First Period Linked To Cardiovascular Disease, Says Study

Sad teenage girl sitting alone on the stairs.
Sad teenage girl sitting alone on the stairs.

Most women can perfectly recount the story of the day they got their first period -- and probably have to other women a number of times. But according to a new study, when you got your period isn't just a possibly wince-inducing memory that makes a decent coming-of-age tale. It could also indicate how likely you are to develop cardiovascular disease later in life.

The study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, found that women who got their periods early on were more likely to have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI), a larger waist circumference and greater overall body fat. In other words, getting your period earlier increases your obesity risk, and obesity has been linked to cardiovascular disease, the number one killer of American women.

1,638 women ages 40 and over participated in the study, which was conducted by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Researchers gave each woman an exam that measured the fat under her skin (subcutaneous adiposity, SAT) and her stomach fat (visceral adiposity, VAT). They also noted the year in which she experienced her first menstrual cycle.

Dr. Subbulaxmi Trikudanathan of Harvard Medical School, the study's lead author, discussed the results in a press release:

This research suggests that select female reproductive risk factors, specifically onset of menarche, are associated with overall adiposity [body fat], but not with specific indices of body fat distribution. Ultimately, the important question is whether female reproductive risk factors can be used to target lifestyle interventions in high risk women to prevent the ... consequences of obesity and cardiovascular disease.

This isn’t the first study to link the early onset of menstruation with health problems in adulthood. Previous research, published in April 2011, linked early first periods (before the age of 10) with reduced lung capacity later in life.

So what are the practical implications of this study? In the study itself, the Researchers suggested, "Early menarche in women may be an opportune moment to advocate lifestyle measures to prevent adult obesity.”

So you should warn your daughter about her obesity and heart disease risks when you're teaching her how to use a tampon? Awareness is important, but maybe give it a week.

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