Dr. Fuhrman on PBS: June 4th Premiere

  3 STEPS TO INCREDIBLE HEALTH! with Joel Fuhrman, M.D. will be premiering this Saturday, June 4th on public television stations across America.  (check local listings)

A message from Dr. Fuhrman:

"I believe in PBS and I hope you do too. Public television's very existence is in serious jeopardy from Washington lobbyists and lawmakers. I hope many of you will be able to support PBS with a pledge for my program "3 Steps to Incredible Health!" Your involvement and support will help our mission of bringing INCREDIBLE HEALTH to every single American AND enable PBS stations to survive in these difficult times. Thank you."

 

3 STEPS TO INCREDIBLE HEALTH! with Joel Fuhrman, MD is a sixty-minute PBS pledge program that directly addresses the crisis of obesity and chronic disease plaguing America.

Over 65% of Americans are overweight or obese - and that number is growing just like our waistlines!

Dr. Fuhrman will offer a healthy, effective, and scientifically proven plan for shedding weight quickly and reclaiming the vitality and good health we all deserve. 

 

Support Public Television and Dr. Fuhrman.


By making a donation during Dr. Fuhrman's pledge program on PBS, as a gift you will receive an exclusive Dr. Fuhrman "Incredible Health" combo package – not available anywhere else!*

Be sure to tune in and tell your friends!

By watching 3 STEPS TO INCREDIBLE HEALTH! with Joel Fuhrman, MD on PBS you are helping educate America with Dr Fuhrman's message.

Support your local PBS station by phoning in during an airing and making a pledge.

Check local listings by following these easy steps:

1. Go to www.pbs.org

2. Click the first button in the menu bar, Select Your Local Station, and follow the prompts.

3. Next select TV Schedule from the menu bar and you will be taken through to the TV Schedule for your local PBS Station

4. Use the Program Search field and enter Joel Fuhrman to find the scheduled broadcast dates and times of 3 Steps to Incredible Health!

If the site has no Program Search, browse their A-Z Program Guide for 3 Steps to Incredible Health! with Joel Fuhrman, M.D., click on the link to find the broadcast dates and times.


*Stay tuned to DrFuhrman.com for more details about the PBS program, the "Incredible Health" combo, and an exclusive offer to Dr. Fuhrman's Members!

 

"I could never do that!" part 2

Not long ago I wrote a post titled, I could never do that!  It was about the response I get when I tell others how I’ve lost weight, and their reaction to the idea of eating meals primarily composed of plant based nutrition. From the many Disease Proof readers that wrote comments, that post resonated deep within; solidifying the fact that most all of us could never live with the consequences of eating disease promoting foods.

The topic is beating passionately in my heart now as it's hit close to home. Recently my mother suffered a stroke, and I’ve been experiencing first hand the time, resources, and energy that will now be required to manage the debilitating disease. A stroke results in a sudden lifestyle change magnified by a hundred: immobility due to muscle paralysis, incontinence for some, inability to swallow normally resulting in slurred speech and the need for pureed foods and thickened liquids, multiple medications, therapy, lack of independence and freedom; just to name a few.

Lifestyle change. 

Interesting. 

Lifestyle change is the very reason why most continue to choose to eat the standard American diet; or worse yet, follow a quick weight-loss gimmick. It takes time, resources, focus, and energy to switch over to eating high-nutrient, plant based foods. 

  • One has to routinely wash and cut up lettuce leaves, fresh vegetables and fruits.
  • One has to cook a pot of soup instead of order take-out. 
  • Many have to suffer through a period of withdrawal to overcome toxic cravings for sugar, fat, processed foods, and salt.
  • Some feel socially isolated in a culture that’s fixated with eating for disease.
  • Some are even ridiculed for eating for health!
  • Many have to pack their own food if they eat away from home.
  • Most have to become serious students of nutrition to understand the science behind dietary recommendations, because knowledge is the motivation behind their changes.  

No doubt about it, there’s a radical price to pay to successfully switch over to thoroughly enjoy eating plant based nutrition. However, once the toxic cravings are gone, and the taste buds have changed, one never wants to return to SAD. In fact, the psychological trappings of food addiction and eating disorders disappear! It’s a small price to pay for a lifetime of freedom and wonderful health benefits for the rest of one’s life! 

