NY Times: Puberty in Preschool

In Disease-Proof Your Child Dr. Fuhrman discusses the onset of early puberty in children consuming the Western diet. No one wants to think about preschoolers going through puberty, but a recent article in The New York Times investigates and the information is startling. Darshak M. Sanghavi reports:
Increasingly — though the science is still far from definitive and the precise number of such cases is highly speculative — some physicians worry that children are at higher risk of early puberty as a result of the increasing prevalence of certain drugs, cosmetics and environmental contaminants, called “endocrine disruptors,” that can cause breast growth, pubic hair development and other symptoms of puberty.

Most commonly, outbreaks of puberty in children are traced to accidental drug exposures from products that are used incorrectly.
In addition to these potential causes Sanghavi cites a study from The Lancet that connected breast enlargement among hundreds of Italian schoolchildren to estrogen contamination of beef and poultry.

Much of Disease-Proof Your Child describes the trend toward earlier puberty--which correlates with later cancer risk--and makes specific recommendations. Dr. Fuhrman describes how a diet heavy with fruit and vegetables, especially starting at a young age, can play a major role.
Worldwide, there is a linear relationship between higher-fat animal products, saturated fat intake, and breast cancer.1 However, there are areas of the world even today where populations eat predominantly unrefined plant foods in childhood and breast cancer is simply unheard of. Rates of breast cancer deaths (in the 50-to-70 age range) range widely from 3.4 per 100,000 in Gambia to 10 per 100,000 in rural China, 20 per 100,000 in India, 90 per 100,000 in the United States, and 120 per 100,000 in the United Kingdom and Switzerland2…

…Fat cells produce estrogen, so excess fat on the body during childhood results in more estrogen production. A large volume of high fiber from fruits and vegetables in the gut serves to lower circulating estrogen naturally. The high fiber and the resultant healthy bacteria that colonize the gut of a person consuming a high produce diet conjugates (binds together) estrogens so they are more readily excreted in the stool. As estrogen cycles into and out of the digestive tract, a person eating more animal products and less high-fiber vegetation reabsorbs more estrogen from the digestive tract, rather than losing more in the stool.

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.3 Clearly, changing the diet of our children after the age of eight is not futile. It will lower the risk of developing cancer, even when the most sensitive years affecting growth and age of puberty have passed. The good news is that we are not helpless after childhood to reduce the risk.
For more on this topic, check out these previous posts:

1. Carroll KK. Experimental evidence of dietary factors and hormone development cancers. Cancer Res 1975;35:3374.

2. McPherson K, Steel CM, Dixon JM. ABC of Breast Disease, Breast cancer—epidemiology, risk factors, and genetics. BMJ 2000;312:624-628. WHO mortality database at WHO Statistical Information System (WHOSIS).

3. 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.


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