The time of the first menstrual period not only influences the risk of diabetes later in life, but also the risk of stroke in the event of diabetes. The early onset of menstruation appears to be a significant risk factor.
A study involving experts at Brigham and Women’s Hospital examined the connection between age at first period (menarche) and subsequent risk of type 2 diabetes. In addition, the association between menarche and cardiovascular complications in women with diabetes was analyzed. The results are published in the specialist journal “BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health”.
Study with over 17,000 participants
Using data from a total of 17,377 women who provided information about the onset of their menstruation, the researchers tried to identify possible connections with the risk of diabetes and the risk of cardiovascular diseases. The women were divided into different categories based on their age at menarche.
A total of 1,773 participants had a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and 205 women said they had cardiovascular disease, which corresponded to around 11.5 percent of diabetics, the team reports.
Early menarche associated with diabetes
Subsequent data analysis showed that menarche under the age of 13 was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. According to the researchers, this also applied when other potential influencing factors were taken into account, such as a family history of diabetes.
The risk of diabetes increased by 32 percent if the first period occurred before the age of ten, and for women who had their first period at the age of twelve, the risk still increased by 29 percent, the experts report. An earlier first period is associated with a significantly increased risk of diabetes.
Increased risk of stroke
In women who had diabetes, early menarche was also associated with an increased risk of stroke. However, this did not apply to the general risk of cardiovascular disease, the researchers added in a press release.
A very early age at the first menstrual cycle, which the experts defined as ten years or younger, was associated with a more than twice as high risk of stroke in women with diabetes under the age of 65.
The older the women with diabetes were when they had their first period, the lower the risk of stroke. According to the researchers, the risk of stroke in diabetics who had their first menstrual period at the age of 14 was only increased by 15 percent.
According to the experts, the observed associations between age at the first menstrual cycle and the risk of stroke were slightly weakened after weight was taken into account, but still remained statistically significant.
Obesity may play a role in the observed connection between early menarche and the risk of stroke, as obesity in childhood is associated with both earlier onset of menstruation and cardiometabolic diseases later in life, the researchers explain.
Another explanation for the connection could be that affected women are exposed to estrogen over a longer period of time. In addition, early menstruation is associated with higher estrogen levels.
Prevention measures sought
Overall, the study provides clear evidence of a connection between early menarche and diabetes as well as the risk of stroke in diabetics later in life. Intervention studies should now examine possible prevention measures for affected women in order to reduce these risks, the researchers conclude. (as)