As the old adage goes, “Pay the grocer or pay the doctor.”

 

Have you made the lifestyle change, or are you dragging your feet; waiting for a debilitating disease to radically change your life and make you its prisoner?

 

Let’s all continue to choose high nutrient foods that will reap the benefits of great health today and for years to come! It’s a small price to pay. 

 

What price are you willing to pay to enjoy great health?   

 

image credit:  flickr by taberandrew

 

Omega-3 fatty acids - do they increase or decrease prostate cancer risk?

A recent study produced confusing results.  It found that a higher blood concentration of omega-3 fatty acids was associated with increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer, and a higher concentration of trans-fats was associated with decreased risk.1  These men were not supplementing with liquid fish oil, so it can be assumed that the blood levels represented fish intake.  So should men still take omega-3 supplements?  We know that DHA is good for the heart and the brain, but is it really bad for the prostate?  What about trans-fats – how could more of this unhealthy fat possibly be beneficial for the prostate? 

When we look more closely, we can see that this one study should not dictate major changes in our view of a cancer-preventive lifestyle. Read the entire article on DrFuhrman.com.

Fish oil. Flickr: D'Arcy Norman

 

High fish consumption/blood omega-3s increase risk in some studies, decrease risk in others

 

  • In a 2010 meta-analysis of 31 studies, the risks of prostate cancer diagnosis calculated for high fish consumption ranged from a 61% decrease in risk to a 77% increase in risk, and several showed no significant differences in risk at all. 
  • In the same meta-analysis, pooled data from four studies on fish consumption and death from prostate cancer (rather than diagnosis of prostate cancer) found a 63% decrease in risk for high fish consumption. 2 
  • A recent meta-analysis of studies on ALA intake (the omega-3 in plant foods like flax, hemp, chia, and walnuts, and small amounts in leafy greens) concluded that there was a small but significant decrease in risk (5%) for men consuming more than 1.5 grams of ALA per day.3  
  • At least 15 studies (the current study included), have used blood concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids as a measure of omega-3 intake.  Some studies reported increased risk, some decreased risk, and some no effect.

Remember when looking at fish intake, we are not looking at omega-3 intake alone.  

Salmon. Flickr: Andrea Pokrzywinski

Fish are rich in omega-3s, but they also contain a significant amount of animal protein and accumulated environmental pollutants, both of which have been linked to prostate cancer. 4-7  Sufficient research has not been done on omega-3 supplements and prostate cancer to make any conclusions. 

If we were to conclude anything from all the studies available on this subject it would be that fish and omega-3 fats in general do not have a major impact on this disease, but the inconsistency and widely differing results suggest regional variation in pollutant levels in the fish consumed.

Trans-fats and blood levels; more confusion in the midst.  

Before you start eating Twinkies and French Fries fried in trans fat for their prostate cancer protection, let’s consider the possibility that after consuming trans fats (trans fats are man-made fat, already linked with cancer in multiple studies), those inflammatory fats are either burned, removed or stored in the body.  Their levels may fluctuate abnormally because of having cancer.  Therefore the high omega-3 and low trans fat blood levels in this study could be early signs of developing cancer, not the cause of it.  Also, three previous studies on either trans-fat intake or blood trans-fats have found increased risk of prostate cancer.8-10

Should men still take omega-3 supplements?  

Remember that omega-3s are essential fatty acids – the body cannot make them if we don’t get them from our diet.  A deficiency of nutrients the body requires is never favorable for health, but more than needed may not be better when it comes to omega-3 fatty acids.   I still recommend omega-3 sufficiency, which can be achieved with 100-200 mg/day of DHA plus 1 tbsp. of ground flaxseed for ALA.  Almost all nutrients can be harmful in deficiency or excess.  

Read the entire article on DrFuhrman.com

 

References:

1. Brasky TM, Till C, White E, et al: Serum Phospholipid Fatty Acids and Prostate Cancer Risk: Results From the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial. Am J Epidemiol 2011.

2. Szymanski KM, Wheeler DC, Mucci LA: Fish consumption and prostate cancer risk: a review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;92:1223-1233.

