Still Sipping Soda? Sugary Drinks Might Cause Early Puberty in Girls

The harms of sugary drinksare well established, but new research shows that soft drinks might even be responsible for girls going through puberty at an earlier age.

The research, which is published this month in the journal Human Reproduction, is the first of its kind to look at any association between sugar-sweetened beverages(SSBs) and theaffect on what age girls begin to menstruate.

To do this, the researchers randomly selected 5,583 girls, aged 9-14, from the wider Growing Up Today Study, which followed 16,875 children from across all 50 states in the United States. None of the girls had started their periods when they began the study in 1996. By the end of the research in 2001, just three percent still hadn’t startedmenstruating.

The research utilized questionnaires to assess the girls’ diets over the course of the study, including how frequently they drank particular drinks, including soda/diet soda, non-carbonated fruit drinks (like lemonades and punch), or sweetened ice tea. All of these drinks have added sugar, and some (colas for example) also have caffeine.

The researchers found that the girls in the study who consumed more than 1.5 servings of a sugar-sweetened drink per day tended to have their first period around 2.7 months earlier than girls who consumed only two drinks a week, or less. The researchers controlled for common factors that can affect when women start their periods, for instance BMI, total calorie consumption, physical activity levels and caffeine intake (in case that had a hand in this), buttheystill found a 22 percent likelihood of an earlier onset of menstruation among those girls who drank the must sugary drinks as opposed to those who drank the least.

Breaking the figures down, though, there was one bright spot: the researchers found that diet sodas and fruit juices did not correlate with early menstruation, suggesting that artificial sweeteners aren’t having the same affect on the body.

Why might this be happening then? The researchers theorize that the added sugar in soft drinks and sodas creates a rapid rise in insulin in our bodies. Infrequent high spots of insulin is unlikely to be a problem, but over a long period of time, the researchers believe that these higher concentrations of insulin provoke higher levels of sex hormones to circulate in our bodies,which has been shown to prompt earlier menstruation.

What is concerning here is that the earlier on-set of puberty isn’t just a problem in itself: previous research has shown that early puberty tends to go hand in hand with higher rates of depression among young girls, and may even elevate the risk of breast cancer in later life.

Karin Michels, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and lead researcher in this study, explains: “Our study adds to increasing concern about the wide-spread consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks among children and adolescents in the USA and elsewhere. The main concern is about childhood obesity, but our study suggests that age of first menstruation (menarche) occurred earlier, independently of body mass index, among girls with the highest consumption of drinks sweetened with added sugar. These findings are important in the context of earlier puberty onset among girls, which has been observed in developed countries and for which the reason is largely unknown.”

There’s one factor that needs to be taken into account here, too. The children in this study all had parents who were nurses. We might theorize that this population sample, while broadly representative, may not have absolutely typical diets as a result of their parents being more aware of health risks and healthy eating. The researchers themselves mention this and warn that they believe SSB consumption is possiblyhigher in other populations and so, while the increase in health risks in this particular sample may only be modest, when we look at the United States as a whole, this could in fact represent a serious health problem.

Given that sugar sweetened beverages often carry absolutely no nutritional benefits, this represents yet another reason to skip the soda aisle the next time we’re in the supermarket.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

30 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Alina Kanaski
Alina Kanaski2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Roisin Kelleher

Much prefer water and fruit juices

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Aba Comms
Aba Comms2 years ago

As this study’s authors note in their conclusions, sugar-sweetened beverages “may be associated with earlier menarche.” In other words, this research fails to show cause and effect, and therefore does not prove anything of note. What the body of science supports is that adolescent girls are reaching puberty earlier than prior generations; however, there is no scientific consensus concerning the cause of this trend.
-American Beverage Association

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Julia Cabrera-Woscek

SOdas are not good. period.

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Ron B.
Ron B2 years ago

Well, here's one thing I won't have to worry about anyway.

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Karen K.
Karen K2 years ago

I had my period at age 16 and ate everything, but I exercised a lot-- loved to run. I did drink fruit juices and had some diet sodas and regular sodas, but I doubt 1.5 sodas/day. We did mostly eat reasonably healthy as we understood it in the day, but also had desserts and some bad foods like margarine and ding dongs. As and adult I try to eat more healthy though, things like treats in moderation...

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Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons2 years ago

It is much more likely to be all the plastic and Monsanto chemical hormone disruptors.

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Leanne B.
Leanne B2 years ago

noted

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Kamia T.
Kamia T2 years ago

Even if girls QUIT sipping soda, all the BPA and other endocrine disruptors in the beauty, cleaning and so-called "health" products are still having an effect. We need to start simply refusing to consume all this garbage, if nothing more, for our future generations' health.

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