Girls in the United States are reaching puberty at very early ages, increasing their risk of breast cancer, social problems, and emotional problems.
While the biological signs of female puberty -- menstruation, breast development, and growth of pubic and underarm hair -- typically occurred around 13 years of age or older just decades ago, today girls as young as 8 are increasingly showing these signs.
African-American girls are particularly vulnerable to early puberty.
Aside from the social and emotional implications, early puberty exposes girls to more estrogen, which increases their risk of breast cancer because the disease thrives on estrogen.
According to biologist Sandra Steingraber, the author of the report titled "The Falling Age of Puberty in U.S. Girls: What We Know, What We Need to Know," "The data indicates that if you get your first period before age 12, your risk of breast cancer is 50 percent higher than if you get it at age 16."
"For every year we could delay a girl‘s first menstrual period,” she says, “we could prevent thousands of breast cancers."
Theories behind what is causing the early-puberty trend abound, but the actual causes are not known. Potential causes noted in the paper include:
- Rising childhood obesity rates and inactivity
- Formula-feeding of infants
- Excessive TV viewing and media use
- Family stress
- Exposure to environmental chemicals
Early puberty is likely an “ecological disorder,” according to Steingraber, that’s being caused by a number of environmental factors.
The Breast Cancer Fund, “The Falling Age of Puberty in U.S. Girls: What We Know, What We Need to Know”
Chicago Tribune September 16, 2007It is becoming increasingly common for young children, even 5- and 6-year-olds, to go through precocious puberty (aka early sexual development). The introduction of this report even states that studies have found girls as young as 2 years old entering puberty!
This is clearly a multi-faceted problem, but I believe one of its main causes stems from your environmental exposure to a whole slew of endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
These man-made chemicals affect your hormones, which control development and function in your body. There is mounting evidence that they can cause harm in the development of fetuses and children, who are particularly sensitive to the chemicals because they have not yet developed the protective mechanisms present in adult bodies.
If you think you and your children are not exposed to endocrine disrupters, think again. They’re commonly found in many household products and cosmetics, including:
- Bovine growth hormones commonly added to commercial dairy
- Soy foods, which are loaded with hormone-like substances
- Bisphenol A, commonly used in many plastics such as baby bottles, food-storage containers, and the lining of soda cans
- Phthalates, also commonly used in plastics
- Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) -- found in non-stick cookware
Meanwhile, some misinformed moms are still feeding their vulnerable babies soy infant formula, which exposes their child to the equivalent of five birth control pills’ worth of estrogen every day. For this same reason, it’s also important for pregnant women to avoid eating soy, as a high estrogenic environment in utero may increase their child’s subsequent breast cancer risk.
Other environmental chemicals like PCBs and DDE (a breakdown product of the pesticide DDT) may also be associated with early sexual development in girls. Both DDE and PCBs are known to mimic, or interfere with, sex hormones.
What is even more troubling is that endocrine-disrupting environmental chemicals can actually increase your child’s risk of obesity, which in turn may increase their likelihood of early puberty.
Early Puberty is Only the Tip of the Iceberg
Meanwhile, the same chemical exposures that are causing young kids to enter puberty well before their time can also lead to increased infertility and breast cancer rates down the road.
So if you have children, or are planning to, avoiding environmental contaminants and soy foods as much as possible (unless they are in the traditional, fermented form such as natto, miso, or tempeh), is a wise choice.
Here are some measures you can take to protect yourself and your children from common toxic substances that could cause them to go into puberty years before they were designed to:
- Store your food in glass containers whenever possible, as it is the most inert container you can use.
- Only use natural cleaning products in your home. Most health food stores will have these available or you can search online for them.
- Buy and eat, as much as possible, locally grown, organic foods that do not contain pesticides and added hormones.
- Avoid processed foods, which are loaded with soy and other unsavory ingredients.
- Switch to natural brands of toiletries, including shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants, and cosmetics. Use the same sources as above for these, either your local health food store or you can search online.