Why is precocious puberty harmful? Keys to understand and act on this growing phenomenon.

Cases of precocious puberty have increased significantly over the past few decades, although there are no statistics that reflect to what exact extent. However, pediatricians note that this is a reality in their daily clinical practice.

A study from Grenada has just found an association between the pesticides and this phenomenon affecting one girl or boy out of every 5,000 or 10,000 (with special prevalence among them). But there are more causes, such as the overweight or microplastics and chemicalswhich can alter hormonal processes. These are some keys of this problem.

Why is precocious puberty harmful?

According to the endocrinologist-pediatrician at the Hospital Universitario Central de Asturias (in Oviedo). Isolina Riaño, for two fundamental reasons. “The first, when puberty begins, the growth plates close and children are left with a very short stature,” he explains. But, in addition, the other reason is “psychological.” “To have a mature woman’s body and a girl’s mind. Is not psychologically good.” he says.

“Moreover, we know that, in the breast cancer patients, one of the antecedents is having had a very early first period. This does not mean that girls with very early periods will have breast cancer. But the opposite is true: that sick women with breast cancer had their first period very early,” he points out. Nicolás Olea, professor of Medicine in Granada and researcher of the Inma project, which studies the role of the environmental pollutants during pregnancy and early life, as well as their effects on child growth and development.

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What signs should be watched for?

In girls, the appearance of the “mammary button”, according to the endocrinologist-pediatrician of the Hospital Sant Joan de Déu (Esplugues de Llobregat). Lourdes Ibáñez. “This in itself must be cause for medical consultation, before menstruation, which appears later,” he explains. Precocious puberty usually occurs in girls at around the 8 years old, and in children (in the form of genital growth or public or axillary hair), at around 9.

What can be done about it?

According to Riaño, if the cause of precocious puberty is the endocrine disruptors (chemicals, such as parabens, contained in some gels and cosmetics), they must be “removed” and “avoid exposure to such substances”.

“I saw patients in my practice with signs of precocious puberty who used substances of that type. If they had been using them for a short time, when these signs were removed disappeared. If that is prolonged over a long period of time, it can lead to triggering precocious puberty, and that is no longer reversible.” he points out.

But there are specific treatments For some cases. “They are puberty-stoppers which are administered by means of a injection. It does not occur in all cases, but only applies in. very young children with an evolving puberty,” says Dr. Ibáñez.

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What are pediatricians seeing?

The perception is that menstruation is coming earlier. “As a physician I have the perception that menstruation is increasingly coming between the ages of 10 and 11, and before that it was at 12 and 13,” says the endocrinologist. Carme Valls Llobet, who has studied the relationship between precocious puberty and microplastics.

Why are cases of precocious puberty increasing?

According to Dr. Ibáñez, in addition to pesticides or microplastics, being overweight, more prevalent than before, is also a key factor. “Birth weights are. slightly lower and then there is a greater tendency to become overweight. That change can lead to the onset of puberty. a little earlier, between the ages of 8 and 9,” says this Sant Joan de Déu physician.

Precocious puberty is not “pathological”, but it is not “entirely normal” either. “There are environmental pollutants, situations of stress in many children…. We should probably take better care of them.” At the time of covid, he says, there were studies in Italy that claimed that cases of precocious puberty doubled in number during or as a consequence of the pandemic.

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