Home » About Us » Blog » What’s a Mom to Do? Preventing Early Puberty and Hormone Problems in Our Daughters – Here’s the Why and How

    What’s a Mom to Do? Preventing Early Puberty and Hormone Problems in Our Daughters – Here’s the Why and How

    March 16, 2013 •  36 comments.

     •  Blog, News

    Written for AllergyKids Foundation by Aviva Romm, MD who practices at the UltraWellness Center with Dr. Mark Hyman.

    As a mom of 3 daughters, and now a tiny granddaughter, I am concerned about our girls’ reproductive health. And I’d like to share why.

    For years scientists have disagreed whether early puberty was really an emerging phenomenon. Now there’s no doubt. Girls are getting their periods earlier. Many about a year earlier, according to a 2007 article in the Journal of Adolescent Health. But a study published in Pediatrics in 2011 found that in the United States, 15% of American girls begin puberty by age 7. Their breasts are starting to grow at a younger age, too. Black and Latinas girls are the most affected, but it is happening in all populations.

    “Some girls get their period as young as 8,” begins a section for mothers on the Kotex U Brand website. Kotex initially spent over $23 million in research and development to target their new young consumer group.

    Some doctors are calling this the “new normal,” according to Science News. But there is nothing normal about it and many physicians and scientists are quite alarmed. And even if your daughter isn’t showing signs of early puberty, she may still be exposed to the factors that cause it – so please read on…

    It’s not just that having your period in second grade, or your breasts develop in kindergarten really sucks for all of the obvious social and emotional reasons. It’s also a sign that something is seriously wrong in our daughters’ endocrine (hormonal) systems. They are getting “hormonally hot-housed.” Endocrine disruption can increase our daughters’ risk of developing hormonally related cancers later in life. It also increases a girl’s risk of sexual harassment and abuse, early sexual involvement, and risk-taking behaviors. She might be seen as, and potentially act, more sexually mature than she actually is psychologically and emotionally.

    Our daughters (and our sons, too) are unwittingly the canaries in our social and ecologic coal mine.

    There is little mystery underlying this increased rate of early puberty. Medical problems that cause it such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia, disorders of the gonads (ovaries in girls, testes in boys) or adrenal glands, McCune-Albright syndrome, or hormone-secreting tumors are exceptionally rare.

    The 3 biggest contributors to early puberty are:

    • Obesity: About 20% or more of US kids are now obese. This rate has tripled in the past 30 years, and this trend corresponds to earlier puberty.
    • Exposure to environmental toxins that act as estrogen in the body: Many substances used in flame retardant fabrics, cosmetics, plastics, pesticides, detergents and other common household and industrial products can mimic the effect of estrogen in our bodies. The CDC has linked a solvent used in some mothballs and solid blocks of toilet bowl deodorizers and air fresheners to earlier menstruation – they also found it in the bodies of nearly all the people tested in the U.S.! It doesn’t take much exposure to cause health effects, which may include increased risk of early puberty, diabetes, and cancer. These environmental chemicals accumulate over time and because they accumulate and are stored in fat cells, may be even more of a problem for overweight girls.
    • Stress: Stress can wreak havoc on the endocrine system. And most of us suffer from stress starting at any earlier age than ever. Inadequate sleep, school pressures, stress at home, peer pressure and bullying are just a few of the major stressors to which our girls are regularly exposed. Stress can also make us fatter; more fat means more estrogen and this can lead to earlier puberty.

    While government, food companies, and industry also need to tackle these issues on a global scale, the factors leading to early puberty and endocrine disruption in our daughters can be prevented or mitigated through the diet and lifestyle choices we make and teach them.

    Here are steps you can take:

    Prevent/Reduce Obesity

    • Cut out the soda and juice completely! (Water is the best beverage.)
    • Cut portion sizes in half.
    • Do your best to eliminate bread, pasta, potatoes and white rice from the diet: emphasize good quality proteins and vegetables as the mainstay of their diet.
    • Cut the amount of TV watching in half (and adding exercise will make this even better!).
    • Make sure you are doing all of these things yourself!

