Puberty is no easy thing for anyone involved, the parent or the child. Throw in the great possibility of the onset of puberty at an earlier age than 20-30 years ago, and you may have a bigger set of issues. The anxiety of watching your daughter experience early onset of puberty is not specific to just the adolescent stage in development though. Because of the increased exposure time to estrogen, early pubertal girls are at higher risk of developing breast and endometrial cancer as adults.
Last week, we discussed the potential benefits or possible negative effects of the consumption of soy. One of the possible negative effects that has been suggested is the presence of phytoestrogens in soy. These phytoestrogens combined with the FDA’s increase in the allowable amount of soy fillers in school lunches and restaurant food, has some theorizing that soy is to blame for the growing trend in the earlier onset of puberty in girls. As always, let’s dive right into this issue and see what the research says. (Note: I have chosen to break this post down into 2 weeks because the information is so extensive. Next week, I will attack only the subject of food as it may relate to early puberty.)
A 2010 study published in the journal Pediatrics showed that the early pubertal development in girls is greater today than that reported 10 to 30 years ago. There are two different types of precocious (or early) puberty: central and peripheral. Peripheral is where our focus is in this post; however, the mayo clinic indicates that this type of early puberty is less common than central (medical condition). Peripheral precocious puberty is caused by the “release of estrogen or testosterone into the body.”
Potential Causes of Early Puberty:
- Obesity Epidemic: One third of children are now overweight and this could be related to an early puberty trend. A study published in Pediatrics (September 2010) found that heavier girls with higher body-mass index were more likely to begin puberty early.
- Environmental Chemicals: Researchers are concerned about toxins in the environment that contain hormone-disrupting chemicals. Animal studies show that toxins can affect the age of puberty. These chemicals include pesticides, flame retardants, bisphenol-A (BPA; an estrogen-like chemical found in plastics) and estrogen or testosterone found in creams or ointments. The affect of the chemicals on puberty may not be gender specific. Rather, both animal and human studies suggest that male development may also be affected by environmental chemicals.
- Gender: Girls are much more likely than boys to start puberty early.
- Race: African-American children are at higher risk than other races to undergo early development.
- Underlying Medical Conditions: There are underlying medical conditions that may promote puberty, such as McCune-Albright syndrome, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, and possibly hypothyroidism.
The subject of early puberty discussed here is not meant to be exhaustive. There is an extensive community of research and opinion on the subject. One could easily write a thesis on the subject (and I’m sure some have). I have chosen to resist that temptation (already wrote a couple of those many years ago). However, I encourage you to dive into the literature yourself to find out more. As noted above, I will continue with the second part of this discussion next Monday and focus on how food may contribute to early puberty.
Do you have anything to add to this discussion, either anecdotal or scientific?