3. Carayol M, Grosclaude P, Delpierre C: Prospective studies of dietary alpha-linolenic acid intake and prostate cancer risk: a meta-analysis. Cancer Causes Control 2010;21:347-355.

4. Giovannucci E, Pollak M, Liu Y, et al: Nutritional predictors of insulin-like growth factor I and their relationships to cancer in men. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2003;12:84-89.

5. Rowlands MA, Gunnell D, Harris R, et al: Circulating insulin-like growth factor peptides and prostate cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Cancer 2009;124:2416-2429.

6. Hardell L, Andersson SO, Carlberg M, et al: Adipose tissue concentrations of persistent organic pollutants and the risk of prostate cancer. J Occup Environ Med 2006;48:700-707.

7. Van Maele-Fabry G, Libotte V, Willems J, et al: Review and meta-analysis of risk estimates for prostate cancer in pesticide manufacturing workers. Cancer Causes Control 2006;17:353-373.

8. Hu J, La Vecchia C, Gibbons L, et al: Nutrients and risk of prostate cancer. Nutr Cancer 2010;62:710-718.

9. King IB, Kristal AR, Schaffer S, et al: Serum trans-fatty acids are associated with risk of prostate cancer in beta-Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2005;14:988-992.

10. Chavarro JE, Stampfer MJ, Campos H, et al: A prospective study of trans-fatty acid levels in blood and risk of prostate cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2008;17:95-101.


 

More reasons to maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight is not harmless – excess fat is the major factor responsible for insulin resistance and resultant type 2 diabetes, and a risk factor for a plethora of conditions including heart disease, stroke, hypertension, high cholesterol, liver disease, gallbladder disease, respiratory problems, arthritis, and infertility.1  Being overweight is thought to be responsible for over 100,000 new cancer cases each year in the U.S. alone, and both overweight and obesity are associated with a greater risk of death from all causes. 

Recent findings in the field of obesity research have given us two more reasons to keep one’s weight in check. 

  1. Excess weight may restrict blood flow to certain areas of the brain, impairing brain function and possibly fueling more overeating.
  2. Even just a few extra pounds on someone with a “normal” BMI may increase risk of death from heart disease.

1.  Brain function

Obesity in mid-life is already known to increase the later risk of dementia, suggesting that excess weight has detrimental effects on the brain.2  The high blood pressure, arterial stiffness, and insulin resistance that come with excess weight could be the factors that harm the brain.

In this particular study, the researchers compared overweight and normal weight subjects (average BMI 28.43 and 21.79, respectively) using an imaging technique that measures blood flow in specific areas of the brain.  They focused on the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that governs focus, impulse control, and executive function (which includes decision-making, planning, and working toward goals).

In overweight subjects compared to normal subjects, they saw a decrease in blood flow to the brain overall, and also specifically to the prefrontal cortex.  Because of the unique functions of the prefrontal cortex in regulating impulse control, they concluded that excess weight has the potential for driving further overeating by reducing blood flow to this area.3

Conversely, another recent study has found that losing weight can improve memory.   Subjects underwent memory, concentration, and problem solving tests before and 12 weeks after bariatric surgery.  Memory performance had improved after 12 weeks.  Importantly, the baseline tests also revealed that the obese subjects and cognitive impairment. Of course, bariatric surgery is not a safe way to lose weight, but this study makes the point that the brain begins to work more effectively when excess fat begins to disappear.4

2.  Risk of death from coronary artery disease

Obesity is a known risk factor for heart disease, but a new meta-analysis has reported that a little “excess belly fat” can increase the risk of death from coronary artery disease even for people whose body mass index (BMI) is in the normal range.   BMI is an imperfect indicator of the health risks associated with obesity, taking only height and weight, and not body fat percentage or fat distribution, into account. Many scientists believe that waist circumference and/or waist-to-hip ratio are better measures of overweight and obesity.  Certainly, these are better indicators of visceral fat, which is more metabolically active and thought to be more harmful. Nevertheless, both high BMI and large waist circumference are associated with increased risk of death.  