    Prevent Exposure to “Environmental Estrogens”

    • Avoid flame retardant products (See http://avivaromm.com/stop_flame_retardants).
    • Encourage your girls to avoid cosmetics, and if they are going to use them, go natural. It’s more expensive in the short run, but the health price tag is much lower over time!
    • Get your daughter a glass water bottle and teach her not to drink out of plastic bottles
    • Avoid plastic wrapped foods and plastic food containers for reheating and storing hot foods as much as possible.
    • Eat organic whenever possible, especially dairy products, which accumulate environmental contaminants, and foods in the “dirty dozen” (See http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/).

    Stress-Proof Your Daughter

    • Teach your daughter to get help from a teacher and to come to you if there are peer stressors at school or bullying.
    • Encourage your daughter to join a school or after school sport, dance class, or other physical activity which is enjoyable for her.
    • Reduce exposure to TV violence.
    • Teach simple meditation or relaxation skills to be done before bedtime, exams, or in a stressful situation. Simply breathing in and saying, “I am” on the inhale, and “At peace” on the exhale 4 times in a row, or “counting to 10” with deep breathing can make a difference!

    Teach Your Daughters Well

    If your daughter has a medical condition or other reasons that she’s already gone through puberty, it’s absolutely important to help her feel comfortable in her body and not add to her stigma. But for all of our daughters’ sakes, obese should not be the new norm, nor should early puberty. We can teach our daughters the healthiest possible habits from their earliest years and give them a lifetime of health.

    About Aviva Romm

    Aviva Romm is a Yale-trained physician, a midwife, and an award winning herbalist and author. She has spent nearly 30 years as a health care practitioner and advocate for women and children and is a leader in the health care revolution to transform the current medical system that over-medicalizes life, from birth to death, into a model that respects the intrinsic healing capacities of the body and nature. She practices at the UltraWellness Center of Dr. Mark Hyman in Lenox Massachusetts.


    Bell, L. Early Arrival: Premature puberty among girls poses scientific puzzle. Science News. December 1, 2012; Vol.182 #11. http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/346459/description/Early_Arrival

    Konkel L. Early puberty? Girls exposed to household chemical menstruate earlier, CDC study finds. August 2012. http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2012/puberty/

    Newman, AA. A Younger Group for Feminine Products. New York Times. April 14, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/business/media/15adco.html?_r=2&

      36 Responses to “What’s a Mom to Do? Preventing Early Puberty and Hormone Problems in Our Daughters – Here’s the Why and How”

      1. Julie

        Question: What is the best water to drink? Spring? Tap? Or, filtered bottled water?

      2. courtney

        I don’t think cutting out all bread is healthy. Eating whole grains, brown rice and sweet potatoes are part of a very healthy diet.

        • Courtney

          I used to believe the same. But whole grains are no healthier than any other grain. They cause a host of problems. Starting with inflammation in the gut which carries throughout the body. The USDA has fed us such bad info over the years that we have come to believe grains are healthy. One of the worst things you can put in your body.

        • courtney

          Where is your proof? We eat whole grains and my family is doing great. We also eat as much organic as possible. Avoid gmos when we can. We also avoid highly processed food and believe all things in moderation. There are also articles about how dairy increases allergy symptoms. It’s not real food that is hurting us. It’s the synthetic chemicals added to food and their dangerous side effects.

        • Hi Courtney,
          Whole grains are an important part of the diet – for many people. For some, particularly when there is insulin resistance, they can be a source of starch that adds to the problem, and for others who are reactive to grains on an immunologic level, they can indeed lead to inflammation. In short, diet is not a one size fits all — and individualized nutrition is key. Warmly, Aviva

        • Sally

          much research is the proof. Go research yourself and you will be surprised. the people who keep pushing “within moderation” need more education.
          just because you aren’t fat , it is good for you?
          I but you dont ask for proof when you immunize your entire family when the government says you “need” a flu vaccine.

      3. You misspelled “Parent” in the headline.

      4. Susan DeSisto

        What a crime that we now have the U.S. dairy industry petitioning the FDA to approve aspartame as hidden (kept ‘secret’ from the public), unlabeled additive in milk, yogurt, eggnog and cream. This is all being done to “save the children,” we’re told, because the use of aspartame in milk products would “reduce calories”. As if our children (and ourselves) didn’t have enough issues with weight, lets get them ‘addicted’ to aspartame-laced (unlabeled) chocolate milk.


