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Sugar-filled drinks may lead to early menarche, study

Posted:  Thursday, January 29, 2015

A first of a kind study evaluated the relationship between certain dietary habits and the age of menarche or the first menstrual period. It was found that girls who drank more than 1.5 servings of sugar-filled drinks a day had their first period 2.7 months earlier than those who consumed two or fewer such drinks a week.

These results were published in the journal Human Reproduction. As part of the study, the researchers followed 5583 girls (aged 9-14 years) from the Growing up Today Study between 1996 and 2001. At the time of joining, none of the girls had started their menstruation, but by the end of the study all the girls (except for 3% of them) had started their monthly cycle.

Questionnaires helped evaluate the average frequency of consumption of drinks such as one can or glass of soda or diet soda, one glass of non-carbonated fruit drinks such as lemonade, punch and other non-carbonated fruit drinks or one glass/can/bottle of sweetened ice tea. Information on diet soda and fruit juice was collected to study the impact of artificially or naturally sweetened drinks.

After adjusting for confounding factors such as birth weight, physical activity, race, height, frequency of eating and others, the researchers found that girls consuming more than 1.5 servings of sugary drinks between the age of 9 and 18.5 years were on an average 24% more likely to start their menstruation in the next month as compared to those consuming 2 or fewer drinks per week. The average age of the first period among girls consuming the most sugary drinks was 12.8 years, compared to 13 years for those drinking the least.

When the results were adjusted to body mass index (BMI), they still found a significant relationship between sugary drinks and age at menarche. According to them, the high glycaemic index of the sweetened drinks results in an increase in the insulin levels, which in turn increases the levels of sex hormones in the body and may trigger menarche. However, diet sodas and fruit juices were not found to be linked with any difference in the age at menarche.

Talking about the implications of early menarche, the researchers said, “A one-year decrease in age at menarche is estimated to increase the risk of breast cancer by 5%..... thus, a 2.7 month-decrease in age at menarche likely has a modest impact on breast cancer risk. The public health significance of sugar sweetened beverage consumption at age at menarche, and possibly breast cancer, should not be over-looked, since unlike most other predictors of menarche, sugar sweetened beverage consumption can be modified.”

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