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What’s a Mom to Do? Preventing Early Puberty and Hormone Problems in Our Daughters – Here’s the Why and How
Written for AllergyKids Foundation by Aviva Romm, MD who practices at the UltraWellness Center with Dr. Mark Hyman.
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:
- 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.
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&
I am a fan of confronting challenging situations and finding solutions. And at AllergyKids, we are continually inspired by the parents that share their stories about how they are doing exactly that – creating the solutions they need to address the escalating number of children that now have food allergies, asthma, ADHD, autism and other conditions.
Today, 1 in 3 American children now has allergies, autism, ADHD or asthma. That number should give us all reason to pause because while our children only represent 30% of the population, they are 100% of our future, which is why I am excited to share the following article, written for AllergyKids by my friend, Gabrielle Hankamer Welch, NC, CHHC, author of The Pizza Trap: Every Mom’s Guide to Breaking Children’s Dangerous Food Addictions, Ending Mealtime Battles and Building Healthy Habits for Life.
We need all hands on deck, and there are so many opportunities to be part of the solution. ~ Robyn
Our nation’s children are facing a serious health crisis, really a pandemic at this point, and I’m not just talking about obesity, which is what the media likes to focus on these days. That’s part of it of course, since obesity has eclipsed smoking as our primary health concern in the US. Our kids are also facing a huge epidemic of chronic childhood illness that’s sweeping our nation as a result of the toxic environment in which we live.
As a mother, nutritional consultant and now author, it’s one that both compels and scares me at the same time. My goal as a mom activist has been to help educate as many parents as I can, so that they can make good decisions for their families at a time when our nation is facing a record number of life threatening children’s health issues.
I wear many hats daily, like I know many of you do. Aside from being a mom and a wife, I have a nutritional consulting practice, I’m a public speaker and now I’m an author of a book entitled the Pizza Trap: Every Mom’s Guide to Breaking Children’s Dangerous Food Addictions, Ending Mealtime Battles and Building Healthy Habits for Life.
In my practice, I teach busy moms how to get their kids off junk food and how to make healthy eating easy, convenient and fun. My program also teaches moms how to avoid and eliminate toxins that go in, on and surround their children’s bodies to help prevent and reduce allergies, asthma and other increasingly common childhood illnesses.
My motivation for this journey has been my three wonderful girls, ages 8,10 and 12, one of whom has had chronic asthma, allergies and eczema, along with several hospitalizations since she was 3 years old. This is really what started me on my journey as a children’s food and health advocate and mom activist.
I decided to reinvent myself and help other moms out there for one reason and one reason only: to give them the information they needed to keep their kids from getting sick. Maybe you have a child who is chronically sick like I do. Maybe you’ve spent sleepless night as I have in the ER with a child whose chest is collapsing, or worrying about their health at home in bed at night when you can’t sleep or hear them coughing night after night, or just wondering what else you can possibly do that you are NOT doing to get them better. As a mom, I think this is one of the scariest things we can go through, having a sick child and feeling totally powerless to help, day in and day out.
Since 1/3 of American kids today have either asthma, allergies, ADHD or autism and are most likely taking some sort prescription medication daily, the odds are, you probably do have a child with some sort of chronic illness. If not, your child might very well be one of the 34% of kids in the US who weigh too much, or even worse, one of the 17% who are obese.
Whether it’s asthma, allergies, ADHD or your child is struggling to lose weight, you CAN help them better their quality of life by taking a few easy steps to clean up their food environment.
As a mom, you can do this for your children like I have done for mine. Take the offensive…don’t be a passive observer in your kids health and life and just hope for the best!
By making a few simple changes in the way your family eats and lives, you can dramatically change your children’s health forever. I did.
Gabrielle Hankamer Welch, NC, CHHC is the author of The Pizza Trap: Every Mom’s Guide to Breaking Children’s Dangerous Food Addictions, Ending Mealtime Battles and Building Healthy Habits for Life
As my daughter’s face swelled shut, I didn’t want to witness what I saw that morning, to do the work that had to be done, to find the courage that would be needed.
In all candor, seven years ago, as all of this was hitting, there was a deep yearning to somehow go back to the simplicity that we had known before that breakfast.
But that would never happen.
I couldn’t unlearn what I went on to learn or forget what I had seen.
And as I watched her struggle to breathe that morning, my life forever changed.
What I unearthed that day – that the number of children with the peanut allergy had doubled from 1997-2002, that food allergies had become so pervasive in preschool children – was the beginning of a much greater story.
