Why is puberty starting earlier?

Q – I remember DYING to grow breasts & start my period.  Now it seems like puberty arrives before girls (or their moms) are really ready.  Are the days of “We must, we must, we must increase our bust” over forever?  What’s going on with early puberty?

A – Yes, it is sad but true, the days of Judy Blume are over. Your observations about puberty starting early are correct.  We will live with our kids longer IN puberty than OUT of puberty so preparation and understanding is a great idea!  Endocrinologists finally agree that puberty is starting earlier (in developed countries), for both boys and girls.  What they still don’t agree on is why, but there are some good theories.

Our bodies are smart.  We have to have enough body fat to sustain a pregnancy, in order to begin ovulating.  This is why young athletes and anorexics often won’t get their periods, and why girls are starting their periods earlier today.  With increased nutrition and weight gain in young girls, the average age for a girl in U.S. to start puberty is now 10.5 (100 years ago, it was 14).  This is the most common reason but obesity does not explain why my 4-year-old daughter, and many other young kids today, are growing breasts, developing body odor, and growing pubic & underarm hair.

Our hormonal systems are very sensitive to stress, pollutants, and chemicals in our food and environment.  Like the canaries in the coal mine, our endocrine system is the first to show signs and warn us that we are being overloaded with toxins.  Our water, air, food, and toys contain too much crap (technical word) for sensitive systems to bear.

When there isn’t an obvious source of estrogen (like popping Mom’s birth control pills or playing with Grandma’s estrogen patch) or an obvious source of stress (babies of international adoptions have higher rates of early puberty) then we suspect the culprit is xeno-estrogens. I am not a medical professional, so I want to pass on the advice I received from a wonderful endocrinologist, Dr. Suruchi Bhatia (Picture a kind & wise young woman calmly ducking while my stubborn 4 yr. old throws lollipops at her head, screaming & refusing to lift up her shirt). Dr. Bhatia offers these suggestions based on possible endocrine disrupters.

Beware of soft plastics such as pacifiers & teething rings

No plastics (including Saran Wrap) in the microwave.

Plastics on the top rack of dishwasher only.

Buy organic milk and organic meats.

Avoid phthalates found in cosmetics, shampoos, nail polish, perfumes, deodorants, etc.

Look for organic, non-toxic baby items and toys.

Keep soy products to a minimum.

This is just one more reason why the “head in the sand” approach doesn’t work when teaching our kids about their bodies.  Knowledge is power and it’s time to protect our planet like we protect our children.  Play, have fun, and appreciate this beautiful world, but use your purchasing power wisely.  A mother’s love can change the world.

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