Many parents feel that their kids grow very fast. It is definitely fast when little Rani needs a training bra at the age of seven or when Raju sports a mustache at ten.

This phenomenon medically known as precocious puberty is also referred to as Early Puberty. Some doctors think it’s happening at an alarming rate since the 1990s, especially among girls. In this article, explore the causes and consequences of early puberty among girls and what you can do to prevent it.

What is Early Onset of Puberty?

Precocious puberty or early puberty is defined as the onset of puberty by age 7 or 8 in girls. The average normal age of puberty can happen between age 10 -12 for girls. Typically, you can diagnose early puberty through growth spurts and bone saturation. Roughly 1 out of 3 girls experience early maturity.

Early Signs of Puberty in Girls

  • Early breast budding and development
  • The growth of pubic hair or underarm hair
  • A significant growth spurt in a short span of time
  • Development of Acne
  • Body odor
  • Starting menstruation

Some children may experience only some signs of puberty. For example, some girls may grow pubic hair or underarm air at a young age without any other development. Although this is not an alarming case, it simply falls under partial precocious puberty. These children will show other signs of puberty later on.

Reasons for Early Puberty

The exact cause of early puberty is not known, but certain factors contribute towards its progression.

True puberty starts in the brain, with the production of a hormone called gonadotrophin-releasing hormone or GnRH. This serves as a switch that gets the ball rolling to stimulate the pituitary gland to signal the ovaries and produce estrogen. But when estrogen enters the body through other mediums, it can trigger the onset of puberty.

Here are some causes of early puberty:


  1. Genetic Predisposition 

Probably the child is passed on genetic mutations that trigger the early release of sex hormones – estrogen, from a parent or sibling. Roughly 3% to 5% of girls inherit early puberty from their mothers.


2. Childhood Obesity

One of the most common causes of early puberty in girls, childhood obesity and sedentary lifestyle is rampant now more than ever. Researchers believe that fat tissue sets off a feedback loop that can cause the body to mature early.

As a result, a hormone named Leptin leads to higher estrogen levels in the body and in turn cause premature growth spurts. In addition to this, physical inactivity tends to decrease levels of melatonin which can alter the brain signals that trigger the onset of puberty.


3. Increased Animal Protein Intake

Higher total protein consumption including animal protein and meat intake in children ages 3 to 7 have been associated with early puberty. A high protein intake especially found in meat elevates IGF-1 levels, accelerates growth and eventually leads to the onset of puberty.


4. Poor Diet

A diet rich in processed foods, meat, dairy, and junk food is another contributing factor that hampers normal development and aging. Early puberty is an early sign of premature aging.


5. Exposure to Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals or EDC

EDCs are hormonally active synthetic chemicals that can be found in plastics, pesticides, fuels and other industrial chemicals. They mimic, inhibit and alter the action of natural hormones.

Children’s bodies are more sensitive to exposure to exogenous hormones. It is also important to note that EDC breaks down very slowly and tend to accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals, so animal foods contain more of these compounds than plant-based foods.


6. Exposure to BPA or Bisphenol A  and Phthalates

The use of BPA in plastics is very common and this chemical can be found in cups, water bottles, food storage containers and more. With heating and washing, BPA can leech into foods and slowly enter your child’s body. This chemical then mimics estrogen and are like synthetic estrogen which in turn will speed up pubertal development.

In addition to this, another type of xeno-estrogen or estrogen mimics called Phthalates are found in plastics, cosmetics, detergent, nail polish, adhesives, raincoats and more.


7. Soy Products

Soya bean contains isoflavones that are converted to Phytoestrogen in the body. Soy, when consumed from natural food sources, is safe. However, when taken in large amounts like in soy supplements or processed foods, it can lead to elevated estrogen levels.


8. Stress and Trauma

Children go through stress as well with problems in family, trauma and more. With constant exposure to stress, these children develop an inclination to mature younger.

What You Can Do to Prevent Early Puberty?

While we cannot alter the genetic factors, you can certainly allay environmental causes of this condition.

  • Encourage your child to maintain a healthy weight with the right diet, nutrition, and exercise
  • Reduce your exposure to environmental pollutants that mimic estrogens like plastics, cosmetics, nutritional supplements and medications
  • Offer a diet centered around whole plant-based foods
  • Create a Supportive Environment for your child to reassure her of physical developments in her body.
  • Early signs of breast development or pubic hair may just happen for an unknown reason and not mean they have hit puberty. Just watch your children carefully.

Implications of Early Puberty

For children, early puberty can lead up to an array of physical, social and emotional problems. These include:

1. Stunted Growth

While kids with early puberty grow faster, once puberty is over, growth stops. Since early puberty ends earlier than normal puberty, children may stop growing at an earlier age. Sometimes the result can be a shorter height than they would otherwise have.

2. Behavioral Changes

Girls can experience irritability, emotional outbursts or moodiness due to early puberty.

3. Low Self Esteem

Girls who mature early tend to have low self-esteem when compared to their peers who are not there yet. They can face emotional discomfort, anxiety, and depression. Therefore, guardians must reassure their wards by telling them that puberty is a natural process. 

4. Other Risks

Some studies have found a link between early puberty in girls and a slightly increased risk of insulin resistance and breast cancer later in life. This is due to elevated estrogen levels in the body.

Early Puberty – What Parents Should Remember?

As parents, it’s easy to worry about puberty as it is. But do remember that Early puberty is not a fearful medical diagnosis. You cannot control the time of puberty but you can influence it maintaining the right nutrition and lifestyle. Ultimately, everyone has to go through it someday, just that your child has to go through it early. In such cases, patience and perspective are the greatest palliatives!



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