Results from a study using UK Biobank data have shown that the age at which both men and women begin puberty¹ is associated with 48 different health conditions.
This is the largest study of its kind and was conducted by researchers at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge.
The study, published today in Scientific Reports, confirms previous findings that early puberty in women is a risk factor for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and showed, for the first time, that early puberty in men also influences these same conditions.
In addition, new links were found between the timing of puberty and a wider range of health conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, glaucoma, psoriasis and depression in men and women, and also early menopause in women.
Those in the earliest or latest 20% to go through puberty had higher risks for late life disease when compared to those in the middle 20%, including around 50% higher relative risks for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and poor overall health. Furthermore, these disease links were not simply explained by nutritional status or obesity.
It was previously thought that only those individuals with relatively early puberty were more susceptible to a handful of specific diseases.
Dr Felix Day, lead author of the study at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, said:
“Up until now, the link between early puberty and risk of disease has been blamed on weight and obesity, but our findings suggest that men and women of a normal weight who go through puberty relatively early or late may also carry these risks.
“Though a study of this kind cannot distinguish between cause and effect, other evidence does point to a causal link between puberty and certain diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.”
Dr John Perry, Senior Investigator Scientist at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, added:
“We are continuing to work to understand how puberty timing impacts later health and how this information may be used alongside efforts to support healthy lifestyle changes and prevent disease.
“It is important to note that the increase in disease risk attributable to puberty timing is still relatively modest and represents one of many factors that contribute to the overall risk of developing disease.”
The research was funded by the Medical Research Council.
- The timing of puberty varies significantly between individuals, with the normal onset of puberty ranging from 8 to 13 in girls and from 9 to 14 in boys