Girls and Puberty, Sooner and Sooner

It’s hard to fathom that an eight-year-old girl might be developing sexually, shouldn’t they be playing with toy ponies and think boys are icky—which we are—but apparently more and more young girls are starting puberty early. Dr. Fuhrman talks about it:
Physicians are seeing more and more girls with precocious sexual development, even before today’s average age of twelve, and medical studies confirm that the trend is real and getting worse. How early are our children developing today? At age eight, almost half black girls and 15 percent of white girls start developing breasts or pubic hair. At age nine, those numbers change to 77 percent of black girls and a third of white girls.1
This is an uncomfortable topic—even for a bull the china cabinet like me—but this is a serious matter and one that the medical community might be taking too lightly. Susan Brink of The Los Angeles Times investigates in Girl, You'll be a Woman Sooner Than Expected. Here’s an excerpt:
What's clear is that physical appearance is getting ahead of other aspects of girls' maturity. They might be perceived as far older than they are, even when they're still rummaging through their mothers' closets to clomp around in oversized high heels.


"My daughter started developing breasts maybe around age 8," says Rhonda Sykes of Inglewood. "She was still into her doll phase and dressing up to play." So Sykes began having frank mother-daughter conversations about curves and changing bodies a bit earlier than she expected.

"Whatever they look like, they know nothing," says Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families. "Eight- and 9-year olds are learning to make change for a dollar. These are children who are learning the most fundamental facts in school. Imagine trying to teach that child the fundamentals of sex. They're not even playing Monopoly yet. They're still playing Candyland."

The medical community calls earlier puberty normal, the trend goes hand in hand with the obesity epidemic, and science has not yet pinpointed the reasons. And yet, when girls who are still children in the minds of their parents start developing breasts, many of their mothers remember that it happened later in their own lives -- and wonder why.
Brinks' report sites diet as a potential contributor to the problem of early puberty. She’s smart to do so. According to Dr. Fuhrman the standard American diet—which is responsible for all the obesity—is a major culprit. He explains:
Diet powerfully modulates estrogen levels. One recent study illustrated that eight-to-ten-year-olds, closely followed with dietary intervention for seven years, dramatically lowered their estrogen levels compared to a control group with dietary modification.2 Clearly, changing the diet of our children after the age of eight is not futile.
This graph might make things a little clearer for you. I scanned it—horribly—out of Dr. Fuhrman’s book Disease-Proof Your Child. It compares sex hormone levels in individuals eating a Western diet and those consuming a more vegetable-based Asian diet. Take a look:


The concern with all these sex hormones centers on lifetime cancer risk. Dr. Fuhrman explains why, check it out:
Early puberty is strongly associated with breast cancer, and the occurrence of breast cancer is three times higher in women who started puberty before age twelve.3
Also, studies have revealed the effects of different varieties of foods on puberty and cancer risk. More from Dr. Fuhrman:
Cohort studies, which follow two groups of children over time, have shown that the higher consumption of produce and protein-rich plant foods such as beans and nuts is associated with a later menarche, and the higher consumption of protein-rich animal foods—meat and diary—is associated with an earlier menarche and increased occurrence of adult breast cancer.4
As far as DiseaseProof goes, this is a common conclusion. The advantages of a vegetable-based nutritarian diet are profound. Dr. Fuhrman is stresses this in his new Food Scoring Guide. Here’s a quote:
Increasing your consumption of high-nutrient fruits and vegetables is the key to disease resistance, disease reversal, and a long, healthy life. The potential reduction in disease rates shows no threshold effect in the scientific studies. That means that as high-nutrient vegetables and high-nutrient fruits increase as a major portion of caloric intake, disease rates fall in a dose-dependent manner—the more the diet is comprised of these foods, the better your health will be.5
Granted, the problem is serious and apparently growing, but the good news is there is a solution, maybe the real problem is getting everyone on board.
1. Neergard L. Early signs of puberty evident. The Associated Press, Washington, D.C. 2/12/01.

2. Dorgan JF, Hunsberger SA, McMahon RP, et al. Diet and sex hormones in girls:findings from a radomized controlled clinical trial. J Natl Cancer Inst 2003; 95(2):132-141.

3. Pike MC, Henderson BE, Casagrande JT. IN: Pike MC, Siiteri PK, Welsh CN, eds. Hormones and cancer. New York, Banbury Reports, Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory 3, 1981.

4. UK Department of Health, Working Group on Diet and Cancer of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy. Nutritional aspects of the development of cancer. London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1998.

5. Bazzano LA; He J; Ogden LG; et al. “Fruit and vegetable intake and risk of cardiovascular disease in US adults: the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Epidemiologic Follow-up Study.” Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76(1):93-9.

Dauchet L: Amouyel P; Hercberg S; Dallongeville J. “Fruit and vegetable consumption and risk of coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis of cohort studies.” J Nutr 2006;136(10):2588-93.

Genkinger JM; Platz EA; Hoffman SC; et al. “Fruit, vegetable, and antioxidant intake an all-cause, cancer, and cardiovascular disease mortality in a community-dwelling population in Washington County, Maryland.” Am J Epidemiol 2004;160(12):1223-33.
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Comments (2) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Rae - January 22, 2008 2:32 PM

Is the real problem nutrient and anti-oxident deficient diets, exposure to hormones in animal products, or obesity in children? Let's face it even boys look like they are developing breasts when they are overweight.

Gerry Pugliese - January 22, 2008 2:55 PM

Hey Rae-

Good point. Just look at all the garbage they put in milk, and yet, so many people drink it up...unreal!

Peace.
-Gerry

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