As I learned about food allergies, I learned more than I could have imagined.
Today, too many Americans have allergies or asthma. Autism now affects 1 in 54 boys in our country, while in other countries, its lack of prevalence means that the numbers aren’t even tabulated. And while the United States only represents 5% of the world’s population, 90% of the world’s ADHD prescriptions are written for our children. But it’s not just the children who are struggling under these conditions, 41% of us are expected to get cancer in our lifetimes, while 1 in 2 minority children are expected to be insulin dependent by the time they reach adulthood. The Centers for Disease Control now reports that cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15.
Our children have earned the title “Generation Rx” and “Generation XL” due to their escalating rates of obesity and these other conditions. This is so hard to hear. But we have to listen.
According to the CIA, which ranks life expectancy at birth for children born in countries around the world, the United States is nowhere near the top of that list. As a matter of fact, for children born in the United States, life expectancy at birth places us at 50 on that list, with countries like Bosnia, South Korea, Puerto Rico and others ahead of us. Why does this matter? According to the CIA, “Life expectancy at birth is also a measure of overall quality of life in a country.”
No one wants it this way.
Seven years into this work, I want to say I’ve had enough or write funny jokes about a “Seven Year Itch”, but I can’t. The severity of the issue is too great. I have met parents who have lost children to allergic reactions, farmers who have lost wives to cancer and mothers who have lost toddlers to leukemia. But I have also met others whose creative intellect, profound commitment and relentless scientific inquiry prove that together, we can create change this.
We need all-hands-on-deck.
Mounting scientific evidence continues to point to the role that our increasingly contaminated food supply plays in the health of our children – from the pesticides being poured onto our food crops in the field, to the synthetic chemicals being added to our processed foods in production. Independent science, along with the President’s Cancer Panel and the American Academy of Pediatrics, highlight the role that these non-food ingredients now going into our food supply are having on the health of our loved ones.
So while our food looks the same, a growing body of scientific research is telling us that it is not. It is painfully revealing to us that it is loaded with additives and all kinds of chemicals. And we don’t know what the combination of these chemicals will do to a little boy with asthma or to a mother who is pregnant with her first child. Nor do we know what the long-term impact of these added ingredients might be to the health of a child with autism.
In light of the growing number of children who now have asthma, diabetes, ADHD, autism or allergies, can we afford to continue to take this risk, while other countries around the world exercise precaution?
Mounting scientific evidence on these new ingredients is what is prompting other countries to take action and remove these ingredients from their food supplies, especially from the food fed to children. In other words, in other developed countries, precaution is exercised as people take priority over profits.
But not here.
At least, not yet.
Because while we can’t change the beginning of our stories, we can change the end. Each and every single one of us has the ability to affect remarkable change. For some, it might be simply changing a few items in their grocery cart, for others, it might be reaching out to a child’s school and for another, it might be reaching out to a member of Congress or the FDA or sending a letter to the CEO of a food company.
No matter what we choose to do, it is in doing something, together, leveraging our collective talents, that we will create change.
The future of our country is dependent on the health of our children. They are “adults in waiting,” and while they are only 30% of our population, they are 100% of our future.
The economic prosperity, national security and future innovation and productivity of our country are 100% contingent on their health. Let’s value it accordingly.
That’s according to the results of a national survey of more than 1,000 mothers, conducted by Fleishman-Hillard and TheMotherhood.com. The study, “Cart to Kitchen 2013: Slicing Into Moms’ Food Decisions,” identified key drivers behind moms’ consumer behaviors in meal planning, grocery shopping and meal preparation, as well as changes food marketers should anticipate in 2013. It also uncovered insights about the food influencers and media channels moms trust most when it comes to making food-buying decisions.
“Moms are turning to their peers online and off for information about food – from general to more specific information about genetically modified organisms, pesticides and other food safety topics,” said Kristie Sigler, senior vice president at Fleishman-Hillard. “This study showed that moms place higher priority on the opinions of bloggers and peers than that of experts like doctors and dietitians – an important takeaway for food marketers.”
Nutrition is Key Focus
Moms indicated that in 2013, they want to be more organized in how they shop (41 percent), and they want to make fewer trips to the grocery store (33 percent). Additionally, they would like to be more organized with weekly meal planning (67 percent) and make meals ahead and freeze them (51 percent). Moms are looking to food brands to help them become more organized.
