Puberty appears to be coming earlier and earlier for some girls. Is this the new normal?
According to Environmental Health Perspectives, at the turn of the 20th century, the average age of puberty in young women was 16 to 17. Now it is less than 13. Many people seem to pass this off as the new normal, but some researchers are concerned.
One study, outlined in the Toronto Sun, links the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to early puberty.
“Our study adds to increasing concern about the widespread consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks among children and adolescents.”
“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.”
However, although sugar intake may play a role in puberty onset, endocrine-disrupting chemicals are believed to be the biggest factor.
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.
Some of these chemicals include 2, 5-dichlorophenol or 2, 5-DCP. 2, 5-DCP is a metabolite of 1, 4 dichlorobenzene or paradichlorobenzene, which is a chemical found in moth balls, toilet bowl cleaners, room deodorizers, and other typical household cleaning products. Elevated levels of this chemical are associated with early onset menstruation. (National Institutes of Health)
BPAs (phthalates) and BPSs (bisphenols) found in plastics also play a role in hormones and their effect on puberty. The human body cannot metabolize these components and the chemicals found in them can have an adverse effect on weight and the timing of puberty. (Newsweek)
According to a pamphlet from Beyond Pesticides, endocrine disruptors cause the most harm by doing the following:
- Mimicking actions of naturally-produced hormones like testosterone and estrogen.
- Preventing the action of normal hormones by blocking hormone receptors in the cells.
- Altering the concentrations of natural hormones in the body by affecting synthesis, transport, metabolism and excretion.
Early puberty plays a huge role in the mental and physical health of a young woman later in life.
Psychologically, young girls, who mature early, are treated as if they are older. Older boys hit on them, and they are more likely to be sexually harassed. This is all at an age where brain development is still taking place.
“The brain is highly plastic, and stressful experiences like these take their toll. Early-maturing girls are more likely to smoke cigarettes, they are at high risk for substance abuse, and they have higher rates of eating disorders.” (Newsweek)
Physically, early puberty is linked to a higher chance of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer. A 2013 study found that early puberty was linked to a 30% higher risk of breast cancer compared to puberty that appeared at a later age. Also, for each year menstruation was delayed, the risk of premenopausal breast cancer decreased by 9% and the risk of postmenopausal cancer decreased by 4%.
Dr. Mercola suggests the following to keep endocrine disruptors away from a developing child:
- Try to consume only fresh, raw whole foods. Processed and packaged food may have a high amount of phthalates. This includes canned food.
- Ditch the plastic and try only to buy products that come in glass.
- Store food and beverages in glass, not plastic. Never heat food in a plastic container.
- Use only glass baby bottles for infants.
- Be aware of register receipts because they are high in BPAs.
- Look for green, toxin-free, and/or organic alternatives for everything from food to home items.
- Choose toys that do not contain plastic chemicals like BPAs and BPSs.
- Try to breastfeed for at least a year and stay away from formula.
- Use natural alternatives for household and personal cleaning.
- Consider safer feminine hygiene products.
- Go fragrance-free. The fragrance is often only labeled as “fragrance”, and one can never tell what chemicals it is made of.
- Check the water anyone consumes for contaminants.
- Avoid pesticide and herbicide use around the home.
Following these tips may delay puberty in a child, but they may not. Genetics also plays a role, and it is hard for a parent to control the greater environment a child is a part of.