index did explain some of the increased diabetes risk. The research does reveal a more complex biological relationship between puberty timing and diabetes risk than one that is simply mediated through increased [body fat].”

Precocious puberty is a term used to describe the appearance of earlier than normal maturing characteristics, like pubic hair or breast growth before age 8 — or the onset of menarche before age 9. The condition affects an estimated 1 in 5,000 US children.

The number of women who have early menarche has been growing. Scientists have been looking into environmental factors and lack of vitamin D as possible causes.

The study was published in the November issue of Diabetes Care.

Review Date: 
October 29, 2013
Last Updated:
October 29, 2013