Definition of Normal Puberty Shifting
Soon after hearing the interview, I checked out The New Puberty: How to Navigate Early Development in Today’s Girls by Greenspan and Deardorff. According to Greenspan and Deardorff in The New Puberty, “A girl in 1860 got her first period around 16. A girl in 1920 got it around 14. Today she’s likely to have a first period closer to 12 ½ years.” In addition, while the average age of menstruation has fallen 6 months in the last 40 years in Europe and America, the age of breast development has dropped by 2 years, which may be because breasts are especially sensitive to estrogen (and estrogen mimickers in the environment). This decreasing age for the onset of puberty in girls has been confirmed in numerous studies and cannot be explained simply by changes in nutrition, body weight, or body fat.
While the book The New Puberty specifically addresses early puberty in girls, the authors have this to say about boys: "It's beyond the scope of this book to cover the pubertal process in boys today...Although some data suggest that they too are starting sooner today, the jury is still out...Although we won't address boys specifically in this book, much of the advice we provide--how to encourage healthy habits and build emotional closeness, for example--applies to them as well." I think it goes without saying that most parents aren't interested in their boys being exposed to hormone disruptors (whether they mimic estrogen or something else) either.
Causes of Early Puberty
According to The New Puberty, there are three main suspects for the early onset of puberty: excess fat, chemicals, and stress.
Chemicals pollutants currently being studied for their effects on pubertal timing include:
- Flame retardants
- Common plastic ingredients: Phthalates, parabens, BPA
- Tobacco compounds
- Heavy metals like lead and cadmium
Risks of Early Puberty
There are numerous risks associated with the early onset of puberty in girls. Behavioral health risks associated with early puberty include depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and body-image issues. Physical health risks include breast and ovarian cancers, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
25 Ways to Prevent or Slow Down Early Puberty
- Eat less plastic: avoid canned foods (often lined with BPA or equally bad alternative plastic chemicals), cooking in Teflon, microwaving food in plastic (use glass) or storing food and beverages in plastic containers - particularly PVC (#3) or polycarbonate (#7). Use glass or stainless steel water bottles.
- Limit sugar, a major culprit in fueling the childhood obesity epidemic. Spikes in insulin from high sugar consumption can result in higher concentrations of the sex hormones connected to earlier periods. In fact, a recent study has specifically linked soda consumption by young girls to earlier puberty.
- Cook from scratch as often as possible to avoid a host of unhealthy, non-food ingredients found in canned, processed, and prepared foods.
- Eat more whole fruits and vegetables. Fiber has been shown to protect girls from early menstruation. Buy organic when possible to avoid exposure to pesticides, but don't limit consumption if you can't afford organic. Consult EWG’s annual report on pesticides in produce to help you limit your family's exposure.
- Shop at the farmers market. This is a fabulous way to get fresh, local, and sometimes organic (or at least no-pesticide) produce at great prices. Go to localharvest.org to find markets near you. Read up on how to get the most out of your farmers market here. Of course an even more local option is to plant your own garden or participate in a community garden!
- Eat less meat, and choose low-fat, antibiotic-free, organic meats. Antibiotics are given to livestock not only to help prevent illness, but to fatten them up and cause them to mature faster. Their effect on human maturation is uncertain. Use Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch lists to help you choose fish with the lowest amount of toxins.
- Choose low-fat, organic dairy products.
- Avoid suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals in personal products. Avoid fragrance or parfum, triclosan and triclocarbon found in antibacterial soaps and toothpastes, aluminum chlorohydrate found in deodorants, phthalates, and other hormone disruptors. I was particularly interested that the authors recommend avoiding tea tree oil and lavender as potential endocrine disruptors, as these ingredients are frequently found in "natural" personal products and cleaning products. Click here for more information on choosing non-toxic personal products.
- Use only the safest sunscreens. Focus on using clothing and hats to limit sun exposure, and use sunscreen on faces and other exposed areas.
- Choose non-toxic cleaners. Read this post to learn how to identify one (note that labels such as “natural,” “non-toxic,” and “green” are unregulated – you need to do your own homework). The authors specifically mention avoiding borax and boric acid, which is notable, since borax is often considered a “natural” cleaner.