The meta-analysis included data on over 15,000 coronary artery disease patients, and found that those who had “central obesity” (which was evaluated based on waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio) are at a greater risk of death.  This was true not only for obese patients, but normal weight patients as well.  In obese patients, central obesity increased risk by 93%, and in normal weight patients by 70%.5

In order to enjoy excellent health, in addition to eating high-nutrient foods, we must also strive to respond appropriately to the signals of true hunger so that we avoid overeating.  Too many calories, even from healthy natural foods, will translate into excess fat on the body and therefore health risks.

It should be noted that eating right gives you the ability to lose food addictions and be in better control of your cravings, but food is all around us and people can still overeat for recreation.  

 

References:

1. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overweight and Obesity: Health Consequences. http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/causes/health.html 

2. Fitzpatrick AL, Kuller LH, Lopez OL, et al. Midlife and late-life obesity and the risk of dementia: cardiovascular health study. Arch Neurol. 2009 Mar;66(3):336-42.

3. Willeumier KC, Taylor DV, Amen DG. Elevated BMI Is associated With Decreased Blood Flow in the Prefrontal Cortex Using SPECT Imaging in Healthy Adults. Obesity (2011) 19, 1095–1097

4. Gunstad J, Strain G, Devlin MJ, et al. Improved memory function 12 weeks after bariatric surgery. Surg Obes Relat Dis. 2010 Oct 30. [Epub ahead of print]

5. Coutinho T, Goel K, Corrêa de Sá D, et al. Central obesity and survival in subjects with coronary artery disease a systematic review of the literature and collaborative analysis with individual subject data. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2011 May 10;57(19):1877-86.

 

Eat cherries for a healthy heart, a good night's sleep and more

The cherry is a stone fruit, in the same family with plums, apricots, and peaches. The majority of edible cherries have been derived from two species: Prunus avium – the wild cherry (sweet cherries like Bing and Rainier) and Prunus cerasus – the sour cherry (like the Montromorency and Morello varieties).  Most sour cherries here in the U.S. are grown in Michigan with some growing on the East coast as well, and sweet cherries are grown primarily in the Pacific Northwest and Michigan.1 Cherries, especially sour cherries, have a short growing season.  Sweet cherries are generally available between May to August, and sour cherries are available for just a couple of weeks either in mid-June (in warmer areas) or either July-August (in cooler areas).2

Cherries protect against oxidative stress:

Cherries range in color from yellow and pink to bright red to deep, dark red. The colors of sweet and sour cherries come from their rich supply of anthocyanins, including chlorogenic acid, quercetin, and kaempferol.3,4 Regarding antioxidant content, cherries are some of the highest ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) foods in existence – the ORAC score of sweet cherries ranks just as high as strawberries (though not quite as high as blueberries).5  

Anthocyanins protect the body against oxidative damage in a number of ways: they scavenge free radicals directly, bind to DNA to protect it from oxidative damage, and activate detoxification and antioxidant enzyme systems in the body. Cherry anthocyanins have been shown to protect blood vessels and brain cells against oxidative stress, implying that cherry consumption may help to prevent atherosclerotic plaque formation and neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.3,6 Cherry anthocyanins also slow the growth of human colon cancer cells.7

Cherries reduce inflammation:

Cherries and cherry juice have been used since the 1950s by sufferers of gout and arthritis to ease their symptoms.  Gout results from an overload of uric acid in the blood (hyperuricemia), which accumulates and forms crystals in the joints, causing painful arthritis; cherry consumption has been shown to reduce circulating levels of uric acid, which may be one pathway by which cherries improve gout symptoms.8

Evidence presented at the Experimental Biology 2011 meeting related the anti-inflammatory effects of tart cherry juice to both gout and heart disease.  Overweight and obese subjects consumed 8 ounces/day of tart cherry juice or placebo for 4 weeks.  Tart cherry juice consumers experienced reductions in uric acid levels and inflammation markers.  With regard to cardiovascular disease, reductions were also seen in triglycerides, VLDL, and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), a molecule involved in atherosclerotic plaque formation.9  Previous studies on sweet cherry consumption have similarly documented reductions in C-reactive protein (CRP), another inflammatory molecule that is also a marker of cardiovascular disease risk.10

