It is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to your medical profile: when did you get your first period? It may not strike you as odd that you (or your daughter) were first introduced to Aunt Flo at the age of 10. But, 150 years ago, that would have been early. In the 1800s, the average age for menarche was much later into teenage years, around 17 years old. Now, the average age for menarche is 12.5 years old, according to the CDC. Menarche is the way that a girl's body says it is ready to carry a baby; along with developing breasts, pubic and underarm hair, a girl entering into puberty will start having periods.
Studies have been conducted that look into this interesting age decline. Researchers pose multiple factors that could play into this early onset of puberty: encountering environmental chemicals on a daily basis, dietary choices, an increase of body fat in younger children, even artificial lighting and its affect on melatonin production, says Richard Hansler of John Carroll University.
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The hormones in our food are thought to play into early menarche, but Ethan Gregory, a counselor and sexual health educator, says that topic is still debatable. But the effect early menarche could have on a girl's body down the road is concerning. Studies show that early menarche is associated with physical and emotional problems such as an increased risk of developing cancers (endometrial, ovarian and breast) as an adult, earlier sexual encounters, being overweight and having more issues with depression. Researchers believe that this susceptibility to diseases and cancer is related to a girl's exposure to estrogen for a longer amount of time and earlier development of breast tissue. In one study, over 400,000 women were analyzed, and researchers found that the risk for cancer increased with every year younger that a woman first reached menarche.
In an article on Fusion, Frank Biro, the director of research for the Division of Adolescent and Transition Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, said, "A larger BMI is associated with a higher level of the hormone leptin, which tells the body you have enough energy reserves to engage in this pursuit called puberty.” As population numbers continued to grow during the 20th century and nutritional needs needed to be met, new processed foods and dietary habits came into play, and researchers are now looking into whether those factor into early menarche.
Mitigating these risks starts with a healthy diet and adequate exercise for young girls. Gregory says, "A woman with a healthy lifestyle as much as can be controlled through childhood and adulthood can mitigate any risks associated by an early menarche that are not heredity."
Along with eating nutritional foods and being active, young girls who have entered into puberty need constant support. Parental guidance is imperative, as she is now navigating through sexual and emotional waters like never before. Remind her that being a "woman" starts with self-assurance and always involves communication. She is beautiful, no matter what.