More and more girls are reaching puberty before the age of 10. The phenomenon could be linked to obesity or exposure to chemicals in the food chain. It is putting girls at greater long-term risk of breast cancer.
A study has revealed that breast development now typically starts at an average age of 9 years and 10 months -- an entire year earlier than what a similar study found in 1991.
The Times reports:
“Scientists warn that such young girls are ill-equipped to cope with sexual development when they are still at primary school ... Hitting puberty early can mean longer exposure to estrogen, which is a factor in breast cancer. There is also a greater risk of heart disease.”
I published some of my first comments on this phenomenon in the early days of the newsletter, nearly a decade ago. Back then, early onset of puberty in a certain subset of girls was traced back to animal feed that had been contaminated with the fire retardant chemical, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB). The girls affected were descendants of women exposed to the PBB-contaminated food back in 1973.
The daughters of the most highly exposed women began menstruation, on average, before they reached their 12th birthdays. That was the second study to associate early puberty with exposure to a specific chemical.
The first study appeared in the September 2000 issue of the NIEHS journal Environmental Health Perspectives, and associated precocious puberty in young Puerto Rican girls with phthalates, commonly found in soft, pliable plastic products.
We now know that phthalates and other plastic chemicals disrupt the human endocrine-system and affect your hormones, which control development and function in your body. And 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.
Puberty Occurring at Ever Younger Ages
Precocious puberty is indeed a noticeable, and troubling, trend. In the 19th century, puberty occurred around the age of 15 for girls and 17 for boys. Danish researchers are now warning that girls are entering puberty before the age of 10.
In the US, the situation may be even more dire as a report issued by the Breast Cancer Fund in 2007 reported that increasing numbers of American girls are now entering puberty around the age of 8!
Not only does this place children under undue emotional and social stresses as their bodies mature faster than their minds, it also puts them at greater long-term risk of heart disease, and estrogen-related cancers, such as breast cancer.
The signs of precocious puberty include:
For girls before age 8:
- Armpit or pubic hair
- First menstruation
For boys before age 9:
- Enlarged testicles and penis
- Armpit or pubic hair
- Facial hair
What’s Causing Precocious Puberty?
The Times suggests that obesity may be a factor, which is true. 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 could contribute to early puberty.
However, obesity should not be viewed as a cause in and of itself. Although obesity is directly linked to diet, what The Times completely fails to mention in this article is that the primary reason why diet may be a driving factor behind this 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 the willful addition of these types of growth hormones, most conventional meats are also heavily contaminated with other chemicals, such as pesticides (due to the grain- and corn-based feed being contaminated).
This is why whenever I promote eating meat, it’s with the caveat that the meat be organically raised and grass-fed.
In fact, if you are on a limited budget and can’t afford to buy all organic, switching from conventional meat to organic, grass-fed meat will not only give you the biggest bang for your buck, but also likely the greatest beneficial health impact with respect to lowering your exposure to these dangerous hormone-manipulating chemicals.
As mentioned in The Times:
“A study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition… showed a link between high meat consumption and earlier puberty in girls.
Researchers at Brighton University 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.”
I rest my case…
The FDA also allows genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST) to be used on dairy cows to increase milk production.
I strongly advise you to avoid rBGH-containing milk like the plague, as it contains high levels of a natural growth factor (IGF-1), which has been incriminated as a major cause of breast, colon, and prostate cancers.
Labeling is not required by law, but some brands will state that their milk is “rBGH-free.” Organic milk also will not contain 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 way to drink milk if you’re interested in protecting your health and certainly that of your growing children.
The Dangers of Plastics
I still remember the days when the greatest perceived danger of plastic was the potential for suffocation. Since then, we’ve learned that plastics contain a number of estrogen-mimicking, “gender-bending” chemicals that easily leach out, contaminating everything it touches, such as food and beverages.
Three of the primary culprits include:
- Bisphenol A (BPA)
- Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
Bisphenol A – This industrial petrochemical acts as a synthetic estrogen and is a common plastic component that can be found in everything from the linings of canned foods and soda cans, to plastic gallon milk bottles, to baby teething rings, baby bottles and sippy cups, just to name a few.
It’s so pervasive that recent laboratory tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) detected BPA in the umbilical cord blood of 90 percent of newborn infants tested -- along with more than 230 other chemicals!
BPA is an endocrine disruptor, which means it mimics your body‘s natural hormones and can trigger major changes in your body. Of 115 published animal studies, 81 percent found significant effects from even low-level exposure to BPA.
Some of the greatest concern surrounds early-life exposure to BPA. This can lead to chromosomal errors in the developing fetus, which can cause spontaneous miscarriages and genetic damage.
Being exposed to just 0.23 parts per billion of BPA is enough to disrupt the effect of estrogen in a baby's developing brain.
Avoiding BPA-containing plastic products is an important step to limit your BPA exposure. For more information about BPA and tips on how to avoid it, please review this previous article.
Phthalates – These “plasticizers” are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible and resilient. They’re also one of the most pervasive of the endocrine disrupters.
These chemicals have increasingly become associated with changes in development of the male brain as well as with genital defects, metabolic abnormalities and reduced testosterone in babies and adults.
Phthalates are found in, among other things:
- Processed food packaging
- Shower curtains
- Vinyl flooring and wall coverings
- Lubricant and adhesives
- Beauty products like nail polish, hair spray, shampoo, deodorants, and fragrances
Other Endocrine Disruptors
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.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), found in non-stick cookware, also fall into this dangerous category.
Last but not least I also want to emphasize soy.
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 equally 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!
Americans are truly 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 soy intake.
11 Tips to Safeguard Your Family from Chemical Exposure
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 you should do to lead a healthy lifestyle with as minimal a chemical exposure as possible.
Here are 11 measures you can implement right away to protect yourself and your children from common toxic substances that could cause them to go into puberty years before they were meant to:
- 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, steering clear of processed, prepackaged foods of all kinds. This way you automatically avoid artificial food additives of all kinds, including harmful soy, artificial sweeteners, food coloring and MSG.
- 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.
- 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.
- I also encourage everyone with children or grandchildren to review Theo Colburn’s book Our Stolen Future. It identifies the numerous ways in which environmental pollutants are disrupting human reproductive patterns, and is one of the BEST resources on this topic.