Cherries act as a natural painkiller:

Cherry extracts inhibit the action of cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and COX-2 enzymes.  These enzymes are important components of the inflammatory process and the sensation of pain. Also, these are the same enzymes that are inhibited by many common pain medications.  In fact, the COX inhibitory activity of cherry anthocyanins is comparable to that of equal concentrations of ibuprofen and naproxen.11,12  This may be another way that cherries and cherry juice can ease symptoms of gout and arthritis, and also may help athletes to cut down on post-workout muscle pain. Distance runners training for a race who drank tart cherry juice twice daily for 8 days (7 days prior to race plus race day) experienced less post-race pain than those who drank a placebo.13 Similarly in strength workouts, tart cherry juice consumers experienced less pain and strength loss over the four following days compared to placebo.14 

Cherries may help you sleep:

Tart cherries are one of the few rich food sources of the hormone and antioxidant melatonin, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle in the human brain.15  Tart cherry juice supplementation has been associated with improvements in sleep quality.16

When we think about high-antioxidant, health-promoting fruits, sometimes cherries are overlooked.  But as you can see here, cherries are an excellent food that benefits the heart, brain, and joints, and may even prevent tumor growth and improve the quality of sleep –  enjoy them when they are in season!

 

References:

1. Cherry. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry. Accessed on May 2, 2011.

2. Cherries. Aboutcom Local Foods. http://localfoods.about.com/od/summer/tp/CherriesHub.htm and http://localfoods.about.com/od/cherries/ss/cherryvarieties.htm. Accessed on May 2, 2011.

3. Kim DO, Heo HJ, Kim YJ, et al: Sweet and sour cherry phenolics and their protective effects on neuronal cells. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemis ry 2005;53:9921-9927.

4. Phenolic compounds in sweet and sour cherries. Cornell University. http://ecsoc2.hcc.ru/ecsoc-2/dp260/dp260.htm. Accessed on May 2, 2011.

5. Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity of Selected Foods. 2007. US Department of Agriculture. http://www.ars.usda.gov/sp2userfiles/place/12354500/data/orac/orac07.pdf Accessed on May 2, 2011.

6. Traustadottir T, Davies SS, Stock AA, et al: Tart cherry juice decreases oxidative stress in healthy older men and women. J Nutr 2009;139:1896-1900.

7. Kang SY, Seeram NP, Nair MG, et al: Tart cherry anthocyanins inhibit tumor development in Apc(Min) mice and reduce proliferation of human colon cancer cells. Cancer Lett 2003;194:13-19.

8. Jacob RA, Spinozzi GM, Simon VA, et al: Consumption of cherries lowers plasma urate in healthy women. J Nutr 2003;133:1826-1829.

9. Martin KR, Bopp J, Burrell L, et al: The effect of 100% tart cherry juice on serum uric acid levels, biomarkers of inflammation and cardiovascular disease risk factors. In Experimental Biology 2011. Washington, D.C.: The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology; 2011.

10. Kelley DS, Rasooly R, Jacob RA, et al: Consumption of Bing sweet cherries lowers circulating concentrations of inflammation markers in healthy men and women. J Nutr 2006;136:981-986.

11. McCune LM, Kubota C, Stendell-Hollis NR, et al: Cherries and health: a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2011;51:1-12.

12. Seeram NP, Momin RA, Nair MG, et al: Cyclooxygenase inhibitory and antioxidant cyanidin glycosides in cherries and berries. Phytomedicine 2001;8:362-369.

13. Kuehl KS, Perrier ET, Elliot DL, et al: Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2010;7:17.

14. Connolly DA, McHugh MP, Padilla-Zakour OI, et al: Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Br J Sports Med 2006;40:679-683; discussion 683.

15. Burkhardt S, Tan DX, Manchester LC, et al: Detection and quantification of the antioxidant melatonin in Montmorency and Balaton tart cherries (Prunus cerasus). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemis ry 2001;49:4898-4902.

16. Pigeon WR, Carr M, Gorman C, et al: Effects of a tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. J Med Food 2010;13:579-583.

