Puberty. We all remember it (even if we don't want to). It is one of the biggest rights of passage we experience as humans. Scary thing is, it is happening younger and younger and this is obviously alarming to parents and medical professionals alike. Precocious puberty, 10 times more common in girls, is defined as the appearance of secondary sex characteristics like pubic hair or breast growth before age 8, or the onset of menarche before age 9, effects 1 in 5,000 children in the U.S. and the number is climbing. In the 19th Century, the onset of menstruation usually happened around age 15. Now that average is 12. Before menstruation, girls will begin to show signs of development like the growth of pubic hair or breast budding and these signs are now common in girls ages 7, 8 and 9. It is so common that health care professionals have redefined what is considered 'normal.' Early puberty has been linked to lower self-esteem, depression, eating disorders, alcohol use, earlier loss of virginity, more sexual partners and increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Not to mention the evidence that these girls are at a greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer later in life. Girls now are developing earlier than they did even 10 years ago. The questions here are: is this really normal? And what is causing this?
Environmental Chemicals a Likely FactorScientists have put forth a few theories on the subject but one that really deserves a closer look is environmental chemicals, especially the estrogen mimicking chemicals that leach out of products that contain them, contaminating everything they touch like food and drink. A New York Times article reported that:
…animal studies show that the exposure to some environmental chemicals can cause bodies to mature early. Of particular concern are endocrine-disrupters, like “xeno-estrogens” or estrogen mimics. These compounds behave like steroid hormones and can alter puberty timing.Hormone disrupting chemicals are everywhere. Bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial petrochemical that acts as a synthetic estrogen is found in our plastics, tin can linings, dental sealants and cash register receipts. See? Everywhere. Environmental Working Group (EWG) commissioned tests that found BPA in the umbilical cord blood of 90 percent of newborn babies tested. That wasn't all they found, they also discovered over 230 other chemicals. BPA is only one of the chemical concerns out there. Phthalates, a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are very common endocrine disrupters found in processed food packaging and shower curtains, detergents, toys and beauty products like nail polish, hair spray, shampoo, deodorants, and fragrances. Fluoride is another danger that's found in most municipal water supplies. Animals treated with fluoride had lower levels of circulating melatonin which was linked to an earlier puberty in the fluoride treated females.