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Women who started their periods early could have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes

People with diabetes have excessively high levels of blood sugar from food. And as a result they are more likely to suffer debilitating complications such as heart attacks, strokes and other serious medical conditions, leading to reduced life expectancy a

New Chinese research has found that girls who start their periods earlier may be at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Carried out by researchers from Zhengzhou University, the new large-scale study looked at 15,346 postmenopausal women in rural China to investigate whether early menarche, which is a female's first period, is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

The findings, published online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), showed that after taking into account possibly influencing factors, women who started their period age 14 or younger had a higher risk of type 2 diabetes compared to women who started their periods at age 16 or 17.

In addition, women who started their periods later actually had a lower risk of the disease, with each year of delay in menarche age linked with a 6 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

The team also found body mass index (BMI) may play a role in the risk of the disease, as it was found to partially mediate the association.

"This study of rural Chinese women indicates that the average age of menarche is delayed relative to western countries at 16.1 years and is linked with lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Earlier onset of menses (14 years) was associated with diabetes in later life, likely driven by adult BMI. Other factors such as nutrition and BMI in childhood may also play a role in this association," says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, NAMS medical director.

The team note that this is not the first study to investigate whether early menarche can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, but it does provide additional evidence about the possible risk factors for the disease. 

A study published earlier this year which looked at data on 7,893 Chinese women age 45 and over found that early menarche was linked with an increased risk of high blood pressure later in life, also a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Diet and exercise have also been shown to be effective in reducing the risk of the disease.

Type 2 diabetes has become one of the most common diseases worldwide, and is a growing global health concern. In 2015, it affected nearly 8.8 percent of people aged 20 to 79 across the world, with this number expected to grow to 10.4 percent by 2040.