Posted by Claudia Grazioso on May 27, 2011
I have a daughter in kindergarten, and I really, really am not ready for her to go through puberty. You might think I have a few years to worry about this… to batten down the hatches and line up my tequila shots, but that might not be the case. Recently, a friend told me that her nine-year-old daughter had started developing pubic hair. And another friend told me that her six-year-old niece had started developing breasts. And then I remembered a story I had heard years ago about toddlers in Puerto Rico developing breasts and reaching sexual maturity much more quickly than normal as a result of a synthetic estrogen, DES, in their food supply.
Precocious Puberty is an actual syndrome that has been around for awhile and it has many causes, from tumors in the brain to congenital conditions. But what is concerning is that the instances of Precocious Puberty seems to be going up, while the average age of the onset of symptoms of puberty is going down. Girls in the United States now typically reach puberty around age 10 or 11. Does anyone else remember reading “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret?” by Judy Blume? The characters were all anxiously awaiting their periods and their breasts at 12 and 13. And that was normal, at least when I was growing up.
But now, studies have shown that more and more second grade girls — girls as young as 7 — are showing signs of Precocious Puberty. In fact, studies have shown that the number of seven-year-olds developing breasts has almost doubled since 1997. So many girls are developing breasts that, in fact, some people now consider the onset of puberty at 7 or 8 to not be that unusual. My opinion? Baloney, it’s plenty unusual. And if your child exhibits signs of puberty at seven, you should see a doctor.
Puberty by 10? Breasts at 7? What’s going on?
Some doctors theorize that these changes are related to higher rates of obesity in children these days. Children growing up in past centuries reached sexual maturity later partially as a result of malnourishment. That indeed might be a factor, but at least some doctors, including endocrinologists at UCLA, are beginning to look at environmental factors — or what annoyed moms call “all the crap the FDA has approved for the last twenty years.” Our children are regularly exposed to an alarming number of chemicals that have proven estrogenic activity, like BPAs and pthalates. And while the FDA is finally “rethinking” its original stance on those chemicals, so far it stands firm on its current “thinking” that hormones added directly to our food are safe.
For example, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) is used to increase milk production in about 30 percent of the dairy cows in America, and is estimated to be used in 90 percent of the beef we consume. It was approved by the FDA years ago, but some scientists, as well as consumer and health advocacy groups, have long expressed concern. Some critics of the FDA feel that not enough testing was done before the hormone was approved for use in dairy and beef. They point out that the FDA based its decision on the results of one test on rBGH conducted by the manufacturers. Meanwhile, a similar study was conducted in Canada in 1998, and based on those findings, the use of rBGH was banned in Canada. To date, it has also been banned in Europe, Japan, and Australia. (Things that make you go hmm…)
While the FDA may have closed the book on the safety of rBGH at least for now, health experts and consumer advocates are continuing the fight. Recently, several farm advocacy groups have reported alarming findings of their own: an increase in both the instances of severe mastitis in animals treated in rBGH, as well as a spike in deformed calves born to cows treated with the synthetic hormone. Scientists also point out that rBGH significantly raises the levels of Insulin Growth Factor 1 in the animals it is given to. Humans also have IGF1, and increased levels of IGF1 have been linked to breast and colon cancer, for starters.
So, let’s see: puberty at 10, breasts at 7, deformed calves, increases in a hormone linked to certain cancers and endocrinologists pointing to the high rate of exposure to estrogenic chemicals in our plastics and food as a possible cause. I think it’s pretty clear: rBGH-free milk, please. And pass up on the burgers unless they’re organic. The teen years are hard enough: Let’s not start them at seven.