 

 

Interview with Lisa Fuhrman

Since tomorrow will be Mother’s Day, I thought it’d be inspirational to interview a special mother, Dr. Fuhrman’s wife, Lisa, to help celebrate the special occasion. The Fuhrmans have been raising their four children to genuinely enjoy eating high-nutrient foods in the midst of a culture that’s heavily addicted to the standard American diet. Lisa has valuable insight and experience that will benefit all mothers who desire the same for their children.

Were you always into healthy eating, even before meeting Dr. Fuhrman? 

I thought I was eating healthy before I met Joel. In fact, I remember him asking me if I thought I ate healthfully and my answer was, “Sure.” I had my usual Life cereal for breakfast; salad and tuna or egg salad on a bagel for lunch (with coffee); and chicken, baked potato, and a vegetable (from the can) for dinner. Sometimes I ate a salad with dinner as well. Of course, I ate ice cream and pizza whenever in the mood, but I wasn’t into overeating as I was very conscious of my weight. So I can say that I was a “better-than-average” SAD eater, but surely not a healthy one. When I met Joel, he convinced me to eat a high-nutrient, plant-based diet, and my parents did not like it. They thought he was going to kill me as they thought no one could survive without eating animal products in their diet. Now I can happily say that my parents are his patients and advocates of his nutritarian life!

 

How did you manage social eating situations like birthday parties, sleepovers, summer camps, etc., when your children were younger?

My motto has been to never make food a war zone so I let my children eat whatever they wanted at birthday parties or sleepovers. For summer camp, I always packed a lunch for them to eat, and then if ice cream was offered, it was in their control to decide if they wanted it or not.  The amazing thing is they rarely even wanted unhealthy foods and liked our foods best. In looking back, I would do this all over again as my kids are nutritarians to the core. The older girls rebelled a little in their early teens, but their rebellion was to eat an occasional ice cream or have pizza once in a while. They never complained about what we ate at home. I can honestly say that they love the nutritarian eating-style, and they are very proud of their dad and how we’ve brought them up.

Our children are now 23, 20, 17, and nine, and they are all nutritarians; plus, they’ve all influenced their friends in a very positive way also. For example, when our middle daughter was in middle school she would go out with her friends to eat pizza. She’d order “salad pizza” (lettuce, tomato, mushrooms, onions), and she got her friends to love it.  Their friends also love to come over and eat our food.

Our children know we don’t judge them based on the foods they eat. They know why they should eat healthy and they do it for the right reasons; not to please us, but to live long, healthy lives. In social situations, they eat whatever they want; and I don’t ask. I know they are eating well at home and I respect their decisions.

 

From your experience, what’s the number one success tip that you’ve discovered in raising children to enjoy nutritarian foods in the midst of a culture that’s eating just the opposite?

I’ve had it easy. They were given only nutritarian food since they were born; it’s what they are used to and view SAD foods out there as not food. They’ve never eaten at a fast food restaurant, like McDonald’s or Burger King, and they think candy is disgusting. Our youngest son, Sean, did not taste ice cream until he was eight-years-old. He had plenty of opportunities in school and at parties, but he had no interest. I believe parents should control what their children eat in the house, educate them as much as seems reasonable, and then give them the ability to make their own choices when they are away from home. 

 

Thank you Lisa for helping us navigate the way in teaching our children to eat for health.  What a treasured gift to give to them!

 

 

 

Happy Mother's Day to all! 

 

 

 

floral image credit:  flickr by malikyounas

Girls are reaching puberty earlier than ever

Today in the U.S., about 16% of girls enter puberty by the age of 7, and about 30% by the age of 8 – A recent study determined that the number of girls entering puberty (defined by breast development) at these early ages has increased markedly between 1997 and 2010.1 

Girl looking at ocean. Flicrk: sskennel

Trends in Age at Menarche

The average age at menarche in Western countries began declining during the early part of the 20th century due to increased consumption of animal products and  increasing calorie intake; the decline slowed in the 1960s, and now in the U.S. there has been a more recent surge in early puberty starting in the mid-1990s.2 In Europe, in 1830, the average age at menarche was 17.  Similarly in the 1980s in rural China, the average age at menarche was 17.3 In the U.S. in 1900, the average was 14.2.  By the 1920s, average age at menarche in the U.S. had fallen to 13.3  and by 2002, it had reached 12.34.Similar trends are occurring in other Western nations.5,6 For example, age at menarche in Ireland has declined from 13.52 in 1986 to 12.53 in 2006.7 In Italy, a recent study showed that girls’ age at menarche was on average 3 months earlier than their mothers’.8  

Taking all this data together, we can estimate that the normal, healthy age at menarche under conditions of excellent nutrition without caloric excess, would probably fall somewhere between 15 and 18.  But today in the U.S., about half of girls begin developing breasts before age 10, and the average age at menarche is less than 12 ½ and still declining. 

