Early menstruation correlated with heart disease risk

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Girls who begin menstruating at a younger age may have a greater risk for developing heart disease later in life, according to new findings published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The study included 15,807 middle-aged and senior women, whose cardiovascular health and mortality were tracked from 1993 to 1997, with additional follow-ups in 2007 and 2008. Researchers found that, those who reported earlier onset of menstruation—defined as before age 12—had higher risks for hypertension, coronary disease and death from any cause.

For more than a decade now, researchers and pediatricians have been tracking a marked increase in precocious puberty among girls—or the development of breasts and pubic hair at increasingly younger ages, accompanied by the early onset of menarche, or menstruation. Yet the early onset of puberty is nothing new: in the 1850s, the average age of first menstruation was 17; a century later, it was about 13. Today, it hovers around 12. So, what’s driving this trend? Researchers suggest that a combination of genetics, diet, and, the bogeyman of the current age, obesity, may explain the shift.

This latest study, conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge, highlights a correlation between higher amounts of body fat, early menstruation and later risk for health complications, the authors say. Referring to women who began menstruation before age 12, study author Dr. Rajalakshmi Lakshman told Reuters:

“These women may need greater awareness of their disease risks and weight control… One key related message, therefore, is that tackling overweight early on in the next generation may be important to avoid early menarche and also reduce long-term disease risks.”

In this latest study, women who got their first period before age 12 faced a 23% higher risk for developing heart disease later in life, and 28% higher risk of dying from heart attack or stroke, compared with those who began menstruating later. They also had a 25% higher risk of dying from cancer, something that previous research suggests is likely attributable to a higher overall exposure to estrogen during a woman’s lifetime.