Everything in our bodies is interconnected, and researchers from the University of Pittsburgh recently discovered a link between two unlikely body systems: the heart and menstruation.
According to their research, menstruators whose menstrual cycles increased in length two years before their final menstrual period had stronger vascular health measures than those with stable cycles. These changes could help doctors predict which patients are more at risk for cardiovascular disease.
Lead study author Samar El Khoudary said, “Menopause is not just a click of a button. It’s a multistage transition where women experience many changes that could put them at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Change in cycle length, which is linked to hormone levels, is a simple metric that might tell us who is more at risk.”
To come to their conclusions, the researchers analyzed data from 428 participants enrolled in the ongoing Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation. The study enrolled participants between ages 45 and 52 and followed them for 10 years or until postmenopausal. Using this data, the researchers were able to compare menstrual cycle data throughout the menopause transition with cardiovascular markers like arterial stiffness and artery thickness.
The researchers were then able to identify three stages of the menstrual cycle in these participants. They were grouped into those with stable cycles, which did not change, early change, lengthening of the cycle as much as five years before the last menstrual cycle, and late change, lengthening just two years before the last menstrual cycle.
Those in the late increase group, whose cycles lengthened two years before their final cycle had the strongest measures of the heart health of all groups while, surprisingly, those in the early increase group had the poorest measures of heart health.
This isn’t the first study to link menstruation trends with disease risk. Irregular cycles during reproductive years have been linked to other diseases like cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and osteoporosis. Moving forwards, the researchers plan to measure hormone levels in pre- and post-menopausal women to identify which hormones seem to be most strongly at play. They also want to compare menstrual trends with other cardiovascular risk factors like abdominal fat.