As mom to a 14 year-old boy, I’m completely caught up in the storm of changing and raging hormones right now. And I’m always talking to my girlfriends who have daughters about what they are experiencing during the teen years, too. So that’s why a recent study about teen girls caught my attention. The study was published in the journal Fertility & Sterility and found that teen girls who have irregular periods (defined in the study as a period that starts 42 days after the start of the previous one) were more likely to be overweight and obese, and to have early warning signs of diabetes and heart disease.
According to one of the study’s authors, Charles Glueck, very irregular periods in even young teenagers are not normal. Although some MDs may believe that it takes a couple of years before a girl’s period settles into a regular cycle, Glueck says this is not the case, and irregularity should be seen as a warning sign.
The study followed 370 school-age girls from age fourteen. Girls who reported the most irregular periods were already heavier than the others at the age of 14 and had a higher average BMI of 37.8 (considered severely obese) by age 25, compared to the girls who did not. Those with irregular periods also had higher levels of blood sugar and insulin by age 25, both are risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Researchers say the findings don’t prove irregular periods cause girls to gain weight, or have increased glucose or insulin levels. But they could be a warning that their metabolism isn’t functioning properly, as well as a sign of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is a hormonal disorder linked to infertility. If caught early in the teen years treatment for PCOS could be very successful. Seeing these irregular periods as "red flags" could also help in the prevention of diabetes, obesity and heart disease.