Is there a Link Between Diet, Lifestyle and Early Puberty?
Kids grow up fast – no one would argue that. But many kids in the U.S. are growing up even faster. In girls, puberty typically begins around 11 years of age, but can begin as early as 6 or 7 and sometimes even earlier. In boys, puberty typically begins around 12, but may begin as early as 9 years of age. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that boys are experiencing puberty up to two years earlier than prior research. In addition, early maturation is linked to an increased risk for breast cancer. Are the hormones in food linked to the early onset of puberty and is there anything parents can do to prevent it? Find out here.
The onset of puberty begins with the pituitary gland releasing hormones. These hormones do different things depending on the child’s gender. In girls, the hormones target the ovaries, which start the development of the hormone, estrogen. In boys, the hormones target the testicles, which starts the development of the hormone, testosterone. Both of these hormones help prepare the body for sexual maturity. When the body begins this process early, it is called precocious puberty and its’ rise in prevalence has many parents seeking help to stop it or prevent it from happening in the first place.
The fast pace in which we live has increased the need for convenience. Convenient foods and soft drinks, laden with chemicals and even hormones, the same hormones that stimulate the start of puberty, are consumed more than ever before. Toxins in products, from soaps, shampoos and conditioners to makeup and cleaning products, can mimic estrogen in the body, which can also trick it into starting puberty early. Studies also show that there is a link between higher childhood body mass index (BMI) and earlier puberty in girls, as the excess body fat alters hormone levels. In addition, children age 3-7 whose diets consist of high amounts of animal protein found in milk and meat have been associated with earlier menarche.
Once diagnosed, precocious puberty can be treated with a monthly injection that delays development until the appropriate age. But what can parents do to prevent the need to take measures such as this? To start, it is important to limit exposure to products with toxins and hormones. The liver does the majority of the body’s detoxification, however, toxins are stored in the fat and build up over time. Toxins are also stored in the fatty tissue of animals; therefore diets that are high in animal protein, including milk, contain higher levels of toxins than plant foods. Parents should choose organic foods whenever possible. This should in include organic meats, dairy products, vegetables and fruits.
The chemicals used to clean one’s house are major toxin culprits. By switching to natural cleaning products or using homemade cleaning products made with vinegar and lemon juice, families can take big steps to living healthier. Parents should also read the labels of common household products such as soaps, shampoos and cosmetics as many of these products contain parabens, which can mimic estrogen in the body and result in the early onset of puberty. Parents should also minimize exposure to BPA and phthalates, avoid microwaving food in plastic containers, avoid synthetic pesticides, and limit the use of canned foods. Beauty products containing the word “fragrance” in the ingredient list often mean it contains phthalates and should be avoided.
Your child’s health is important to the team at Rainbow Pediatrics. If you suspect your child has precocious puberty or if you have concerns about protecting your child from early puberty, schedule an appointment with our office at (910) 486-5437.