        • jaime

          Susan if you read the petition closely you’ll see that aspartame and other “non nutritive sweetners” will be listed in the ingredients but will appear like regular milk products without labels like “low sugar” or “reduced sugar” on the front (reasoning being that kids are not interested in products labeled that way). So if you want to know what is in your milk or yogurt you’d have to read the ingredients. Trickery at it’s best. Lets just poison us all instead of teaching people to have good eating habits. All in the name of supporting the ecomony of “the dairyindustry”. They wouldn’t want to lose out on kids consuming less milk at school. Many schools have removed flavored milks from their lunch programs and this is their way of getting it back in. I wouldn’t be suprised if the makers of aspartame are behind this too. This is not about combatting obesity, it’s them pulling the wool over our eyes. It’s wrong on so many levels.

      5. Tina

        The problem is all the crap they put into our food supply. Who wouldn’t be affected by all the hormones they put into the meat and milk!! WHy is no one addressing that??

      6. BrendaL

        There is no reason why whole grain breads or potatoes should be removed the diet. Maybe you should encourage people to focus on eating organic/non-gmo as opposed to removing high fiber nutritious items from their diet.

        • Shirley

          Monsanto Corp. is now in control of 90% of the WORLD’s seeds (grain, vegetable, you name it), and has already tampered with it. Today’s “whole grain” is not the same as it was 100 years ago. No wonder there are so many people having problems with it!

      7. Tara

        I’m frustrated that you failed to mention soy that has been added into our foods in your ‘environmental toxins’ list. Soy is a proven estrogen mimic and is even used in post-menopausal women to control symptoms. I can’t believe you’re brushing over this while talking about mothballs– how many people today actually use mothballs anymore??

        • Hi Tara,
          Soy is indeed, very controversial! And too much of anything is never a good thing. Interesting, in Japan, where soy is a small but regular part of the traditional diet, puberty tends to be later, and women also have significantly lower breast cancer rates. Soy’s estrogen-like effects on receptors can be protective against exposures to environmental estrogens. It is a matter of dose and also the quality of the product. For many reasons, I also suggest that parents not give their children soy milk as a beverage. It is typically heavily sweetened – and may be, as you say, TOO much soy on a regular basis. You also bring attention to an important point: fake soy products. These are absolutely not food! Some of us call them Frankensoy! Traditional soy foods, and only organic, non GMO soy should be eaten, and as a complement, not central part of the diet. Regards, Aviva

      8. Patricia

        Why remove pasta and bread? In France we eat that and we’re not fat! Americans never cared about eating correctly! Just fast.

        • Joanie

          If American pasta was made like European pasta, it would be helpful. If Americans topped their pasta like they do in Europe, that would be even better.

      9. Lori

        Excellent advice. I see early puberty happening in my sons friends too. My son is 13 and just now really showing all the signs of puberty, but all of his friends were showing signs over 3-5 years ago! My boys have been on a 100% organic diet for almost 10 years now and though they will be “late bloomers” I think it is for the best. I have passed on your info above to my brother who’s wife just had a baby girl yesterday. 🙂

      10. Amy

        I read this hoping to share it because this is also a big concern of mine. I have seen too many very young girls show signs of puberty before the age of 7. However, when their parents come to me asking for help, the first thing I ask is, “What do you give your daughter to drink?” They answer 99% of the time, SOY MILK. We are afraid of store milk, or allergic, etc… it is not the store milk causing this epidemic, it is the massive amount of SOY, especially soy milks. One little girl had her period at age 5. Yes, age FIVE. Her parents were vegetarians and only fed her fake soy meat, soy milk, soy cheese, and soy snacks, thinking that this was so much more healthy than real foods. The girl was puffy obese and so unhealthy. Once the damage is done, it is serious. Please revise this to focus not on cows milk and grains. The real issue is fake soy foods.

