Low vitamin D may solve mystery of earlier female maturation – and life-long health problems

If successful, intervention might also reduce the associated life-time risk of behavioral, cardiovascular, and metabolic problems; even breast cancer risk.

A new study links low vitamin D in young girls with early menstruation, which is a risk factor for a host of health problems both during their teens and later in life.

Researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health measured the blood vitamin D levels in 242 girls ages 5-12 from Bogota, Colombia, and followed them for 30 months. Girls low on vitamin D were nearly 2.5 times as likely to start menstruation during the study than those with sufficient vitamin D, says epidemiologist Eduardo Villamor, MD, MPH, DrPH. [See “Vitamin D deficiency and age at menarche: A prospective study,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Aug 10, 2011.]

This is important for several reasons, says Dr. Villamor. There has been a slow worldwide decline in the age of the first menstruation, or menarche, for years, suggesting it has an environmental cause, since the genetics that trigger puberty haven’t changed.

Successful Intervention Might Reduce Lifelong Disease Risk

“We know relatively little about what triggers puberty from an environmental perspective,” says Dr. Villamor. “If we learn what is causing the decline in age of first menstruation, we may be able to develop interventions” to prevent premature menarche.

• Early menstruation is a risk factor for behavioral and psychosocial problems in teens.

• Also, girls who have an earlier menarche appear to have increased risk of developing cardio-metabolic diseases and cancer – particularly breast cancer, as adults.

Latitude is a Known Factor in Premature Maturation

This study formally explored the link between vitamin D status of girls and the time of their first menstruation.

• Previous research has suggested that menarche happens later in girls living closer to the Equator than girls living in northern countries.

• Coincidentally, girls in northern countries may harbor high rates of vitamin D deficiency during winter months because of limited sun exposure.

In the research by Villamor and colleagues:

• 57% of the girls in the vitamin D-deficient group reached menarche during the study, compared to 23% in the vitamin D-sufficient group.

• In terms of age, girls who were low in vitamin D were about 11.8 years old when they started menstruating, compared to the other group at about age 12.6 years old.

This 10-month difference is substantial, Dr. Villamor explains, because even though 10 months may not seem like a long time, at that age a lot is happening rapidly to a young girl’s body.

Still, while the results suggest a link between vitamin D and menarche, they have not established a causal relationship. It’s necessary to do more studies to show if interventions that change girls’ vitamin D status result in a change in their age of menarche.

Source: University of Michigan news release, Aug 10, 2011

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