This is so sad, but it's the new reality in the USA. Less discussed, but also problematic is the increase in early puberty in boys.The research as to causes is ongoing, but increasingly our exposure to chemicals, especially endocrine disruptors is suspected to be a cause. What to do? Once again: try to reduce exposure to plastics (ha!) by buying and storing food in glass containers, and do not microwave food in plastic containers. Avoid fragrances or perfumed products. From Newsweek:
At age 6, Rebecca’s body began to develop in ways that seemed unusual. Her mother, Ellen, had noticed a change in Rebecca’s breast area...But there was also the hair that had begun to appear under her daughter’s arms. When a test showed Rebecca’s bone age to be 10½, a pediatric endocrinologist diagnosed “precocious puberty.” While the exact cause is unknown, this endocrine disorder is triggered by the early release of hormones in the brain, a circumstance that hurls a child into sexual maturation years before the usual age.
This sudden sexual development in a child so young can be unnerving to parents. “My daughter is 7 years and 10 months old. She started having body odor at 5 and breast buds at 6,” one mother wrote recently in a group chat about the condition. She wrote, too, of her daughter’s “roller-coaster emotions,” a common complaint from parents observing massive mood swings, PMS-like symptoms and other “teen emotions” in daughters just beginning the first grade—and in some cases even younger. The condition affects individuals in different ways. ”...Unlike Rebecca, many precocious kids lose their interest in Disney and little-girl things and begin to act, well, the age of their bodies.
In girls, puberty is commonly defined as breast development, growth of pubic hair and menarche, the beginning of the menstrual cycle. At the turn of the 20th century, the average age for an American girl to get her period was 16 to 17. Today, that number has plummeted to less than 13, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The trend has been attributed to the epidemic of overweight children and a greater exposure to pollution, which does bad things to developing bodies and accelerates the timing of a girl’s first menstruation.
Environmental toxins also cause many girls to develop breasts at an earlier age than in the past. Compared with 20 years ago, American girls today begin developing breasts anywhere from one month to four months earlier, a significant difference. At the same time, the number of girls who begin to develop early is increasing. “Just a generation ago, less than five percent of girls started puberty before the age of 8; today that percentage has more than doubled,” note Dr. Louise Greenspan and Dr. Julianna Deardorff in The New Puberty: How to Navigate Early Development in Today’s Girls.
Among the toxins causing this trend, the biggest offenders are plastic compounds, in particular phthalates, man-made chemicals found all over the place: in plastic food and beverage containers, carpeting, shampoos, insect repellents, vinyl flooring, shower curtains, plastic toys and in the steering wheels and dashboards of most cars. Our bodies cannot metabolize phthalates, which interfere with the endocrine system—the body’s system of glands and hormones—and harm fat cells. Indirectly, phthalates may cause weight gain and so influence the timing of puberty.
Our children are living in a “sea of chemicals,” says Dr. Marcia E. Herman-Giddens, a professor of public health at the University of North Carolina. She argues that children are speeding into puberty before they’re ready, and that this early maturation is both the symptom of bodily damage that has already occurred and the probable cause of health consequences they may expect in the future.
Along with higher rates of depression, younger girls who enter puberty earlier than their peers are more prone to obesity and drug abuse...Meanwhile, no matter how physically developed a girl is, her psychosocial maturation remains anchored to her chronological age.
“Puberty is considered one of those windows of susceptibility,” says Biro, when the body is especially sensitive to the negative health impact of social and environmental stressors. In particular, the actively maturing breast tissue of a girl, unlike the breast tissue of a full-grown woman, is more vulnerable to damaging environmental pollutants.
Today’s girl is both starting puberty earlier and going through it more slowly, according to Biro, which means a girl remains in this high-risk state for a longer amount of time. In an article he co-authored with Deardorff and others, Biro found up to a 30 percent increased risk for breast cancer when a woman experiences her first period at a younger age. And “for each year that age of menarche was delayed, the risk of premenopausal breast cancer was reduced by 9 percent, and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer was reduced by 4 percent.”
Early breast development also opens the door to reproductive tract cancers, says Herman-Giddens, since “if you’re starting to develop breasts, your body is making estrogen.” Estrogen, especially when combined with stress hormones, is a known cancer-causing agent. Having had an earlier start to puberty, an early-maturing girl produces more estrogen over the years and so elevates her lifetime risk of reproductive cancers.
There is a medical solution for patients who, like 6-year-old Rebecca, are diagnosed with precocious puberty. Hormone treatments can essentially halt the process of sexual maturation. Then, at an appropriate age, the drugs are withdrawn and puberty plays out.Some girls diagnosed with precocious puberty have no choice but to medicate in order to prevent serious bone and growth problems.