        • Here is another article that digs deeper into the artificial growth hormones in our dairy http://blogs.prevention.com/inspired-bites/2013/02/25/dirty-dairy-the-unlabeled-artificial-growth-hormone-hiding-in-our-fridges/

        • Angie

          SOY IS IN EVERYTHING! I made the huge mistake of giving my Asian-adopted daughter soy formula thinking it was the best choice for her ( I had been told she would have been given that type of formula) but it isn’t a good choice for any baby! Natural, whole, fresh, and no gmos or hormone free is the only way to fix this problem. It is expensive and hard to do when convenience is what everyone wants! We just need to make better choices for our children!
          This mess is job security for the medical industry!

      11. Susan pfeifer

        As a mother of a daughter that has had precocious puberty…..I am a firm believer that is environmental based. She received lupron shots every 28 days for 7 years to stop her periods from starting in kindergarten . When she was 12 we let “nature” take it’s course…having said that…. There are also 4 cases (3 half sisters and 1 cousin) in her family that have had precocious puberty….environment ? Genetics? My answer…food and its very disturbing!!! Thanks

        • Jacqueline

          I am taking my 7 yo daughter to be tested for precocious puberty. It’s very upsetting. She is not overweight but thicker than I was as a child. She started developing pubic hair just before turning 7. This is epidemic :/

      12. DorisAnn

        As a parent of healthy kids, and a grandmother, these issues have always concerned me. During the past 25 years or so several trends emerged which have combined to result in poorer health, greater obesity in Canada, and the U.S. (I’m Canadian.) Cheaper food relative to people’s income means we buy and eat more than we need to. Kids spend less time in active play due to parents’ working longer hours and fears for the safety of our kids when they are outside. More people living in suburbs means more people driving everywhere rather than walking, cycling or taking transit – they feel they have no choice.
        There is no one single answer to such a complex problem. Individual foods are not necessarily “bad” – but over-reliance on any one food is unbalanced and leads to nutritional problems. We need to increase the variety of foods we eat, and learn to accept natural flavours – not everything has to taste sweet. How about a glass of filtered tap water with a slice of lemon instead of soda pop?(Disclosure: aspartame makes me vomit.) “Diet” anything is B.S. – it contains the word “die” – just eat less and move around more. Humans evolved as omnivores – we need to remember that. However our digestive systems did not evolve to process unpronounceable chemical additives.

      13. AmyW

        What can one do about all of the flame retardants found in couches, rugs, etc? Particularly if there are regulations requiring companies to put them into their products? I’m at a loss – there’s part of my that would prefer to toss my couch and sit on hay bales. Clearly that’s not practical – but where are the alternatives. How do we enact change that won’t take 15/20 years?

        • courtney

          That’s a great point! We bit the bullet and got our kids organic mattresses since they spend 12 hours a night sleeping on them. It’s not all the furniture in our house but it was the least we could do.

        • I hear ya! We could drive ourselves crazy with all the things that can harm us in our environments. Just for the record, I’ve slept on hay before. VERY ITCHY! I don’t recommend it 🙂

          Here’s a link to safer upholstered furniture….


        • Oh and PS here’s a link to an piece I did on flame retardants and our kiddos….


      14. Samantha

        I have heard of this phenomenem before and I think it’s a good thing that you are raising concern over this issue. However, I would argue that earlier onset of puberty in girls does not increase the risk of sexual abuse. It is proximity to abusers that increases the risk. There is not something about the victims that invites abuse. It’s something in the sick and twisted mind of the abusers. Your statement seems to asume that abusers in general prefer to abuse sexually mature women. I dont know if this is true or not. I don’t think you meant to come across as blaming victims. In every other way you are a strong advocate for girls. But, we need to reframe how we see abuse as a society and change the subtle dialogue around it.

        • Sadly, girls who reach puberty earlier are more likely to be noticed by abusers. They are young, vulnerable, sexually unaware, and yet look to abusers like sexual objects because they have breast development. This is a fact and not about blaming the victim at all. I know first hand that as a young woman who developed before her peers, I had much more sexual attention from adult males than my classmates. It was nothing I did — it is the fact that everywhere we turn — movies, magazines, video games — women’s sexual anatomy is sexually objectified. ALL women are at risk. 1 in 4 females are sexually abused in their lives. Women are raped in this country every single minute of the day. As parents and teachers and care providers for young girls we need to be aware of added vulnerabilities – early sexual development is one of these!

