Her feet swing underneath her chair as she reads a book so the 7-year-old doesn’t seem to hear us talking about precocious puberty. Her mom looks at me nervously as we sit in my office. Not only is this mom’s niece experiencing this “normal phenomenon” of boobs at 8 but she hears other moms at the playground talking about it too. Mom looks at me with a panicked look that I have seen a lot lately from patients who have children, “Do I have to worry about my second grader and puberty? Isn’t that something for middle school and high school? Is this normal?”
Are Boobs at 8 the New Normal?
No, it’s not normal but we have been seeing the first signs of puberty is happening younger. It’s now 8 and 9-year-olds. Sometimes it’s even kindergarteners or younger. Who wants to be teaching their kindergartener about bras and how to tie their shoes? Not me. That comes fast enough.
What used to be late teens, and a signal it was time to be married, is happening too soon. 8 is too soon. Are you ready to marry off your 8-year-old? I want more time for tea parties and doll houses. Over the past century, the age of first period has gone down worldwide from 16-17 to under age 13. (1) We are also seeing increased incidents of precocious puberty. This is when very young girls are experiencing puberty outside the normal window.
It might be happening but it’s not normal. Genetics determines a body is going to menstruate at a certain time and that time is not 8 years old.
What causes early puberty?
Well…What causes puberty? What changes for girls that doesn’t happen to boys? Estrogen levels go up for girls and this leads to many of the changes that girls see when they enter puberty. Girls are 10 times more likely to experience central precocious puberty. (2) Also, when girls are diagnosed they do not know the cause, whereas, with boys they are able to identify an underlying cause.
So, what’s the cause? There are lots of them so we can’t blame one scapegoat. They are caused by the rise of estrogens in our bodies and our environments. The only thing that causes you to go from child to young adulthood is those estrogen levels start to come up. If they are forced synthetically or introduced to your body, your gene system will respond to that environment. Once you have induced puberty, there is no going back.
What do you want to avoid? What in our environment is leading to estrogen levels increasing? We see the impacts of increased estrogens easily on young girls but the same increased levels of estrogen are impacting us all. So, make changes for our daughters but we also want to make them for ourselves.
What to cut from your life:
Unethically Farmed Meat and Dairy
Food is the only industry where we have moved away from quality. Now we have grown accustomed to food tasting like science. Mass consumption of meats has meant the industry is scrambling to keep up. They started to add hormones to make the animals grow bigger and faster.
The hormones go into the meat, and the meat goes into packaged foods on grocery store shelves. If you ingest those hormones you are going to alter your own. Do you want to do that? I don’t think you should ever eat a non-organic meat. Consider the source. What do they feed the cow? What hormones or antibiotics are going into that cow. Go to your local organic farmer. Buy a whole or half a cow to save your family money. And if you have to spend more sometimes – it’s OK. How much do you spend on your car and hobbies? You should be spending more on fuel for your body.
To make it simple let’s call this chemical-estrogen. Xenoestrogens are a sub category of chemical endocrine disruptors that have an estrogen-like effect. (3) When these nasty chemicals get into your body they mimic the body’s natural estrogen. Huh- wonder what impact that has on a growing girl’s body?
These nasty chemicals are everywhere. BPA, phthalates and parabens are common xenoestrogens. They are in plastics, household cleaning products, dryer sheets, cookware, food and beauty products. Go the natural route for your products, eat organic foods, choose glass, and find other ways to avoid these unnecessary chemicals.
Luckily, we don’t test on babies or pregnant women but that makes it hard to really confirm what is “safe” for the developing body. In 1973 there was an accident in Michigan that gave us some valuable information. Cows were accidentally fed PBB, flame retardant estrogen mimicking chemical. It was two years before the accident was discovered and 90% of Michigan residents consumed the tainted meat and dairy products. A study found that the children of pregnant women who ate the meat, started their periods earlier than average. (4)
These are estrogens that are found naturally in plants or we could call them plant-estrogens. As an endocrine disruptor, they can impact the natural functioning of body. The most harmful source of phytoestrogens is soy that has become so common in our American diet. Soy is high in phytoestrogens and these can impact sexual development. (5)
For years, soy was the darling of the super foods with its health benefits being touted. The food industry ran with that and put it in everything. Now as we learn more, we find out that soy isn’t so great and its estrogen mimicking components make it dangerous (not the good fermented soy but that is for another article). So, avoid soy. It will mess with the hormones and is not a health food.
This class of endocrine disruptors has been growing with more research along with our knowledge of their toxicity. There are many metals in common products that mimic estrogen or interfere with the hormones. They can change the anatomy of the breast including leading to early onset puberty. They are frequently found in cancerous breast tissue. (6)
The most dangerous of these are cadmium and aluminum. Cadmium is found in plastics and phosphate fertilizers. Aluminum is found in deodorants and our cookware. Get these metals out of your house!
Here are some easy ways to avoid metals
• Buy your soups and veggies in a box rather than a can
• Even better -make those soups from scratch
• Use deodorant without the aluminum- don’t worry there are lots of good options on the market
• Avoid vaccines
• Before your dentist drills ask what type of filling will be used
• Do you have a mouth of silver? Ask about replacing current fillings
• Check your make-up for metals – take a close look at foundation and eye make-up
• Choose fish known for low mercury content- usually your smaller fish choices and the fish that big fish eat
This one may surprise some of you. The #1 source of hormone introduction is city water. There is no filtration to take out hormones from a woman taking birth control who then takes a pee and then it ends back up in our water supply. Our city filtration systems also can’t remove all the antibiotics and hormones from the livestock or the pesticides from the runoff.
Without proper filtration on your house- enjoy everybody else’s hormones. These can now induce puberty or other adverse physical affects. Get a good filter.
According to the CDC, 17.4% of children ages 6-11 are obese. (7) This is important because estrogen is stored in fat. Studies have shown, girls who are obese will get their first period a year earlier than those who are not. (8) Overweight boys will also see earlier signs of puberty but studies have shown obese boys will have later start of puberty which could be because of greater estrogen production in the obese boys. (9)
Make sure your kids get outside to play and surround them with healthy foods. If setting your kids up for a healthy life isn’t enough maybe the fear of messing with their hormones will be. Good diet and physical activity are the only things that are going to keep your kids from being fat.
Vitamin D deficiency
Another reason to get your kids outside- they need vitamin D. Studies have shown a link between vitamin D deficiency and early puberty. Girls closer to the equator will have a later start than those further away who don’t see the sun as much. That’s not good. Girls and boys who are inside more should not reach puberty earlier. One study showed girls who were vitamin D deficient were twice as likely to get their period early than those who had plenty of vitamin D. (10)
Even in cold weather, your kids can play outside. They don’t need to be on the screens all the time. You can also give your kids a vitamin D supplement and vitamin D rich foods like wild caught salmon, herring, cod, eggs and mushrooms. You will always see me with my bottle of vitamin D. It’s what keeps me smiley when my beautiful wife isn’t close by.
Many Factors: Our Control
It seems like a lot. There are a variety of triggers. We can’t blame one thing or take a pill to get our desired outcome. When you play the victim, you look on outside to be fixed. It takes individual responsibility out of it. There is a lot we can control if we take the time. Let’s clean it up- starting at home. Then in our communities- for our daughters and ourselves.
It’s worth the time. Time is precious especially when it’s time to be a kid. As the father of four girls, I know it goes fast. They deserve this time to swing their legs under their chair and not worry about our conversations about puberty. It all comes soon enough.
Written by: Dr. Patrick Flynn
Check out the video from the Dr. Patrick Flynn Show where he discusses precocious puberty.