Nutrition is another key focus for moms, whose list of desired 2013 food-purchase changes starts with a drive to buy healthier food. More than half of the moms surveyed said they started that behavior in 2012 by reducing purchases of snacks, sugar, processed foods, soda and carbohydrates. And 49 percent of moms want to buy less processed food in 2013, particularly moms younger than 30.
Further, 50 percent of moms said they are reading more food labels now than they have before. In fact, reading food labels is a behavior of the majority, with 78 percent saying they read labels. Another 15 percent does so “sometimes,” particularly those who cook dinner at home four or more times per week. They are looking for ingredients they want to consume less, including high fructose corn syrup, sugar, artificial dyes and gluten.
Cooking With Technology
Moms also revealed that technology is prevalent in the kitchen. Only one-fourth of moms said they don’t use any technology in the kitchen while cooking. Of the three-fourths of moms who said they use technology while cooking, sources such as AllRecipes.com (25 percent), Pinterest (19 percent) and FoodNetwork.com (15 percent) ranked highest.
Beyond these websites, moms rely upon food-based TV programs and the online counterparts of food magazines.
“We found it interesting that more than three-quarters of moms are watching food programs on TV and reading food media websites, and nearly three-quarters have signed up for food brand emails, considering these are not all ‘foodie’ moms, but everyday meal-preparing moms,” said Cooper Munroe, co-founder of TheMotherhood.com.
In close? “Food brands must evaluate how they are using these trusted channels to deliver the right messages, mom to mom.”
Time to get busy building that communication channel. The health of our children are depending on it.
Written by Amy Kilgore, a medical writer and healthcare public relations specialist who has a daughter with extreme sensitivity to dyes, for AllergyKids
My daughter was two, and I was seeing red. A lot of red.
I wasn’t angry. I was horrified. I had just discovered that the rash my toddler would get after certain candies was not in fact caused by chocolate, that the hyperactivity was not from too much sugar, that her uncontrollable bouts of crying and angry behavior were not because I was doing a lousy job of being a mom.
My little girl Monica was reacting to food dyes. Most specifically, Red 40 and Yellow 5. I can’t recall which friend suggested it and what exact moment I realized it, but by the time she was two I was certain. I had (painfully) tested my theory by giving her things with red and yellow food dyes and logging the reactions. Yellow: rash, hyperactivity, trouble sleeping. Red: hyperactivity, followed by (really) mean behavior, followed by shaking and crying; trouble sleeping. It was exhausting and heartbreaking to witness her little body’s reaction when invaded by these dangerous and unnatural additives.
Even more frightening was the realization of how many foods contain dyes.
I’ll never forget one specific call from my mom. She was watching Monica, her firstborn grandbaby, for the day while I worked from home and caught up with life. I was putting clothes in the dryer when the phone rang. I could hear her concern in “Hi.” Followed by, “What has happened to our sweet girl?”
Mom explained how Monica had been behaving – not listening, running around wildly, screaming, crying. I told her that the day before had been a bit trying as well. But we were perplexed, because we were so very careful with keeping her diet dye-free and had been the only ones feeding her for days.
Then my mom, a registered nurse, gasped. “Omigosh. Her antibiotic is pink. You don’t think…?” I called the pharmacy. Yep, the liquid antibiotic we were giving Monica to treat an ear infection had Red 40. I had dosed her twice a day for four days with Red 40! Several calls to the pediatrician and pharmacy resulted in a prescription for an antibiotic without any artificial coloring, a note in Monica’s chart and pharmacy file, and a little girl who within a day was calm, cool and collected (albeit exhausted).
I needed to know more about food dyes, and Mom and I dove into researching how and why they could “flip the switch” in Monica and, I assumed, most children. The more I learned, the sadder I felt for our children. Not only are food dyes causing hyperactivity, inability to concentrate, aggressiveness, sleep problems, increased symptoms of autism and ADHD, among many others, but they are known carcinogens. They cause cancer.
Here’s some food for thought from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“Back in 1985, the acting commissioner of the FDA said that Red 3, one of the lesser-used dyes, “has clearly been shown to induce cancer” and was “of greatest public health concern.” However, Secretary of Agriculture John R. Block pressed the Department of Health and Human Services not to ban the dye, and he apparently prevailed—notwithstanding the Delaney Amendment that forbids the use of in foods of cancer-causing color additives. Each year about 200,000 pounds of Red 3 are poured into such foods as Betty Crocker’s Fruit Roll-Ups and ConAgra’s Kid Cuisine frozen meals. Since 1985 more than five million pounds of the dye have been used.
