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Early Puberty Linked to Everyday Chemicals

Early puberty in girls—which increases the risk of certain cancers—is on the rise. Chemicals in consumer products and the food supply may be to blame.



Early Puberty Linked to Everyday Chemicals

Exercise may help keeps kids' development from speeding up.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Young girls are going through puberty significantly earlier than they have in the past two decades, with some starting to mature as early as age 7, according to a new Pediatrics journal study appearing online. Researchers found a link between higher BMI and early puberty, and also voiced concern over childhood and adolescent exposure to harmful consumer chemicals that are found in everything from carpeting and shampoo to food containers to canned food.

THE DETAILS: In this portion of an ongoing study, researchers looked at the medical histories of nearly 1,250 girls, ages 6 to 8, living in different parts of the country, including East Harlem, New York; Cincinnati; and the San Francisco Bay area in California. They found that on average, girls have started going through puberty significantly earlier than just a decade or two ago. For instance, about 10 percent of the girls in the study started going through puberty at age 7, and 27 percent start by age 8, according to Pinney. The latest study's findings are alarming, given that a highly publicized study from 1992 to 1993 found the average age of first breast development was 10 years old.

Previous research has linked early puberty to lower self-esteem, an increased risk of engaging in risky behavior, and a higher risk of breast cancer and metabolic syndrome in adulthood.

WHAT IT MEANS: Researchers haven't identified the smoking-gun source of the early puberty epidemic, but they have lots of ideas, mainly ones that center on childhood obesity (in which excess estrogen could be manufactured in fat cells) and exposure to estrogen-mimicking chemicals, including BPA, found in the lining of many canned foods, on receipts, in some No. 7 plastics, and even in water and sand. Coauthor of the study, Susan Pinney, PhD, associate professor of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati, says phthalates, plasticizing chemicals used to create vinyl, and used in many synthetically scented products and lotions, also disrupt hormones and boost estrogenlike qualities and are of concern.

Here's how your family can avoid chemicals and other factors that may be promoting early puberty:

• Eat organic and exercise. Pesticides are major hormone disruptors whose inert ingredients can actually carry the toxins inside the food. Eat organic and avoid processed foods whenever possible to greatly reduce your body's pesticide load. Another benefit? Certified-organic foods cannot be grown using antibiotics or hormones.

Published on: August 10, 2010
Updated on: August 10, 2010



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