While the onset of puberty is a natural process, it indeed is a very unsettling phase in a girl’s life. And if it occurs when she is still busy in the world of her dolls and Legos, it can be quite worrisome. Sadly, this is an alarming trend in urban areas – Some girls from rural areas are still getting their periods at 15-16 years but girls from urban areas are getting their periods earlier than 8!
Early puberty (also known as precocious puberty) means having signs of puberty such as development of breasts, pubic and underarm hair and menstrual bleeding early than usual.
Early puberty leads to a lot of psychological problems and physical discomfort for the girl as the mind and body is not mature enough to deal with the changes, not to forget the massive mood swings, PMS-like symptoms and other ‘teen emotions’. Delhi-based Dr. Vaishaki Rustagi, Associate Consultant – Pediatric Endocrinology at Max Super Speciality Hospital, Shalimar Bagh shares her concern, “Early puberty leads to the development of sexual urges at an early age. This can be dangerous as the girl is not mentally mature enough to understand and constructively channelize these urges.” This development in a young girl can be uncomforting to parents as well.
Early maturing girls naturally attract unwanted attention from the opposite sex. Meanwhile, no matter how physically developed a girl is, her psychosocial maturation remains anchored to her chronological age and hence she isn’t able to come to terms with what is happening. She becomes socially awkward and starts shunning social interaction, sometimes leading to depression.
Girls who begin their puberty early before their peers are usually quite alarmed. Dr Duru Shah, Director of Gynaecworld and President Elect of the Indian Society of Assisted Reproduction (ISAR), “They are low in self-esteem and conscious about their body image. This puts them at risk of depression. Parents have got a very vital role to play. If necessary, psychological counselling may be sought for the girl as well as the parents. As parents, it’s important to make sure your child is not exposed to hormonal medications containing estrogen or testosterone. Making sure that the child maintains a healthy weight is another way to avert early puberty.”
Why is it happening?
The girls are hitting puberty early due to multi factorial reasons like lifestyle, environmental contamination & social factors but before linking it to these factors, one should rule out pathological conditions by taking the girl to the doctor. Dr. Varna Venugopal Rao (Head of Department – Obstetrics & Gynecology at Nayati multi super specialty hospital, Mathura) lists factors that are responsible for the girls hitting puberty so early.
– Increasing childhood obesity due to sedentary life style and unhealthy food habits.
– Eating poultry food and meat treated with hormones and antibiotics. Eating genetically engineered vegetables and cereals.
– Synthetic chemicals in plastics like Bisphenol A (BPA)
– Dichlobenzene in moth balls and solid blocks of toilet bowl and air deodorizers.
– Intense stress in childhood or child is sensitive to conflict around her.
– Excessive use of soy diet in pregnancy and nursing causing in utero exposure to phytoestrogen which might affect the organizational stage of the fetus and the future development of the child.
– Flouride – Flouride which is added to the majority of public water supplies reduces the level of circulating melatonin and triggers early onset of puberty.
What can we do
Very rarely do parents come to seek help from the doctors. “The society has started accepting early puberty as a trend. During my 25 years of practice, I have come across a few cases of precocious puberty,” adds Dr Rao.
He suggests some steps that can be taken to delay puberty:
– Breast feeding is important
– Avoid non- fermented soy especially if you are pregnant and also avoid soy based infant formula.
– Eat whole preferably organic produce and free range organic meats to reduce your exposure to added hormones pesticides and fertilizers.
– Eat raw, fresh food. Processed pre-packaged foods are a major source of soy and chemicals such as BPDA and phthalates.
– Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic. Avoid using plastic wrap and canned foods (which are often linked with BPA and phthalates)
– Avoid milk and other dairy products that contain the genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormones.
– Make sure that your baby’s toys are BPA free.
– Use natural brands of toiletries and avoid using artificial air freshness.