Early Puberty: Causes, Dangers and Prevention (Science Based)

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Early Puberty - Causes, Dangers and Prevention
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Evolution is an extremely slow process and our human bodies have evolved over millennia. Yet over the last 200 years, the age of menarche, or first menstrual period, has decreased from an average age of 16 in the 1800s to an average age of 12 in the current era.

It is becoming the norm rather than the exception when girls as young as seven begin to develop breasts and begin the process of puberty.

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Early Puberty – Health Issues

On the face of it, early sexual development (early puberty) may not seem dangerous, but studies show that entering puberty early increases your child’s risk of developing:

  • Chronic widespread musculoskeletal complaints[1]
  • Angina, hypertension, cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, and neuro-cognitive disorders[2]
  • Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes[3]
  • Cardiometabolic complaints[4]
  • Asthma and respiratory related complaints[5]
  • Anxiety disorders and depression[6]

Lifestyle Factors that Contribute to Early Puberty

Although studies show that the onset of puberty naturally declines by a few months from generation to generation, the alarming decrease in the average puberty age is not fueled by evolution, but is in fact a result of various factors including diet and lifestyle.

It is therefore possible as a parent to help you children to minimize these factors to help prolong your children’s childhood and to support their health later in life.

Here are a number of lifestyle factors that can contribute to early puberty:

Obesity and Early Puberty

Obesity has reached epidemic proportions and childhood obesity has quadrupled in adolescents in the past thirty years. In 2012, more than one third of all children were overweight or obese.[7]

Obesity poses a major threat to overall health and it plays a very important role in the pubertal development of children. Obesity alters insulin levels, it affects leptin levels, and it alters the adrenal enzyme aromatase levels in children.[8]

These compounds all affect the endocrine system of your children’s bodies. In other words, insulin, leptin, and aromatase levels affect the overall hormonal systems of the body and when these levels are abnormal, they disrupt the hormonal system, which leads to the early onset of menarche and puberty.[9]

Longer periods of inactivity for children, often associated with children who are overweight, affect melatonin levels, and low melatonin levels also play a role in triggering early puberty.[10]

The problem is even worse and creates a vicious circle – obesity has been linked to early puberty and early puberty has been linked to insulin resistance, an increase in body fat, and an increase in weight gain.[11] Early puberty therefore leads to obesity.

Stress and Anxiety Can Cause Early Puberty

Another factor that affects the onset of puberty is stress and anxiety – make sure to read my post on how stress affects your body.

Research published in Scientific Reports indicates that environmental stressors like an unhealthy body image, bullying or victimization, social stress or a stressed home environment can lead to the early onset of puberty.[12]

As with obesity, these factors can create a vicious circle since stress and anxiety may induce early puberty and early puberty often results in increased bullying at school, sexual exploration, and a decrease in school performance. These factors tend to increase stress and anxiety.[13]

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Endocrine-disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) and Puberty

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are chemicals that disrupt hormonal systems in the body. Chemicals that mimic estrogen or estrogenic activities in the body are particularly harmful in terms of the early onset of puberty.

Compounds like polychlorinated biphenyls, bisphenol A (BPA), and certain types of pesticides have been linked to the early onset of puberty.[14]

The polybrominated biphenyls chemicals in flame retardant products may also lead to early menstruation in girls.[15]

Dioxin, which is a highly toxic substance produced as a byproduct in some manufacturing processes such as herbicide production and paper bleaching, may increase your children’s risks of developing certain cancers as well as reduce the menarche age in girls. A scientific study says that BPA and phthalates, widely used in packaging and beverage containers, have been linked to endocrine disruption and early menarche in girls.[16]

Hormonally active compounds are also commonly included in hair tonics, building materials, and packaging products.[17]

Many of these compounds can be found throughout your home in the form of packaging (see my post about the 7 reasons to ditch plastic containers), cleaning products, and other household products.