Why is this happening? 

The neurological and hormonal systems that regulate pubertal timing are complex, but research has identified a number of environmental factors that may be contributing to the decline in age at puberty:

Increasing rates of childhood overweight and obesity

Several studies have found associations between higher childhood BMI and earlier puberty in girls.4, 9-11

Excess body fat alters the levels of the hormones insulin, leptin, and estrogen, and these factors are believed to be responsible for the acceleration of pubertal timing by obesity.  Also, physical inactivity may decrease melatonin levels, which can also affect signals in the brain that trigger pubertal development.4, 12 

Increased animal protein intake

Higher total protein, animal protein, and meat intake in children age 3-7 have been associated with earlier menarche in multiple studies.13-15  In contrast, higher vegetable protein intake at age 5-6 is associated with later menarche.15  High protein intake elevates IGF-1 levels and promotes growth, which could accelerate the onset of puberty – IGF-1 contributes to pubertal development on its own and in part by its involvement in estradiol signaling.4,16  Meat and dairy consumption in children may also reflect ingestion of environmental endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that have accumulated in animal tissues (see EDCs below).

Other dietary factors: 

High dairy consumption is associated with earlier than average menarche.17  Soft drink consumption is associated with early menarche.18

Children with lower nutrient diets (based on analysis of macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and certain whole foods) tend to enter puberty earlier.19  Overall our modern diet rich in processed foods, dairy, processed meats and fast food is disruptive to normal development and aging.  Early puberty is an early sign of premature aging.  

Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs)

EDCs are hormonally active synthetic chemicals that either mimic, inhibit, or alter the action of natural hormones.  These chemicals are ubiquitous in our environment, and are considered by scientists to be a significant public health concern. Although EDCs are thought to pose a threat to adults as well, children’s bodies are more sensitive to exposure to exogenous hormones.20 Chemicals are not currently tested for their endocrine disruption potential before they are approved for use and enter our environment, and there are endocrine disruptors in a vast array of products we come into contact with every day, including organochlorine pesticides, plastics, fuels, and other industrial chemicals.21 

The substances of most concern currently are BPA and phthalates. BPA is one of the highest volume chemicals produced in the world.  It is used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics, such as rigid cups, water bottles and food storage containers; BPA is also found in the linings of food cans and dental sealants.  BPA can leach from containers into food and beverages, especially during heating and washing.4  BPA exposure is associated with early puberty in girls.22

Phthalates are chemicals used to make PVC plastics more flexible, and are found in a variety of products including toys, food packaging, hoses, raincoats, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, wall coverings, lubricants, adhesives, detergents, nail polish, hair spray, and shampoo. Phthalates are associated with early breast development in girls.22,23 They are considered chemicals of concern to the EPA and may be phased out – some phthalates have already been removed from children’s toys and cosmetics.24

Additional EDCs that have been associated with dysregulation of pubertal timing include industrial chemicals such as PCBs, pesticides such as DDT and endosulfan, the flame retardant PBB, and dioxins and furans, which are formed during incineration of waste, chlorine bleaching of paper, and chemical manufacturing. 22,23,25,26

It is important to note that EDCs break down very slowly and accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals, so animal foods contain higher levels of these chemicals than plant foods.

 

Why is this troublesome?  

