Infant and Children | August 23, 2017 | Author: naturopath
Puberty is the time in life when a boy or girl becomes sexually mature. It causes physical changes such as rapid growth of bones and muscles, changes in body shape and size, and development of the reproductive system. In girls, the first sign of puberty is breast development. Puberty usually hits males between ages 12-16 and in females between ages 10-14.
In precocious puberty, the child’s body begins to develop into that of an adult too soon. Puberty that begins before the age of 8 in girls and 9 in boys is considered precocious puberty. Why this occurs is often unknown but in rare cases certain conditions may cause an early onset puberty.
Signs and symptoms of precocious puberty in girls include breast growth and first period before the age of 8. In boys, the signs and symptoms include enlarged testicles and penis, facial hair and a deepening voice. Pubic or underarm hair, rapid growth, acne and an adult body odour can occur in both boys and girls.
“Partial” precocious puberty refers to children who show some of the signs of early development. Early signs of breast development can happen in girls between the ages of 6 months to 3 years, only to later disappear with no other signs of puberty. Similarly, some girls and boys may have the growth of pubic or underarm hair that is unrelated to other signs of sexual development.
Unfortunately, one of the major problems with early development is that a child is unable to reach their full height. During puberty, bone and muscles grow and stop once puberty has finished. As kids with precocious puberty stop developing at an early age this will avoid them reaching their full adult height potential. Their early growth spurt might make them appear taller than their peers initially but they usually stop growing too soon.
Going through early development can be a confusing time for a child emotionally and physically. They may feel embarrassed that they have gone through changes far earlier than their friends. This can result in bullying, anxiety and changes to self-esteem. Due to the increase in sex hormones, girls can become moody and irritable, while boys can show signs of aggression. In some cases, particularly males, an early sex drive inappropriate for their age may develop.
In rare cases, an exact cause can be identified that triggers the above. Examples include certain infections, hormone disorders, brain abnormalities or injuries or tumours. Precocious puberty can be an inherited disorder, particularly in males. About 5% of boys and 1% of girls have inherited the disorder.
Exposure to environmental chemicals affects our genetics and alters growth and development. A group of chemicals, referred to as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), are of particular concern as daily exposure can be very high.
Examples of EDCs include some pesticides, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls and plasticizers such as bisphenol A (BPA). These can be found in every day products such as plastic bottles and containers, tinned food, detergents, perfumes, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics and pesticides.
A recent study published in 2016 confirmed the link between early puberty and exposure to EDCs.
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Researchers found that phthalates might play a role in the occurrence of central precocious puberty as levels were found to be significantly higher compared to control group and those with peripheral precocious puberty.
Phthalates are commonly found in plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability and longevity. They are also found in cosmetics and food. To decrease exposure, avoid food packaged in plastic, especially fatty foods such as meat, milk and butter. Bottled water is a significant source of phthalates so try stainless steel or glass bottles instead. Heating with plastic releases a high amount into food so it is advised that you heat and store food in glass. When choosing cleaning and personal care items, always opt for completely natural ones and be sure to read the ingredients list.
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Feed your child organic foods, free from pesticides and residual hormones in animal products such as meat and dairy. Avoid high carbohydrate foods such as pasta, white bread, cakes and biscuits and replace with wholemeal products, fresh fruit and vegetables. Encourage foods rich in omega-3 such as fresh fish, walnuts and flaxseeds. Foods that are high in indole 3 carbinol such as brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage should be eaten every day. Try adding to soups, spaghetti bolognaise, or steamed and added to mashed potatoes for better compliance. They help to detoxify excess oestrogens in the body via supporting their clearance through the liver.
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Liquorice and peony have proven success in reducing levels of androgens, including testosterone and may prove helpful in males experiencing early puberty. St Mary’s thistle, chlorella, B vitamins, selenium and zinc may help to detoxify EDCs and other potential toxins in the body and should also be considered.
A study in girls aged between 5-12 years who were vitamin D deficient were twice as likely to experience early puberty than those with sufficient levels of the vitamin. Unfortunately, there is no clear link between vitamin D deficiency and early puberty in boys. Ways to increase vitamin D levels is through sunlight exposure and adequate intake of fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, cheese and egg yolks. Supplementation is necessary if there is a diagnosed deficiency.
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Buluş AD. The evaluation of possible role of endocrine disruptors in central and peripheral precocious puberty. Toxicol Mech Methods. 2016 Sep;26(7):493-500
Grant P, Ramasamy S. An update on plant derived anti-androgens. Int J Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Apr;10(2):497-502
Zhao Y, et al. Prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in girls with idiopathic central precocious puberty. Front Med. 2017 Aug 8. doi: 10.1007/s11684-017-0544-5. [Epub ahead of print]