Animal Protein Consumption and Puberty

Diet is often one of the most important factors for supporting health. Diet also plays a vital role in healthy sexual development. Diet is crucial in supporting healthy body weight and therefore plays an important role in reducing the risks associated with obesity, but diet also accounts for some of the chemicals that may be responsible for early puberty.

Sadly, the use of synthetic and natural hormones by the agricultural sector means that milk, dairy products, meat, and poultry all contain higher levels of compounds that can potentially disrupt hormonal levels in the body. Although there are no conclusive studies at this point in time, scientists are nonetheless concerned that these compounds can contribute to early puberty in children. Even your supermarket chicken can pose terrifying risk to your health.

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One study has linked an increased intake of protein and decreased intake of vegetables to early puberty in children.[18]

Vegetable consumption and healthy levels of vitamins and minerals also play a role in the development of obesity. By increasing healthy vegetables and decreasing animal proteins, you are supporting your children’s current and future health.

How to Prevent Early Puberty

Some factors may be beyond your control, but every step you take to lower your children’s risk of early puberty can go a long way in protecting them now and in the future.

Include Fresh Vegetables and Decrease Animal Protein

Diets that are high in fresh vegetables and fruits are healthier for people in general and for children in particular. A child’s digestive system and body is far more susceptible to the chemicals in foods. Buy organic produce to limit the amounts of chemicals and pesticides your child consumes. You can also use this simple way to remove pesticides from your produce and vegetables and be aware of the most pesticide ridden fruits and vegetables.

Animal protein products high in hormones and other endocrine disruptive chemicals can damage your child’s developing endocrine system. Dairy products like cow’s milk can also contain these compounds.

Encourage More Exercise and Play

Like diet, healthy amounts of exercise support growth and development. Make sure your child gets sufficient exercise. There are other advantages for exercise:

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  • It supports stress relief
  • It helps to develop your child’s motor skills
  • It improves confidence
  • It is vital for healthy body weight maintenance

Exercise plays an essential role in regulating hormonal levels in the body. Exercise may also play a role in regulating insulin sensitivity, which is one of the major factors in the risk of early puberty.[20]

Make exercise fun and exercise with your children.

Avoid Chemicals Wherever Possible

Chemicals in our cleaners, pesticides, and products that we use on a daily basis pose a real threat to you and your family’s health. Don’t take chemical cleaners, shampoos, and other household products for granted in terms of their safety.

Most of us buy the same cleaning products for months, if not years.

Invest Your Time in Your Children

Life has become busier than ever before and everyone is experiencing more stress—that includes your children. Children are under enormous pressure to fit in, to excel, and to perform.

  • Stress is one of the factors that can affect your child’s risk of developing obesity.
  • Stress and anxiety increase the risk of early puberty.
  • Stress can affect immune health and function and has severe health consequences.
  • Stress and anxiety actually affect your child’s overall mental and physical health.

What you can do:

  • Invest your time in supporting your children emotionally, mentally, and physically.
  • Teach them to cope with the stresses of society and help them to develop into well-rounded individuals, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Vitamin D and Early Puberty – Spend More Time Outside

Vitamin D deficiency is quite common and it has been linked to early puberty. It has been suggested that girls who live closer to the equator start puberty at a later age than girls who live in Northern regions. Since this indicates a potential connection with sun exposure, researchers decided to investigate whether vitamin D was, in fact, related.

Upon measuring vitamin D levels in 242 girls aged 5-12, researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health found that those who were deficient were twice as likely to start menstruation during the study period as those with higher levels.

Breast Feed Your Child

While breast feeding is not suitable for some women, there are many health advantages that have been associated with breast feeding children. From boosting their immune systems to establishing healthier digestive bacteria, breast feeding is fast becoming recognized as the preferred way to feed an infant.

A study in Public Health Nutrition confirmed that breast feeding your children can reduce the risk of early pubertal development in children.[19]

Related articles about hormonal issues:

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