A new study from researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine suggests that the age a woman gets her first period affects her life expectancy.
The study, which included 16,000 women of different races and ethnicities, found that women who both started their period after the age of 12 and who experienced menopause after the age of 50, had a greater chance of living to the age of 90.
Aladdin Shadyab, PhD, lead author of the study said, "Our study found that women who started menstruation at age 12 or older, experienced menopause, either naturally or surgically, at age 50 or older and had more than 40 reproductive years had increased odds of living to 90 years old.”
What about those of us who started our periods before the age of 12? Pink Parcel's resident expert, Dr Sarah Johns, says we need to take a deeper look at the facts.
Dr Johns points out, "There are a number of important factors to consider when interpreting the results of this study. Firstly, the average age of women who were recruited into the study cohort was 74 years old. These women had to recall the age at which their periods started. It is very likely that their recollection will be imprecise which limits interpretation of the result as the age of menarche (the age at which you start your periods)."
It's a fair point: could you be sure of the date of something that happened to you over 60 years ago?
All About Age
Oestrogen is thought of as a ‘cardio-protective’ hormone, which means that it might protect women from cardiovascular problems including heart attacks and strokes.
Dr Johns says, "The author of this study suggests that the longer we are exposed to oestrogen (i.e. the longer we have periods and the later our menopause is) the longer our life expectancy might be. However, once we are older than 60 years old our age alone increases the risk of health problems, regardless of our hormones."
So the health of the women in this study could be everything to do with their age and lifestyle and not so much linked to their hormones.
A Different Class
"The socioeconomic differences between the groups of women who took part in this study were adjusted for," admits Dr Johns, " But, importantly, these factors may be significantly different today, to when the women in the study started their periods."
We would expect the living standards of many of the women today, to be better than 60 years ago - right?
What Does It Mean For You?
Dr Johns says, "I do not think women should be unduly concerned about the findings of this study."
"I would reassure women who started their periods earlier than 12 years old that this does not mean their life expectancy is less than their friends whose periods started later." (Phew)
"It is much more important for women to focus on the factors for a healthy, long life which we can control rather than worrying about the age we start and finish our periods."
In practise this means making good lifestyle choices: exercising regularly, not smoking, not drinking to excess and eating healthily.
What age were you when you started your period? And what do you make of the study? Let us know in the comments.
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