Earlier menstrual cycles linked with higher risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease complications

Image of a young girl holding a menstural pad

Earlier age at a girl’s first period is associated with a higher risk of becoming an adult woman with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular complications, a new study finds.

Diabetes and diabetes complications, such as stroke or coronary heart disease, are on the rise in U.S. women under the age of 65, while at the same time more girls are experiencing earlier first periods. Using data from 17,377 women aged 20-65 years in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers investigated the associations of period onset with type 2 diabetes risk and associated cardiovascular complications among women 65 years or younger.

They found that girls who get their first periods before the age of 13 had an increased risk of type 2 diabetes compared with those whose menstrual cycles came at age 13 or later. Among those women who developed type 2 diabetes, those who had an extremely early first period – occurring before their tenth birthday – also had an increased risk of stroke, although not cardiovascular disease in general.

The authors explain: “One potential pathway explanation may be that [these] women are exposed to estrogen for longer periods of time, and early [menstruation] has been associated with higher estrogen levels.”

The NHLBI-funded study appeared in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention, & Health.