Does my Kid have Early Onset Puberty?

Here’s How to Prevent It.

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Hey there, Wildlings!

If it seems like kids are hitting puberty younger and younger these days, that’s because they are.

If you’re worried about the increased risk—of hormone-related cancers, heart issues and other adult diseases that come along with this early onset of puberty—you should be.

So, why is this happening?

Many believe it’s because young people are more and more overweight. And it’s certainly true that children in the U.S. and other Western countries are getting heavier.

Yet, that can’t be the reason, because while children are getting heavier all over the world, girls are only hitting puberty younger in the U.S. and Asia, while those in Europe are not. Maybe, then, it’s not how much but simply how children are eating that’s affecting this change.

The most likely culprit (you won’t be surprised to hear) is animal protein.

For every gram of animal protein consumed per day, girls will likely experience a 17% higher risk of starting menstruation before the age of twelve.

Why? I knew you’d ask!

As we’ve already discussed “Stop Counting Calories, and Start Doing This“, consumption of animal protein leads to increased production of IGF-1 (growth hormone) in our bodies. That alone could be responsible for the earlier onset of puberty. But in addition to that, other chemicals that build up in animal products (which are higher up the food chain and thus accumulate more toxins) could be disrupting children’s endocrine systems and speeding up maturation.

Recent studies in Europe discovered important links between these environmental pollutants and earlier development; in the U.S., similar connections were made with flame retardant chemicals showing up in poultry and fish. Such chemicals have, in the last few decades, gone from almost non-existent to extremely ubiquitous in these animal products.

Young girls with the highest concentrations of these chemicals in their bodies were also as much as 1000% more likely to start menstruating early.

On the other hand, consumption of plant protein—and especially soy—seems to be associated with later start to puberty (several months later than the average).

I’m an example of this. I got my period at sixteen, whereas my sisters and friends got theirs when they were years younger. (In my Mums words, “Finally!”)

We didn’t have this insight then, but it makes sense in hindsight. I was the only vegetarian girl in my family; I went from milk to soy for health reasons when I was a toddler, and vegetarian when I was eleven years old. I have three sisters to compare my development to.

On average, girls with higher levels of isoflavones (the phytonutrients contained in soy and other veggie products) show signs of sexual maturation seven to eight months later than their peers with lower levels. (I was also one of the last of my friends in my grade at school to begin having sex, and I was the only soy-drinking vegetarian among my closest friends.)

As might be expected, reaching puberty later seems to lower risk of the diseases I mentioned above. Increased consumption of vegetable and soy proteins (and decreased consumption of animal products) may have serious benefits for our children’s health: namely, lower risk of breast cancer (by around 6%) and longer lifespan (3% lower total mortality).

And this is relevant for boys and girls, because boys who reach puberty earlier may also be at higher risk for heart disease later on.

So, protect your children—make the shift to plant-based nutrition.



G. Cheng, A. E. Buyken, L. Shi, N. Karaolis-Danckert, A. Kroke, S. A. Wudy, G. H. Degen, T. Remer. Beyond overweight: Nutrition as an important lifestyle factor influencing timing of puberty. Nutr. Rev. 2012 70(3):133 – 152
I. S. Rogers, K. Northstone, D. B. Dunger, A. R. Cooper, A. R. Ness, P. M. Emmett. Diet throughout childhood and age at menarche in a contemporary cohort of British girls. Public Health Nutr 2010 13(12):2052 – 2063
M. Heys, C. Jiang, K. K. Cheng, W. Zhang, T. H. Lam, G. M. Leung, C. M. Schooling. Does childhood meat eating contribute to sex differences in risk factors for ischaemic heart disease in a developing population? J Epidemiol Community Health 2011 65(6):522 – 528
A. Thankamony, K. K. Ong, M. L. Ahmed, A. R. Ness, J. M. P. Holly, D. B. Dunger. Higher levels of IGF-I and adrenal androgens at age 8 years are associated with earlier age at menarche in girls. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 2012 97(5):E786 – 90
E. D. Hond, W. Dhooge, L. Bruckers, G. Schoeters, V. Nelen, E. van de Mieroop, G. Koppen, M. Bilau, C. Schroijen, H. Keune, W. Baeyens, N. van Larebeke. Internal exposure to pollutants and sexual maturation in Flemish adolescents. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 2011 21(3):224 – 233
A. Chen, E. Chung, E. A. DeFranco, S. M. Pinney, K. N. Dietrich. Serum PBDEs and age at menarche in adolescent girls: Analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003-2004. Environ. Res. 2011 111(6):831 – 837

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