In a study of more than 3,000 12-year-old girls, a team of U.K. researchers found that eating large quantities of meat in early childhood was associated with a greater likelihood of beginning menstruation younger, the BBC reports. In fact, girls who ate the highest amount of meat — more than 8 portions per day by age 3, and more than 12 daily portions by age 7 — were 75% more likely than peers who ate less meat to have gotten their first period by age 12.
It has been widely documented that young women began menstruating at increasingly younger ages in the last century — in the 1850s, most girls began menstruating around age 17, today, it’s around age 12 — though there is still no consensus as to what might be driving this shift. In this latest research, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, researchers suggest that eating meat-rich diets may ready the body for pregnancy at a younger age, in turn prompting the early start of menstruation, the BBC reports.
Though, in this study, researchers noted the link between meat consumption and early menstruation apart from weight, previous research suggests that increasing prevalence of obesity may be a factor contributing to earlier onset of puberty in girls. Previous research has also found an association between early menstruation and an increased risk for breast cancer — likely because having more menstrual cycles means a greater lifetime exposure to estrogen. Early periods have also been linked to an increased risk for heart disease later in life.
Read the full BBC story here.