May 21 (HealthDay News) --The younger they were when they started menstruating, the more likely black women were to have suffered childhood sexual abuse, U.S. researchers report.
The finding suggests childhood sexual abuse may increase the likelihood of early periods.
Researchers looked at more than 35,000 women, aged 21 to 69, taking part in the Black Women's Health Study and found that 43 percent reported physical abuse and 18 percent reported sexual abuse when they were children.
The study found that women who suffered one to three incidents of childhood sexual abuse were 26 percent more likely to have had menstrual periods before age 12, while those who experienced four or more incidents of childhood sexual abuse were 34 percent more likely to have had early periods.
There was a weaker association between early periods and childhood physical abuse, according to the study, published online in the American Journal of Public Health.
It's biologically plausible that childhood sexual abuse could influence age of menstruation, said study author Lauren A. Wise, an epidemiologist at the Slone Epidemiology Center and an assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health.
"A link between sexual abuse and early menarche [periods], if real, could have important public health implications, because early menarche is associated with earlier age at initiation of sexual activity and first pregnancy, and is a risk factor for several adult conditions, including gynecologic disorders, cardiovascular disease and cancer," Wise said in a Boston University Medical Center news release.
SOURCE: Boston University Medical Center, news release, May 18, 2009