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The onset of menstruation at a younger age is associated with a higher body-mass index (a measurement of body fat based on height and weight), larger waist circumference and obesity in adulthood -- all factors that increase the risk of cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease.
The report is scheduled for publication in the January issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
The study included more than 1,600 women, aged 40 and older, who took part in the Framingham Heart Study between 2002 and 2005. The women were assessed for belly fat and fat under the skin.
The researchers looked at the relationship between these types of fat and female reproductive factors after adjusting for age, smoking status, alcohol consumption, physical activity levels, hormone replacement therapy and menopausal status.
The timing of the first menstrual cycle (menarche) was associated with overall levels of fat in the women, but not levels of fat in specific areas of the body, the investigators found.
"This research suggests that select female reproductive risk factors, specifically onset of menarche, are associated with overall [levels of fat], but not with specific indices of body fat distribution," lead author Dr. Subbulaxmi Trikudanathan, of Harvard Medical School, said in a news release from the Endocrine Society.
"Ultimately, the important question is whether female reproductive risk factors can be used to target lifestyle interventions in high-risk women to prevent the metabolic consequences of obesity and cardiovascular disease," Trikudanathan added.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States.
Although the study found a link between early onset of menstruation and factors related to cardiovascular disease, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
-- Robert Preidt
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