Children grow up fast – every parent knows that. But in modern America the speed of growth isn’t just about the years flying by too quickly. What if you discovered that your 6-year-old was already developing pubic hair? Or your 8-year-old daughter was already developing breast buds? It can be a very scary experience as a parent. There is a lot for parents (and patients, as they come of age) to understand about precocious puberty.
About precocious puberty
Recent studies have shown that puberty is occurring in children at a very early age. Young girls as young as 8 years old may experience normal breast development and pubic hair. As of 2010, two times as many girls were experiencing early puberty compared to a decade ago. However, in some cases, children as young as 6 and 7 years old – or younger – may experience these symptoms, a condition known as precocious puberty.
What’s causing the problem?
Scientists have linked the trends in early puberty to several different factors. Society has begun moving at a faster and faster pace - convenience foods and ready-made products have become a regular part of everyday life. These conveniences, however, are one of the most obvious links to early puberty.
The FDA currently allows six hormones in the food supply, including estradiol, estriol, testosterone and progesterone – the sex hormones that can accelerate the age at which puberty occurs. The obesity epidemic plays a role as well. Estrogens are made and stored in fat tissue – increasing exposure in overweight and obese children.
And, of course, toxins found in everyday products can be a culprit as well. Household products like hand soap, shampoos, cosmetics and cleaning products contain chemicals - namely parabens - that are known as xenoestrogens and can mimic estrogen in the body, increasing the likelihood of early puberty.
What are the treatment options?
In most cases of precocious puberty, a monthly injection of a medication, such as leuprolide, is a sufficient treatment. This drug delays development until the child reaches the normal age of puberty. Upon discontinuation of the medication, the process of puberty will resume as normal.
In rare cases, the early onset of puberty may be linked to a tumor on the adrenal glands. This tumor may be surgically removed and stop the progression of puberty.
What can you do right now?
You can slow or eliminate the impact that early exposure to excess hormones has on your kids by changing a few every day habits. Not only will you improve their health at this young age, but you will teach them how to live a healthy lifestyle throughout their lifespan and reduce the increased risk of disease that accompanies early onset puberty.
1. Go green. Choosing organic foods or, even better, shopping at the local farmers market will cut down on the chemical exposure and processing of your food. Cut down on the chemicals in your home by cleaning with natural substances, like vinegar and lemon juice. These are equally effective and non-toxic.
2. Read product labels. Spend time reading labels when choosing foods, household cleaners, shampoos, soaps and cosmetics. Avoid products with a lengthy chemical list and be on the lookout for the most common culprits of bodily harm, like parabens, ingredients ending in “-eth,” sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate, triclosan and triethanolamine (TEA).
3. Exercise. Get your child involved in an active lifestyle. Take walks together as a family, encourage participation in recreational sports, take your kids to jump rope or play tag at the park. Physical activity can help your child with weight management and further reduce exposure to hormones.