The most significant and alarming consequence of early maturation is an increased risk for breast cancer in adulthood.  Early menarche is an established risk factor for breast cancer, and this is believed to be due to the extended lifetime exposure to ovarian hormones.10,27,28  Similarly, exposure to EDCs during childhood is associated with hormonal cancers, such as breast and testicular cancers.29-31

Seven, eight and nine year old girls are not emotionally or psychologically equipped to handle puberty.  As such, earlier puberty is also associated with a higher risk of psychological problems during adolescence such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.  Girls who mature earlier are also more likely to take part in risky behaviors like smoking and alcohol use.4,12 

What can parents do to protect their children?

  • Children’s diets should focus on whole plant foods rather than animal foods – this will keep protein intake in a safe range and reduce their consumption of EDCs.  

  • Minimize dairy products in children’s diets – use almond and hemp milks instead of cows’ milk
  • Encourage children to exercise and exercise with them.
  • Minimize processed foods – these are calorie-dense and nutrient-poor, and they promote obesity and other diseases.
  • Children’s diets should include a wide variety of natural plant foods as possible including, green vegetables, squashes, corn, carrots, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, avocados, beans, fruits and whole grains.  This means that healthy eating is a lifetime event.  
  • Buy organic produce when possible to avoid synthetic pesticides.
  • Minimize children’s exposure to BPA: 
    • Avoid using of rigid polycarbonate plastics (recycling label #7) whenever possible. 
    • Do not use plastic water bottles if they are old or scratched. 
    • Do not microwave in plastic containers.
    • Minimize the use of canned foods and avoid canned infant formulas.32
  • Minimize children’s exposure to phthalates
    • Avoid plastics marked with recycling label #3 (PVC) whenever possible.
    • Check ingredient lists on personal care products for phthalates. Also be aware that “fragrance” listed as an ingredient often means that the products contains phthalates. For more information, visit the Environmental Working Group’s guide to children’s personal care products.

 

To conclude, the earlier occurence of puberty is an ominous event that we can stop.  We can even win the war on breast cancer in America and prevent millions of young females from developing it.   The answer however, must begin in the way we feed ourselves and our children.  The most effective type of health care is vigilant and excellent self care.  

 

References:

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2. Biro FM, Khoury P, Morrison JA: Influence of obesity on timing of puberty. Int J Androl 2006;29:272-277; discussion 286-290.

3. Gates JR, Parpia B, Campbell TC, et al: Association of dietary factors and selected plasma variables with sex hormone-binding globulin in rural Chinese women. Am J Clin Nutr 1996;63:22-31.

4. Steingraber S: Tha Falling Age of Puberty in U.S. Girls: What We Know, What We Need To Know. In Breast Cancer Fund; 2007.

5. McDowell MA, Brody DJ, Hughes JP: Has age at menarche changed? Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999-2004. J Adolesc Health 2007;40:227-231.

6. Anderson SE, Must A: Interpreting the continued decline in the average age at menarche: results from two nationally representative surveys of U.S. girls studied 10 years apart. J Pediatr 2005;147:753-760.

7. O'Connell A, Gavin A, Kelly C, et al: The mean age at menarche of Irish girls in 2006. Ir Med J 2009;102:76-79.

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24. Chemical Families: Phthalates. In Environmental Working Group.

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26. Massart F, Parrino R, Seppia P, et al: How do environmental estrogen disruptors induce precocious puberty? Minerva Pediatr 2006;58:247-254.

27. Leung AW, Mak J, Cheung PS, et al: Evidence for a programming effect of early menarche on the rise of breast cancer incidence in Hong Kong. Cancer Detect Prev 2008;32:156-161.

28. Pike MC, Pearce CL, Wu AH: Prevention of cancers of the breast, endometrium and ovary. Oncogene 2004;23:6379-6391.

29. Cohn BA, Cirillo PM, Christianson RE: Prenatal DDT exposure and testicular cancer: a nested case-control study. Arch Environ Occup Health 2010;65:127-134.

30. Cohn BA, Wolff MS, Cirillo PM, et al: DDT and breast cancer in young women: new data on the significance of age at exposure. Environ Health Perspect 2007;115:1406-1414.

31. Maffini MV, Rubin BS, Sonnenschein C, et al: Endocrine disruptors and reproductive health: the case of bisphenol-A. Mol Cell Endocrinol 2006;254-255:179-186.

32. Consumer tips to avoid BPA exposure. In Environmental Working Group.