Thanks to exposure to hand soaps that contain xenoestrogens and hormones in our food supplies, kids as young as six years old are starting to reach precocious puberty, especially girls. As a mom to an 8-year-old, the idea of her getting her period or breasts within the next year scares me to death so I try to do everything I can to limit her exposure to hormones in food and chemicals in our household products that have been shown to accelerate puberty.The simple fact is I’m probably not doing enough.

We can purchase organic milk and meat products, shop at farmer’s markets for produce, and encourage our kids to exercise but even that may not help.

From Fox News:

The FDA currently allows six hormones in the food supply, including estradiol, estriol, testosterone and progesterone – the sex hormones that can accelerate the age at which puberty occurs.  The obesity epidemic plays a role as well. Estrogens are made and stored in fat tissue – increasing exposure in overweight and obese children.

And, of course, toxins found in everyday products can be a culprit as well. Household products like hand soap, shampoos, cosmetics and cleaning products contain chemicals – namely parabens – that are known as xenoestrogens and can mimic estrogen in the body, increasing the likelihood of early puberty.

Precocious puberty can start exhibiting symptoms in kids as young as six or seven, and as of 2010, two times as many girls were experiencing early puberty compared to a decade ago. In my home I’m careful about parabens in my cleaning products and growth hormones being used in meat, but it’s amazingly difficult to ensure that my kid is never exposed to things that may make her mature before what we all consider the “normal” puberty onset age range of sometime between nine and 14 years old. But now puberty before the age of 10 is being considered the ” new normal” for many parents.

From the NY Times:

In the late 1980s, Marcia Herman-Giddens, then a physician’s associate in the pediatric department of the Duke University Medical Center, started noticing that an awful lot of 8- and 9-year-olds in her clinic had sprouted pubic hair and breasts. The medical wisdom, at that time, based on a landmark 1960 study of institutionalized British children, was that puberty began, on average, for girls at age 11. But that was not what Herman-Giddens was seeing. So she started collecting data, eventually leading a study with the American Academy of Pediatrics that sampled 17,000 girls, finding that among white girls, the average age of breast budding was 9.96. Among black girls, it was 8.87.

One of the main risks associated with true precocious puberty is advanced bone age. Puberty includes a final growth spurt after which girls mostly stop growing. If that growth spurt starts too early in life, it ends at an early age too, meaning a child will have fewer growing years total. A girl who has her first period at age 10 will stop growing younger and end up shorter than a genetically identical girl who gets her first period at age 13.

And, of course, it’s not just little girls who are being affected by this, but young boys who are developing pubic and facial hair long before they have lost interest in Legos. Some kids are going to develop at a faster rate than other kids. It’s normal. But when discussing precocious puberty most doctors agree that most girls can’t mentally handle getting their periods before age ten, they have a greater risk for low self-esteem and an increased risk for early sexual behavior. Girls with precocious puberty also have an increased risk of breast cancer and uterine cancer because these girls have more time to be exposed to the estrogen hormone.

I’m not a doctor or a scientist (all though I think I should really get a lab coat so my children take me more seriously when I’m reprimanding them about helmet safety) but I am a concerned parent who does what I can in my own home to limit my kid’s chances of being exposed to craptastic chemicals that may cause them to develop before their doctor feels they are ready. Some things I try and do in my own home include:

Reading labels: Try and use personal care products that don’t contain a gigantic laundry list of chemicals including phthalates and paragons. You can find the safest options at the Cosmetics Safety Database.

Shop locally and organically whenever possible. All though new studies suggest that organic food may not be any healthier than conventional food, in my own opinions it’s better to be safe than sorry. My own kids are allowed to eat fast food on occasion, but I try and limit this to a once-monthly occurrence. I have tried to incorporate more meatless meals into my own kid’s diets, and when they are served meat I try and make sure it isn’t filled with a gazillion antibiotics and growth hormones.

Insist my kids kick a ball around the yard daily. All though they have recess and gym at school, they still need to get fresh air outside on a daily basis. Between homework and after-school activities , plus much-needed down time I feel my kids need to get outside and run around a bit, to burn calories and excess energy so they aren’t climbing the walls inside the family room. My kids love TV and video games, but both these things can lead to obesity and excess weight has been shown to contribute to precocious puberty. Getting your kids, especially girls, involved in sports or active playtime can help safeguard against this.

There are no easy or conclusive answers about how we can halt or stop precocious puberty, and it feels like every day new research is being found to either support, contradict, or offer new insight into why so many young girls are getting their periods and growing breasts before age ten. As a mom to a young girl I hope I don’t have to face these things with her within the next year, so I’m doing what I feel can help to lessen our chances of precocious puberty. It’s working so far, but that could easily be heredity or her own little body contributing to the fact she still isn’t exhibiting signs of puberty yet.

Although there is no surefire way of being able to stop precocious puberty in our daughters, I think most parents can agree that we all want to hold off the onslaught or hormones and accelerated growth until their pediatricians feel is a “normal” starting point. It’s not always possible, but we can try and learn as much as we can in the meantime. It puts a whole new focus on the old adage “Kids grow up so fast these days.”

(Photo: yogo/Shutterstock)