PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A new study suggests that girls who drink a lot of sugar-filled drinks may start their menstrual periods earlier than girls who consume other beverages.

When it comes to puberty, Allegheny General Hospital med-peds physician Dr. Jennifer Preiss sees it earlier and earlier.

“I’ve been doing this about 24 years. I would say I would start to see some changes, some pubertal changes in girls, maybe 10, 11, 11 and a half, 12. Now I see them pretty routinely at 9. That’s pretty strikingly different,” says Dr. Preiss.

Researchers at Harvard think they may be on to another part of this trend.

In a five-year study of more than 5,000 girls, ages 9 to 14, those who drank more than one and a half servings of sugary drinks a day had their first menstrual period nearly three months earlier than girls who drank two or fewer servings per week. A difference of starting at 12 years 9 months, versus 13 years.

“I’m not so concerned about the actual timing of their period, but what actually else might be happening inside their bodies,” Dr. Preiss says.

It is possible the sugary drinks boost insulin, which interacts with sex hormones, bringing girls into puberty earlier. But this kind of study can only show patterns, not cause and effect.

The drinks the researchers point to, like soda, sweetened teas, and sweetened fruit drinks, contain sucrose, glucose and corn syrup.

Even when weight, diet and exercise were accounted for, the researchers still saw the pattern, concerning because the early onset of menstruation is a risk factor for breast cancer later.

“Just because you get your period early doesn’t mean you have this exceedingly higher risk of breast cancer. Once again, you put it in with other environmental factors. You’ve got family history that plays a role, if you’ve ever had a pregnancy and delivered, and if you’d had exposure to estrogens for long periods of time. There are all those things, combination-wise make your risk higher or lower,” Dr. Preiss says.

With diet soda and fruit juice, there was no difference in the age of first period.

“It should all be about risk reduction. And if you can reduce any slight possibility of a risk for cancer, or some other type of disease process, why not do it?” Dr. Preiss said.

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Dr. Maria Simbra