“Tests on lab animals of Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 showed signs of causing cancer or suffered from serious flaws, said the consumer group. Yellow 5 also caused mutations, an indication of possible carcinogenicity, in six of 11 tests.
“In addition, according to the report, FDA tests show that the three most-widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are tainted with low levels of cancer-causing compounds, including benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl in Yellow 5. However, the levels actually could be far higher, because in the 1990s the FDA and Health Canada found a hundred times as much benzidine in a bound form that is released in the colon, but not detected in the routine tests of purity conducted by the FDA.”
Monica’s diet is completely dye-free, as are those of her little brother and my sister’s three boys. Not all five kids react the same to dyes – two react more intensely – but we still see significant behavioral reactions if they accidentally ingest food dyes, especially Red 40 and Yellow 5.
Of course, maintaining dye-free diets becomes a great challenge once they hit school age and are not always under our watchful eyes. At the suggestion of my pediatrician, we list food dyes as an “allergy” on their medical forms. Listing as a “sensitivity” just didn’t garner the same attention and adherence to avoidance. Yet there are slip-ups, such as when a well-meaning teacher gives orange punch, saying it’s okay because it’s not red or yellow (sigh). Or when the treat handed out is a “safe” white cupcake with white frosting, yet the inside is “confetti” with pink and red candies.
A recent incident sent the same shock through me that I had felt when I started investigating Red 40 eight years ago. I was having lunch with Monica, now age nine, at Eat’n Park. As long as we ate plain burgers and fruit for a side, Eat’n Park was one of the few restaurants I had tested and actually deemed “safe.” As a general rule, we reserve dessert as an occasional treat. That day I didn’t see any reason why Monica couldn’t have a slice of pie while I enjoyed another cup of coffee.
We spent a long time looking over the pie menu. Lemon meringue? Nope, looked too yellow. The same with banana cream. Strawberry? Not a chance – way too red. Together we narrowed it down to apple or chocolate cream. She chose chocolate cream and was thoroughly enjoying it when I noticed the crust had a pink tint on the top where the chocolate cream was sitting, as did the white whipped cream topping where it touched the brown chocolate. I couldn’t imagine it had red dye (chocolate pie?!), but I strongly urged her not to eat any more. Much to her dismay, she stopped eating the pie about halfway through the slice.
We had been having such a fantastic day – she’d been in such a good mood. Fast forward about one hour post-pie. She’s sitting in my car in her grandparents’ driveway, screaming at me and refusing to get out of the car because she wants to go home to change clothes. Even forceful prodding from her dad didn’t work. Exasperated, chalking it up to pre-teen hormones, I take her to change her clothes. As I’m telling her how inappropriate her behavior is and asking what in the world is wrong, she’s so busy yelling and talking angry to me she doesn’t hear a word I say. She even got so mad at one point that she hit my seat.
Following these completely out-of-character temper tantrums and verbal lashings, she starts pacing and bouncing and can’t even stand in front of the closet long enough to focus on what clothes to change into. She can’t make even the simplest decisions and can’t stand still long enough even if she wanted to. Still not making the red dye connection (forgetting about the pie), I head to the couch to sit and ride it out.
Monica ends up on the couch next to me, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably and asking me to make whatever is happening to her stop. Squirming and itching and rocking and crying, “Just make it stop, mom!” Finally exhausted, she lays her head on my lap in exhaustion. The whole episode lasts about an hour.
I call my mom and share the whole incident with her. Mom asks what Monica ate, starting with the previous day. Needless to say, I had déjà vu when I got to the Eat’n Park meal (“Omigosh. The chocolate cream pie. You don’t think…?”). Sure enough, one call to Eat’n Park and a pie ingredient check proved it – the chocolate cream pie had Red 40.
It’s certainly a challenge to avoid these dyes and many of the food preservatives I now don’t let anywhere near our mouths. I have a significant number of food allergies and have become very well educated on eating “clean” (whole, natural, organic), so I’m sure it’s easier for me to stay focused on living this way. But we absolutely cannot continue to ingest these dyes, especially children. If we could eliminate these dyes from our foods and our bodies, I am completely convinced that cancer prevalence would lower as well as the occurrence of ADHD and autism, among other cognitive, behavioral and emotional disturbances. The world would seriously be a better, much healthier place.
Amy Kilgore is a medical writer and public relations specialist in Akron, Ohio, and mom to Monica and Chase. Living on a restricted diet for the past 15 years due to multiple food allergies, Amy is strongly dedicated to whole, natural and healthy eating as well as providing education and sharing experiences about the ill effects of processed food, additives and dyes.