Women who started menstruating at a younger age may be at higher risk of gestational diabetes, according to a new study published in the journal Diabetes Care.
The research followed more than 27,000 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II in the United States. Researchers found that early menarche (menarche is the first menstrual cycle) was significantly associated with an increased risk of gestational diabetes. When menstruation began at age 11 compared with age 14, women had a 39% higher risk of developing gestational diabetes.
Early menarche is also associated with a higher rate of obesity in adulthood. But obesity doesn’t account for the entire link between early menstruation and gestational diabetes. Some women who reached puberty early have higher levels of the hormone oestrogen in adulthood, which might be also be a factor in an increased risk of gestational diabetes.
Jean Hailes endocrinologist Dr Sonia Davison says this study highlights that weight is closely linked to the type of hormones that drive puberty in women, such as oestrogen, but also to the hormones that regulate blood sugar and alter our diabetes risk, such as insulin.
The study also noted that the relationship between early menarche and gestational diabetes could be linked to excessive weight pre-pregnancy. A large proportion of women who developed gestational diabetes were considered overweight pre-pregnancy.
"The important message from this study really lies with weight, in that the women who had undergone an earlier onset of periods had a higher risk of diabetes in pregnancy. But in a high percentage of these women, being overweight prior to pregnancy was the key factor that increased their risk," says Dr Davison.
"Our body is designed to work optimally if weight is within a healthy range for our height. This should be a key goal for all women if they want to avoid secondary health problems such as diabetes and heart disease."