Nov 4, 2022

Toronto Study Shows Link Between Diabetes and Early Menopause

About us, MD Program, Mississauga Academy of Medicine
Portrait of medical student Vrati Mehra
Medical student Vrati Mehra
By Jim Oldfield

Researchers in Toronto have found that the earlier women are diagnosed with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the more likely they are to experience early menopause.

The study highlights the effect of diabetes on reproductive health, in addition to its widely known impact on the cardiovascular and nervous systems, kidneys and other organs.

“Some previous studies have shown an association between early onset of diabetes and early menopause, but they did not distinguish between types of diabetes,” said Vrati Mehra, lead author on the study and a third-year medical student at the University of Toronto who conducted the research at York University.

“I think we’ve shown that regardless of whether women develop type 1 or type 2 diabetes, their risk for early menopause will increase, and so clinicians need to think about reproductive health relative to all women diagnosed with diabetes at a young age,” Mehra said.

The researchers showed that women diagnosed with type 1 diabetes before age 30 had a risk of early menopause one-and-half times greater than women without diabetes; for those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in their thirties, the risk is doubled.

The retrospective cohort study included data on more than 11,000 females, drawn from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. Mehra presented the results at an international conference last month, and TheJournal of the North American Menopause Society published the findings online this week.

Early menopause is linked to ovarian aging, so the results have implications for women thinking about fertility and family planning, Mehra said. Early menopause is also associated with bone fractures and greater risk of all-cause mortality, along with symptoms such as mood swings, difficulty sleeping and hot flashes, all of which have consequences for women’s health.

Adding urgency and context to the findings, the global prevalence of diabetes has risen from less than five per cent in the year 2000 to over 10 per cent in 2021, or more than 530 million people. As well, people with diabetes are being diagnosed at earlier ages, meaning more women are living with the condition during their reproductive years.

The study also found that women diagnosed with type 2 diabetes after age 40 were more likely to experience later menopause, and that gestational diabetes was not associated with age of menopause — although Mehra said that limitations in the study data may have prevented the researchers from seeing a link there.

Mehra conducted the research as a master’s student in the lab of Hala Tamim, a professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Science in York’s Faculty of Health, and said she was grateful for the opportunity to pursue such large-scale research on diabetes and reproductive health. 

“I had a beautiful time at York, and I really appreciated the mentorship I received there as an undergraduate and a graduate student,” said Mehra, who is passionate about women’s health and hopes to study obstetrics and gynaecology in residency. “The experience was empowering, especially coming from an immigrant family, and it enabled me to be where I am today.”