Not to generalize, but odds are, you probably hated going through puberty so much that you don't spend a lot of time thinking about it now that it's over. You should, though — because there's a lot of things your puberty age says about your health. According to WebMD, the average age of puberty in girls falls somewhere between eight and 13 years old, whereas boys tend to start experiencing puberty between nine and 14 years old. Additionally, although the most memorable part of puberty for most girls is when they get their first period (aka their menarche), female puberty doesn't necessarily start or stop with menstruation. But no matter your gender, the age at which you began puberty has more to do with your health and wellness as an adult than you might imagine.
Recent studies suggest that puberty age is a factor in disease risk. Precocious puberty (the term for starting puberty earlier than normal) in both girls and boys has been linked to a higher risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Conversely, going through puberty later than normal can increase your risk of developing asthma. On top of all that, early periods can contribute to all kinds of physical, mental, and behavioral problems in girls. Basically, your puberty age is kind of a big deal. Here's just a few things your puberty age says about your health.
1. Early Puberty Has Been Linked To Heart Disease & Type 2 Diabetes
Not only does hitting puberty early suck for the obvious reasons (like having to think about bras, acne or pubic hair as early as eight years old) — hitting puberty earlier than normal raises the risk of developing heart disease and type two diabetes by 50 percent.
These findings were the result of a University of Cambridge study which looked at the data of nearly half a million people whose puberty details are assembled in the UK Biobank. According to The Guardian (UK), which reported on the study back in June of 2015, "Those who went through puberty relatively early had around 50% higher relative risks for type 2 diabetes and heart disease."
While it was previously believed that the correlation between early puberty and higher disease risk was primarily due to issues tied to weight and obesity, this study has lead experts to believe that people who go though early puberty at an average weight are as at-risk as those who experienced early puberty while at a higher weight. Early puberty seems to be the main risk factor for developing heart disease and type two diabetes later in life.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Felix Day, notes that researchers have yet to get to the root of why early puberty means higher disease risk, however, saying: “Though a cross-sectional study of this kind cannot distinguish between cause and effect, evidence from other studies using different methods does point to a causal link between puberty and certain diseases, such as type 2 diabetes."
2. Late Puberty Has Been Linked To Asthma
Unfortunately, the same University of Cambridge study which linked early puberty age to increased risk of developing heart disease and type two diabetes later in life has also found a connection between late puberty age and increased asthma risk. However, researchers aren't yet able to tell us why this happens. As BBC News reported last June, it is believed that the correlation between puberty age and increased risk of certain diseases (such as cancer) is directly related to hormones — but "researchers admit that they have 'very little idea' what might contribute to diseases such as asthma."
3. Early Period Age In Girls Has Been Linked To Breast Cancer Development
Although the beginning of puberty isn't necessarily marked by your first period (puberty began for me at 10 years old, when I started getting armpit hair, whereas my first period didn't happen until I was 12), your first period can play a significant role in your breast cancer risk.
As Bustle wrote back in August of 2015, if you get your first period before the age of 12 (which is the national average for menarchal age), then your risk of developing breast cancer later in life is approximately 20 percent higher than women who got their first period later in life.
According to a recent study from the University of Oxford — in which researchers analyzed data from over 117 studies, which included close to 120,000 women with breast cancer and more than 300,000 women without the disease — the main reason early period age contributes to breast cancer risk is a hormonal one. As JR Thorpe put it for Bustle back in August, "It looks like the more estrogen and period-causing hormones you experience over your life, particularly at your menarche, the more likely it is that your body will develop breast cancers that are hormonally sensitive."
4. Age Of First Period Is Partially Influenced By Home Life
We've established that your puberty age isn't necessarily the age you get period. In fact, as Planned Parenthood reports on their website, some girls may experience puberty changes until they're 20 years old. That said, periods are certainly a key element of puberty, and the age you get your first one is partially determined by the quality of your childhood.
As Psychology Today explained back in 2012, when parents provide their daughters with lower levels of parental support, sensitivity, attention, and emotional security, they're more likely to start getting their periods earlier than average. There are lots of theories about why this happens. One theory is that living in a seemingly unstable environment during childhood (whether that means you had an absent parent, divorced parents, or suffered parental neglect) advances sexual maturation for evolutionary reasons. Essentially, if your childhood is rough enough that you feel like your family isn't going to take care of you, evolution may jump-start puberty so you can have the option of starting own family instead.
5. Going Through Early Puberty Can Directly Affect Your Mental Health
In addition to impacting your physical health, getting your period earlier than average can negatively affect your mental health, too. As Taryn Hillan of Fusion explained in her article on the topic, "Going through puberty before age 11 has been linked to a host of psychological and social challenges — from depression to eating disorders to all the problems that come from being viewed as a sex object while still a little girl."
Early menarche can contribute to mental health struggles for many reasons. Girls who get their period so soon may feel pushed to grow up too fast, and research has shown they're more likely to receive lower levels of education and exhibit behavioral problems, such as smoking, drinking, using drugs, and having unprotected sex. The causes of these behaviors are unclear, though one theory is that when a girl's sexual maturation starts earlier than average, she's more likely to have older friends and partners.
Of course, puberty is hardly destiny — there are many factors that go into our health, and age of puberty is just one of them. So if you did hit puberty especially early or late, there's no need to freak out — just keep your eyes open for these issues.
Images: Pexels, Giphy/(5)