What The Age You Got Your First Period At Says About Your Health, According To Science
When is the "normal" time to begin your period? If you're around 13 at the age of your first menarche, which is the technical Greek term for your first menstruation, you're in the most common range. That's a lot younger than many of your ancestors; studies have shown that pre-industrial societies had average first menstruation ages of around 17, and that the average age has come down over the years as nutrition for children and adolescents has improved. But being much younger or older than 13 when you first got your period isn't just an annoyance that set you apart from your peers. Science shows that the age you first got your period at can tell you a lot about your health, from different health risks to benefits.
There are a lot of different factors that can cause menarche to occur late or early. Race is one: Black people tend to have an earlier menarche age on average than Caucasians, according to a number of studies. Your birthweight, genetics, your mother's health during pregnancy, and a host of other things also play a role. But when it comes to how unusual menarche age affects health, we're still discovering new aspects of the puzzle; some studies uncovered new ideas about menarche and reproductive health only last year. So read up on how your first period might affect your life, and keep your eyes out for new developments.
1. An Early Period Can Raise Your Likelihood Of Heart Issues
Multiple studies have found that early menarche is tied to higher risk of various health disorders for women, and it seems to be particularly bad for heart health. One study, from 2015, noted that girls who had either an earlier or later menarche date than average were 27 percent more likely to get heart disease and 16 percent higher risk of having a stroke than people in the more "normal" age range. However, this may only apply to Caucasian populations; a study in 2017 found that, while white women do see a relationship between early menarche and cardiovascular issues, the same pattern doesn't seem to be found in Asian women who began menstruating early. Why isn't clear.
2. It Also Seems To Be Tied To Breast Cancer Risk
The earlier you get your period, the more period cycles, in theory, you'll have in life. It's an easy bit of logic, but scientists are increasingly concerned that it can also lead to cancers that are linked to prolonged exposure to female reproductive hormones. They're called estrogen-sensitive cancers, and they're one of the things you should know about in reference to your reproductive cycle history. A study from Oxford researchers in 2017 pinpointed a particularly strong link in the case of breast cancers and early menarche, but was more common in lobular cancers than ductal ones. (Lobular cancer begins in the lobes of the breast, while ductal cancer begins in the milk ducts.) Previous research has indicated that getting your period under the age of 12 increases your risk of breast cancer by 20 percent, so if you got your period early you need to pay extra attention to your breast health.
3. Early Menarche Could Also Mean An Early Menopause
A large study that analyzed data from 50,000 women across the world in 2017 found that there appears to be a link between early menarche — before the age of 12 — and entering early menopause, which typically hits women at around the age of 50. The women in their study were 31 percent more likely to get early menopause, between the ages of 40 and 44, if they'd been early menstruators at 11 or younger, but the effect eased off; only 7.2 percent of women who had their periods at age 13 hit early menopause. Understanding why this is remains challenging, but if you hit puberty very early, it's likely a good idea to plan to be pregnant before age 40, too.
4. Getting Your Period Early Raises Your Likelihood Of Diabetes
Various studies have found that there seems to be some relationship between early menarche and the development of Type 2 diabetes. One study, in 2013, looked at patients from 26 research centers across Europe, and found that the earlier they started their periods, the higher their type 2 risk, and this finding has been replicated in Brazilian and Chinese studies.
And this finding applies to other kinds of diabetes too. A study published in 2016 looked at 27,482 women, and found that if they'd happened to have early menarche, they were significantly more likely than their peers to experience gestational diabetes mellitus. GDM, as it's called, is a diabetic condition that can occur during pregnancy and occurs because of glucose sensitivity. Part of the relationship between the early-period women and the likelihood of GDM, the scientists found, was linked to women being overweight; but the tie persisted even in women who had low or 'normal' weight during pregnancy.
5. Delayed Menarche Can Signal Reproductive Health Problems
While getting your period a bit later than your mates is often nothing to worry about, in some women it's a sign of conditions that can affect fertility and reproductive functioning. Both polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and underactive thyroids are associated with delayed menarche in women, because they interfere with the normal functioning of female puberty. However, both syndromes also come with other symptoms, so it's not likely that late menarche on its own should cause you concern.
6. It Can Also Mean Lower Bone Density
The later you get your period, the more at risk you are of having low bone density later in life. A collection of studies in 2010 found that "late menarche is associated with osteoporosis, since studies including postmenopausal women suggest that those having later menstruated have lower mineral density at forearm, spine and proximal femur and increased risk of fractures as well."
This is particularly the case in Asian women, who have been noted in studies to be vulnerable to low bone density if they experience their first period after the age of 14. The reason? Estrogen is a big factor in bone formation in women, and fewer periods means less estrogen produced over a lifetime.
Knowing the age at which you had your first period is a valuable tool when it comes to knowing your vulnerabilities for various kinds of health issues. But just identifying a risk doesn't mean it's 100 percent sure you're going to have something; genetics and environmental risks play big roles as well. So don't worry that early or late menarche has affected your health in insurmountable ways — just be aware of your potential risk factors, as a part of being on top of your health in general.