U.S. girls are entering puberty at a younger age than in the past. More than 10 percent of white 7-year-old girls have breast changes that signal the start of puberty, according to a study conducted in the mid-2000s. This is up from just 5 percent in the early 1990s.
The average age of a girl’s first period also declined, from an average of 14 or 15 years in the past to about 12 years today.
“Experts aren’t sure what’s behind the increase in earlier puberty, but it’s likely due to a combination of factors, including the childhood obesity epidemic and substances in the environment.
Early puberty in girls is a growing public health concern because studies have shown that girls who start puberty earlier are more likely to develop breast and uterine cancer later in life …
Early development in girls has been linked with poor self-esteem, eating disorders, and depression, as well as cigarette and alcohol use and earlier sexual activity.”
As for what’s causing the increasing in early puberty, chemicals in the environment, obesity, and above-average weight gain during infancy are all being considered as possible factors.
You’re hearing quite a bit about precocious puberty these days, and I believe the data is indicative of a public health disaster yet to come.
Because the earlier you enter puberty, the longer you’re exposed to elevated levels of the female hormone estrogen, which is a risk factor for certain cancers such as breast cancer. Time will tell whether or not estrogen-related cancer rates will rise dramatically as the current generation of youngsters enters adulthood and middle age, but there’s certainly that risk.
The study published in Pediatrics at the beginning of this month compared results from two previous studies that used breast development to gauge the beginning of puberty. One was conducted in the early 1990s and the other about five years ago.. In that time span, the rate of white 7-year-old girls entering puberty doubled, from five percent to more than 10 percent.
Black and Hispanic girls are, on average, maturing at an even faster rate, with nearly 25 percent of black girls and 15 percent of Hispanic girls entering puberty by age seven!
The average age of the first period has declined as well. In the 19th century the onset of menstruation occurred around the age of 15. Now the average age of the first period is around 12.
There’s no denying that something odd is afoot. The question is, will our government and health agencies do anything about it? So far, efforts to reduce the public’s exposure to the most obvious contributors have been successfully suppressed by industry interests…
What’s Causing Precocious Puberty?
Scientists have brought forth a number of potential explanations, and in all likelihood it’s a combination of factors, such as:
- Hormones in food
- Pesticides in produce
- Obesity (which exposes girls to more estrogen because estrogen is stored in fat tissue)
- Phthalates in plastics and cosmetics
It’s now a well-established fact that commonly used plastic chemicals, such as bisphenol A and phthalates, disrupt the human endocrine-system and affect your hormones, which control development and function in your body.
There’s also mounting evidence that these chemicals can cause developmental harm in fetuses and children, either through active exposure during pregnancy and/or while nursing, or due to the preexisting toxic load of the mother.
Unfortunately, it’s near impossible to actually study and test these factors because we’re surrounded by so many estrogen-like chemicals, there are virtually no ‘clean’ control populations with which to compare!
It is truly a sad testament to the level of chronic toxicity we humans now live in.
However, although we may not be able to determine the exact extent of damage caused by each individual factor, you can protect your health, and the health of your family, by paying closer attention to your lifestyle choices in general.
Your Food Choices are of Paramount Importance
Obesity, hormones and pesticide residues in your food, and precocious puberty can be viewed as a linked triad.
Overweight children have elevated levels of insulin, an increased ability to convert hormones into estrogen, and an increased ability to store environmental toxins, all of which may contribute to early puberty. But obesity is not a cause of early puberty in and of itself.
It is, however, directly linked to diet, and the primary reason why diet may be a driving factor behind the early puberty phenomenon is the excessive use of hormones and other estrogen-mimicking chemicals in livestock and dairy production.
- Estradiol — natural female sex hormone
- Progesterone — natural female sex hormone
- Testosterone – natural male sex hormone
- Zeranol – synthetic growth promoter
- Trenbolone acetate– synthetic growth promoter
- Melengestrol acetate– synthetic growth promoter
Federal regulations allow these to be used to ‘beef up’ cattle and sheep, but not poultry or pigs.
In addition to these types of growth hormones, most conventional meats are also heavily contaminated with pesticides, courtesy of the cattle’s grain- and corn-based diet.
Avoid Non Organic Meats and Dairy as They are Loaded With Puberty Inducing Chemicals
This is why I only promote eating organically raised and grass-fed meats.
Despite the difficulty testing the impact of factors such as hormones in food on precocious puberty, studies have been able to discern a distinct dose relationship.
A recent study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, for example, found that 49 percent of girls who ate meat 12 times a week at the age of 7 had reached puberty by the age of 12 1/2, compared with 35 percent of those who ate meat four times a week or less.
