University of Oxford researchers found that the risk of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure was higher in women who had their first menstrual cycle earlier than average – aged 10 or younger – or later than average – aged 17 or older.
The results suggest clinicians should focus on driving down childhood obesity to help safeguard future health, as this has previously been linked to earlier onset of menstruation, the researchers said.
The study, published in the American Heart Association’s Circulation journal, analysed data collected from 1.3m women aged 50 to 64. Their health was monitored for 10 years.
The results show that women who had their first menstrual cycle at the age of 13 had the lowest risk of developing heart disease.
Increased chance of hospitalisation or death
In comparison to these women, those who started before the age of 10 or after 17 were 27% more likely to be hospitalised or die due to heart disease later in life.
They were also 16% more likely to be hospitalised or die from stroke and 20% more likely to be hospitalised or die due to complications from high blood pressure.
The risk factor was independent of a participant's weight, smoking status or socioeconomic background.
Lead author Dr Dexter Canoy said: ‘The size of our study, the wide range of ages considered, and the vascular diseases being examined made it unique and informative.
‘Childhood obesity, widespread in many industrialised countries, is linked particularly to early age at which the first menstrual cycle occurs. Public health strategies to tackle childhood obesity may possibly prevent the lowering of the average age of first menstrual cycle, which may in turn reduce their risk of developing heart disease over the long term.’