Women who enter the menopause either earlier or later than average are at higher risk of developing diabetes and should be encouraged to be “vigilant” about lifestyle, say researchers.
According to a major US study into women’s health, patients who begin menopause before age 46 or after 55 have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
“The optimal window for menopause and diabetes risk is between the ages of 46 and 55”
It found that women who had their final menstrual period before the age of 46 were 25% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, compared to women who had their final period between ages 46 and 55.
Meanwhile, women who had their final period after age 55 had a 12% increased risk of developing diabetes.
The findings are based on data from more than 124,000 women taking part in the Women’s Health Initiative, a large trial aimed at preventing disease in post-menopausal women.
US women aged 50 to 79 were recruited from 1993-98 at 40 sites and followed for about 12 years. They completed extensive questionnaires covering reproductive history, age at first period and age of menopause.
Previous studies have linked early menopause to an increased risk of diabetes, but this is the first to show that later menopause also puts women at higher risk, said the researchers.
The study also found an association between the length of a woman’s lifetime reproductive cycle and risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Women with the shortest lifetime reproductive cycles – less than 30 years – were 37% more likely to develop diabetes than those with medium length reproductive cycles – 36 to 40 years.
Those with the longest reproductive cycles – more than 45 years – were 23% more likely to develop diabetes, compared to women with medium length reproductive cycles.
Menopause timing linked to diabetes risk
Lead study author Erin LeBlanc, from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, said: “Our study suggests the optimal window for menopause and diabetes risk is between the ages of 46 and 55.
“Women who start menopause before or after that window should be aware that they are at higher risk, and should be especially vigilant about reducing obesity, eating a healthy diet and exercising,” she added.
The study findings are due to be published today in Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society, which noted that the average age of menopause was 51.
Funding for the Women’s Health Initiative was provided by grants from the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health.
Among the other researchers working on the study was Dr Nancy Woods, from the University of Washington School of Nursing.