This at least will give you an inkling of how hormone-laced meat alone can alter your child’s development.
But meat is not the only food group capable of wreaking havoc on your child’s delicate hormonal balance.
Dairy is another major source.
The genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST) is permitted to be used on dairy cows to increase milk production, despite the fact that rBGH-containing milk contains high levels of a natural growth factor (IGF-1), which has also been incriminated as a major cause of breast, colon, and prostate cancers.
Unfortunately, labeling is not required by law. Some brands will state that their milk is “rBGH-free” however, and organic dairies also do not use rBGH. Either of these are certainly preferable to milk that contains this dangerous hormone, but I still don’t recommend drinking any kind of pasteurized milk, organic or otherwise.
You can avoid both the risks of rBGH and pasteurization by only drinking raw milk, preferably from a trusted local farmer. This is really the only milk worth drinking if you want to protect your health and certainly that of your growing children.
The So-Called ‘Health Food’ that Wreaks Havoc on Your Hormones
I’m talking about unfermented soy in its many varieties.
Yes, this so-called “health food” is anything but healthy, especially for infants and children. Sadly, some misinformed moms feed their vulnerable babies soy infant formula, which exposes their child to the equivalent of five birth control pills’ worth of estrogen every day!
It’s also important for pregnant women to avoid eating non-fermented soy, as a high estrogenic environment in utero may increase their child’s subsequent breast cancer risk.
Also keep in mind that soy is present in virtually every processed food and that over 95 percent of soy is GMO, which has its own set of health risks.
Americans are consuming soy in unprecedented quantities. Limiting or eliminating processed foods from your family’s diet would clearly be one of the best health investments you could ever make, for a number of reasons besides reducing your GMO soy intake.
The Harmful “Yin and Yang” of the Gender-Bender Chemicals
We now know that plastics contain a number of estrogen-mimicking chemicals that easily leach out, contaminating everything it touches, such as food and beverages.
Two of the most studied chemical types in this group are bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, which could be viewed as the yin and yang of harmful plastic chemicals.
BPA acts as a synthetic estrogen (female hormone) while phthalates have increasingly become associated with reduced testosterone (male hormone) in both babies and adults, along with developmental changes in the male brain, genital defects, and metabolic abnormalities.
BPA is typically found in more rigid plastic products and containers (as well as the lining of cans), while phthalates are a typical ingredient in softer, more pliable plastics.
These two are some of the most pervasive ‘gender-bender’ chemicals we know of. BPA, for example, has been detected in the umbilical cord blood of 90 percent of newborn infants tested.
If you look around your house, you’re likely to find either or both of these chemicals in abundance, unless you’ve gone really “green.”
Avoiding BPA-containing plastic products is an important step to limit your BPA exposure. Remember, this chemical is typically found in food and beverage containers, and has been shown to leech into whatever food or beverage it comes in contact with. Ridding your household of these items is therefore especially important if you’re pregnant, planning a pregnancy, or have young children.
For more information about BPA and tips on how to avoid it, please review this previous article.
Avoiding phthalates is a bit trickier as these chemicals can be found in an even more diverse array of products – everything from toys, to floors, detergents, personal care products and cosmetics, just to name a few.
Tips to Avoid the Most Pervasive Gender-Bender Chemicals
There are about 75,000 chemicals regularly manufactured and imported by U.S. industries – the vast majority of which have never been tested for safety. Rather than compile an endless list of what you should avoid, it’s far easier to focus on what to do to minimize your exposure.
Here are 11 measures you can implement right away to protect yourself and your children from common toxic substances that could cause precocious puberty and long-term health problems:
- As much as possible, buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic meats to reduce your exposure to added hormones, pesticides and fertilizers.
- Eat mostly raw, fresh foods. Processed, prepackaged foods (of all kinds) are a major source of soy and chemicals such as BPA and phthalates.
- Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap and canned foods (which are often lined with BPA-containing liners).
- Use glass baby bottles and BPA-free sippy cups for your little ones.
- Make sure your baby’s toys are BPA-free, such as pacifiers, teething rings and anything your child may be prone to suck on.
- Only use natural cleaning products in your home to avoid phthalates.
- Switch over to natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group has a great safety guide to help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals.
- Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances, many of which can also disrupt your hormone balance.
- Replace your Teflon pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware. Teflon contains PFOA, which has been linked to thyroid disease.
- When redoing your home, look for “green,” toxin-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint and vinyl floor coverings.
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric.
Theo Colburn’s book Our Stolen Future is a great source for further investigation as it identifies the numerous ways in which environmental pollutants are disrupting human reproductive patterns. I believe it is one of the best resources on this topic and highly recommend it.