- Keep indoor air healthy. Frequently open windows, change A/C and heating filters every 3-6 months, clean ducts annually, avoid air deodorizers and plug-in room fresheners.
- Reduce household dust to limit exposure to ubiquitous flame retardants, lead, and other toxic chemicals: frequently vacuum with a HEPA filter, wet mop, and wipe down surfaces and windowsills).
- Choose mattresses and furniture made of natural materials (such as cotton, wool, and natural latex). Polyurethane foam disintegrates over time and releases tiny potentially harmful particles. Avoid synthetic flame retardants and stain-resistant and water-resistant chemicals. Click here for additional ways to limit exposure to flame retardants without buying new furniture.
- Avoid manufactured wood products which frequently off-gas formaldehyde and other harmful chemicals.
- Choose solid flooring and area rugs over synthetic wall-to-wall carpet, which off-gasses, particularly when new, and traps toxic dust. Hire an expert to remove or replace old carpet.
- Control pests without toxic pesticides and herbicides. We've successfully battled ants, cockroaches, gnats, and fruit flies without resorting to hiring a pest control company or using EPA-registered pesticides.
- Get adequate sleep. Be strict about LED screen use (especially before bedtime), as the particular wavelength of light emitted is known to disrupt secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin which could possibly play a role in the onset of early puberty. LED screens are common on tablets and computers.
- Establish a healthy level of fitness as a family (30 to 60 minutes of exercise per day). Reduce risk of injury by participating in a variety of sports and activities.
- Choose a K-8 school to provide your middle school-aged daughter access to additional trusted adults (former teachers), and the opportunity to build empathy for younger children during her adolescent years.
- Maintain a loving, supportive family environment from infancy throughout childhood and adolescence. More specific tips on how to accomplish this can be found in The New Puberty or other parenting resources.
- Wash your hands! Especially before eating.
4 Additional Tips from Eco-novice
- Don’t be afraid of natural sources of soy (such as tofu, edamame, and soy milk). Although natural soy contains isoflavones (plant estrogens), they are not true hormone minickers and may actually prevent or delay puberty. Experts theorize that natural soy may help the body be less sensitive to estrogen later in life.
- Leave your shoes at the door. Experts estimate that 30 to 40 percent of contaminants in our home (including lead, pesticides, fertilizer,and cigarette ash) are brought in from outside. Taking off your shoes keeps a lot of harmful pollutants out of your house, off your floor, off of little kids' hands and out of kids' mouths. Removing your shoes is especially important if your home has wall-to-wall carpet or if you have a baby or toddler that spends a lot of time on the floor and mouthing objects. Find additional tips for avoiding exposure to lead from the CDC here or visit Tamara Rubin's resource page.
- Avoid inappropriate use of antibiotics. The authors point out that antibiotics are used to fatten up and accelarate the maturation process of livestock. They suggest limiting your exposure to antibiotics in meat because antibiotics may also affect pubertal timing in humans. I couldn't help but think that it is critical to limit your family's own use of antibiotics as a prescription medication as well. Antibiotics are an amazing life-saving medication that our society is squandering through misuse, especially in our administration of them to livestocks, but also in their overuse among people. Never pressure your doctor to give you antibiotics for an illness, and ask if it's safe to "wait and see" rather than immediately take antibiotics for an illness or infection. Click here for additional information on overuse of antibiotics.
- Protect your family from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. Don't allow smoking in your home or vehicle. Insist that smoking regulations be enforced at your place of work. Choose smoke-free restaurants, hotel rooms, and child care centers.
- Why I Don't Use Tampons Anymore (My Switch to Eco-friendly and Non-toxic Menstrual Products)
- In Search of the Affordable Natural Bed
- Avoiding Toxins in Baby Products
- 7 Simple Ways to Reduce Your Family's Exposure to Toxic Flame Retardants
- How to Identify a Green Cleaner
- 6 Strategies for Choosing Non-toxic Personal Care Products
- Cooking without Teflon
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