A picture of a teenager rapping to music all wrapped up to avoid pesticides?
This article on teen puberty and the environment is part of a series on teenage nutrition. You can read the introduction to this series from these two articles “What Is On Your Family’s Breakfast Plate” and “Teenage Nutrition: Why You Should Pick This Battle For Your Adolescent.” We are very excited to bring you this and hope you feel comfortable to add your own thoughts, tips and suggestions.
Has man destroyed the environment or will our environment destroy us first? (Endocrine distruptors changing puberty)
Autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities are on the rise. Girls are getting their periods earlier (called precocious puberty), boys are growing into young men with lower sperm counts. Obesity is reaching epidemic levels. Cancer in children is increasing. Fertility issues in couples is all too common. What can explain these worldwide issues? How much does our environment play a role? Are environmental endocrine disturbers disturbing the natural processes of hormone changes and cell growth, in particular during puberty, a high endocrine growth period?
What is natural puberty?
Puberty is the start of sexual maturation in boys and girls. It begins in the brain where the hypothalamus starts releasing a hormone called GnRH, or gonadotropin releasing hormone. This triggers the pituitary gland to secrete hormones FSH, follicle stimulating hormone and LH, luteinizing hormone.
In a normal and natural puberty, girls will go thru puberty between the ages of 10-14 and boys between ages 12-16.
But there is not much explanation for the increasing rate of precocious puberty, defined as girls starting puberty before 8 years old and boys before 9 years old. Some scientists and medical professionals have linked endocrine disruptor as a possible mechanism disturbing a formerly later timing of puberty. As you can imagine, a 8-year-old girl going thru puberty doesn’t have the maturity level needed to fully understand and deal with the physical changes that occur with early onset of puberty.
What are endocrine disruptors (EDC)?
Endocrine disruptors is a relatively new term labeled in 1991. Here are more details from Wikipedia:
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with endocrine (or hormone system) in animals, including humans. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Specifically, they are known to cause learning disabilities, severe attention deficit disorder, cognitive and brain development problems, deformations of the body (including limbs); sexual development problems, feminizing of males or masculine effects on females, etc. Any system in the body controlled by hormones, can be derailed by hormone disruptors.
Have you heard these endocrine disruptors?
DDT, PCBs, BPA, PBDE are initials for chemical compounds that have been used as pesticides, in plastics to make them hard, as industrial coolants and lubricants, flame retardants, in plastic cases and in toys among other things. Some have been banned but are still found in the environment (DDT), some are still in use because they have been judged as having only a minor effect on our health. Some are very present in our everyday lives and haven’t been studied fully on their health effects.
Read this article on endocrine disruptors for more details on where they are found in our environment, called “Endocrine Disruption.”
Why are pre-puberty and puberty a critical time for endocrine disruptors?
Both pre-puberty and puberty are high growth periods and indicate a start in a hormone process leading towards a reproductive young adult. The hormone or endocrine system is extremely complex and is in response to environmental stimuli. Hormones are regulated thru a feedback system, including steroids, estrogens and androgens and thyroid hormones. It is believed that even small endocrine disruptors, coming from outside the body (exogenous) can mimic and compete with endogenous hormones produced from the inside of the body. Hormones are in very minute doses, exogenous endocrine disruption can be toxic at very small doses.
What are the paths of entry for endocrine disruptors?
Food and water are the major paths for entry of endocrine disruptors in the human body. The air we breath and the products that touch our skin and hair are also paths of entry.
How can we be environmentally endocrine disruptor vigilant with our teenagers?
That is a difficult question to answer because it is a challenge to control the environment we live in. In addition there is so much unknown in this scientific area. Could the endocrine disruptors exposed to a fetus or infant already lay down the start of puberty, reproductive processes and problems even before a teenager becomes a teen?
Teenagers do not feel vulnerable to the effects of the environment on their health. They do not concretely see the connection between the environment on their future health.
