Beginning puberty early could increase gestational diabetes risk, study finds

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Women who start having menstrual cycles at a younger age are more likely to develop gestational diabetes, according to new research.

This study was a collaboration between American researchers at Clemson University, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health, the Indiana University School of Medicine and Frank Hu from the Harvard School of Public Health.

In their research, published in Diabetes Care, the study team noted that previous research findings have linked the beginning of menstrual cycles (also known as menarche, which marks the start of puberty and hormonal changes in the body) to type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy, can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes following childbirth.

The researchers examined more than 27,000 women who had enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study. They observed that girls aged 11 who began menarche, compared to girls aged 14, had a 39 per cent higher risk of developing gestational diabetes. An increased risk was also noted when menarche began at age 12 or 13, but this risk was lower.

The association remained following adjustments for women who reported being obese during menarche. Early menarche is associated with developing obesity in adulthood, “but obesity doesn’t explain all the association between menarche and gestational diabetes,” according to lead author Dr. Liwei Chen, Clemson University.

Other confounding factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, physical activity and healthy eating were also taken into account, but did not affect the results.

Chen added: “This new finding could mean that doctors will begin asking women when they had their first period to determine their risk of developing gestational diabetes. They may represent a high-risk population and should be targeted for prevention programs. Good weight control before pregnancy might help to reduce the gestational diabetes risk among those women.”

Chen suggested that some of the bodily changes which occur during menarche could be related to gestational diabetes later in life. However, additional research is necessary to fully understand these mechanisms.

Senior author Dr. Cuilin Zhang concluded: “Early age of menarche may represent a novel risk factor of gestational diabetes. Future studies to investigate the underlying molecular mechanisms are warranted.”