      15. You really missed the boat putting info about soy in the comments section rather than in the piece. I would repost and share had you done that, along with talking about growth hormone in beef. It is no secret why the poorest are the fattest and the earliest to begin puberty– they eat the cheapest meat and most processed foods in our population. GMO soy is in nearly everything sold in the grocery store aisle but you spend your time talking about plastic drinking bottles? And then nearly defend soy as if what they eat and how much they eat in Japan is the same as what we eat in the US? You don’t even speak of fermentation. Beyond that, low sex drive and small testes are an epidemic in Japan because of soy consumption.

      16. Anonymous

        Thank you so much for this post. I was diagnosed with precocious puberty at age 3 in the early 1980s. It was very rare and I remember feeling like a guinea pig at the time. I was put through the usual battery of xrays, CT scans, blood tests, and ultrasounds and there was no medical explanation as to why I had the estrogen level of an 18 year old at age 4. I started my period at 5 and by age 10 my bones had pretty much fused. My parents opted not to put me through treatments to stop or delay my development because they were highly experimental at the time. They were worried the cure would be worse. I support them in this decision fully. Yes, I was teased by my peers and sexually objectified by boys and only stand 4ft 10inches tall, but I have given birth to 3 beautifully healthy children who have matured at a normal rate. I am 35 and have yet to go through menopause and while I have battled “female” problems, it has been no worse than my peers. I believe my condition was caused by hormones in meats, the yucky stuff in pesticides, and prescription hormone birth control pills that were prescribed to my mother in the 1970s. Which are quite different than they are today. I was not obese and my parents were not crunchy hippy parents so I didn’t get the Frankensoy foods and I don’t feed them to my children. Btw I have a younger sister who started puberty early, but not precocious, and a younger brother who was normal. Why was I special? I don’t know, but as an adult I have no regrets or wish my parents had handled my situation differently. I am sorry about the lengthy post, but I hope that someone out there with a child that has been diagnosed with precocious puberty will see this and it will give them reassurance that even without treatment their child will get through this and be okay:-)

      17. My daughter is almost 10 and I am seeing her classmate become moody, take on teen attitude, etc. I’m worried about soy milk, but we have dairy and nut allergies in our home. How much soy is too much soy?

      18. JBC

        So you had me until the “cut portion sizes in half” bit. Really? How about learn to respond to internal hunger cues and improve your relationship with food to avoid emotional eating? I know it’s a bit more complicated, but just cutting portion sizes can lead to hungry kids who then eat or binge in secret. Good job on the recs to learn to manage stress though! I know I’m guilty of not managing my stress as well as I could at time and I need to be a good example to my daughter in that regard.

      19. Michelle

        I agree with everyone! I use health and wellness products with ARBONNE in my house! It’s not just what’s in their products, but what’s NOT in them! FREE of harmful ingredients!! They are Pure, Safe and Beneficial! I would be HAPPY to SHARE!!!

      20. Brent

        Aviva, your writing brings interesting discussion on an important topic.

        However, I would to address one of your points and ask for further discussion on another. One of the things you said was ‘eat organic” and cited a report from the Environmental Working Group. Perhaps an activist group is not the best source to cite when trying to make a sound scientific argument. For the record, A. I have nothing against organic foods. B. What EWG did not report on in their “Dirty Dozen” report is that there are hundreds of approved chemicals that can be used in organic production. many of them are much more toxic and caustic than what are used in conventional. Until recently, nicotine sulfate, arsenic and copper could all be used.

        That brings me to what I would like to see more discussion on…bioaccumaliation. The Department of Veterinary medicine at Colorado State University has a report that shows that a woman would have to eat 18,000 3 oz servings of hormone treated beef per day to equal the same amount of hormones as in 1 days birth control pill.

        My question to you is, with birth control pills being on the market for 40+ years, do you think the bioaccumulation of the progesterone excreted by women and eventually ending up in the environment could also be playing a role in early onset puberty in girls?

      21. thank you for sharing the blog

      Leave a Reply to therobynnest