The main gestures towards decreasing our teens’ exposure to environmental hazards are going to come from to the caregivers, teens’ parents and grandparents.
A call to action
I added this article to this series on teenage nutrition after I listened to an interesting podcast with Florence Williams on NPR radio called The Breast. You can listen here. Florence Williams, the author of a book called Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History sent her breastmilk to a lab in Germany to have it tested for EDCs. She was amazed to find out she had flame retardants and jet fuel among other endocrine disruptors in her breastmilk. It was during her podcast that I learned how puberty is a critical time, especially in girls, for endocrine disruptors. A teenager’s breast development phase is a vulnerable time to the effects of our environmental toxins. Breast tissue is a sponge for these endocrine disruptors toxins.
The link between environment endocrine disruptors and problems with reproductive development is established, but there is still much research to be done. My call to action today is of awareness. Did you know that puberty is a key time in a child’s life where environmental toxins can affect their reproductive and health future? I didn’t before but I continue now to be as vigilant as possible with my teenager’s entry paths (especially food and water) to decrease their exposure to EDCs. Do you have pre-teens or teenagers? These are some steps we are doing at home:
- Limiting the amount of pesticides in foods by buying as much organic food as financially possible (buying especially organic with foods that contain fat: meats, milk, cheese as fat holds onto endocrine disruptors)
- Peeling non-organic fruits and vegetables because pesticides are in higher quantity on the skin
- Washing fruits and vegetables carefully before cooking/eating
- Using filtered tap water (debate even on switching to bottled water for more vulnerable pre-teens who have signs of precocious puberty)
- Knowing what water the fish we buy comes from and avoiding eating fish from polluted waters (unfortunately eating fish from New Jersey waters, where I grew up, is a no-no due to endocrine disruptors still in the waters there)
- Eating fatty fish such as salmon and tuna only once a week as these fish have more heavy metals and EDCs in them
- Knowing where the meat we buy comes from, buying better quality meat products
- Buying local to help with better contact with the farmer, what type of pest control they use
- Buying less processed foods which means less packaging, less plastic, less EDCs
- Finally, although this is not nutrition related: being very aware of the hair, cosmetic and skin products my kids are using and trying to buy organic and natural skin products (I could do better on this, it is hard to know what to buy especially when my teen knows what she wants!)
What am I missing? Let me know. Here is a must read article on endocrine disruptors and precocious puberty called, “Puberty Before Aged 10, A New ‘Normal?” In the article, some parents have done even more to slow precocious puberty: increasing exercise in their pre-teens (exercise slows down start of puberty), stopped buying soy products (soy mimics estrogens) and stopped buying milk and meat with extra hormones added.
Finally, while puberty is a key hormonal and endocrine growth time there is another key moment: infancy. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need to be aware of EDCs and decrease their exposure as much as possible. What is very interesting living in Europe is that: breast milk from women living in Europe has less EDCs than women living in North America. Europe is and has been stricter with EDCs including bans and monitoring. Maybe it is time for North America to do the same.
If have a story to share or a comment, please feel free to add it below in the “Leave a Reply” section. Very interested in hearing your thoughts on boys, EDCs and puberty. There is a limited amount of information available and as a mom of a 11 year boy, I want to do my best, like you, to make sure he has normal reproductive health.
If you want to read other articles on teenage nutrition in this series, click on these links: When A Gain In Your Teenager’s Weight May Not Be A Concern, Teenagers and Energy Drinks, Teens and Eating Disorders, Healthy Breakfast Ideas for Teens, Teens and Caffeine, Importance of Good Nutrition in Teens, Vitamin and Mineral Supplements in Teens,Vegetarianism in Teens. and Hormone Changes in Teens Affect Their Smell.
Note-What your teen puts on their skin, nails and hair does get into their bloodstream. If possible, your teen should use pure organic beauty products. Here is a link to a company that sells these type of products: (note this is an affiliate link).