Early Puberty, Now Trending!

Xenoestrogens Early PubertyThere comes a time in everyone’s childhood when we enter the stage of puberty. It is the process when boys and girls undergo sexual maturation and development of physical features associated with adult males and females. Its onset varies among individuals normally occurring  in girls between 10-14 years of age and boys between 12-16 years of age.

However, a progressive decrease in age at the onset of puberty has been demonstrated worldwide. The development of genital hair or breast buds in girls younger than 8, and in boys younger than 9, suggests a condition known as precocious puberty. Recent reports have shown that the onset of puberty in girls is much earlier than in the past. In addition to this, evidences point out parallel findings in studies conducted throughout the world.

Premature puberty causes physiological changes like preparedness for sexual readiness and childbearing ability. Because pubertal girls are psychologically immature, they are prone to making wrong decisions that can have a negative impact on their lives and to society. In addition to this, studies have shown that changes in pubertal timing are correlated to several physical and physiological diseases. Evidences point out early puberty increases risk for obesity and its complications, early diagnosis of breast cancer, ovarian diseases, fertility problems and many more.

The onset and course of puberty are under the control of the endocrine system which is responsible for hormonal production and release. One of the hormones that are important for sexual and reproductive development, particularly in women, is estrogen. Otherwise known as the female sex hormone, it is mainly produced by the ovaries. Estrogen plays an important role in the development of so-called secondary sex characteristics, such as breast and pubic and armpit hair. Its levels naturally increase during puberty, hence leading to the physical changes noted during this stage. However, aside from hormones, there are several other factors affecting the timing and regulation of the endocrine system which can alter the onset and course of puberty.  Although the exact reason for a shift in the age at the onset of puberty is not completely understood, it is deduced that it could have been the outcome of a complex interaction between genetic, endocrine, and environmental factors. Among the previously mentioned, the exposure to environmental causes is, perhaps, the only modifiable factors. Hence, this is a subject that receives a special attention among researchers.

Chemical Invasion: Disturbing Body’s Balance.

There is a growing interest in the possible health threat posed by environmental endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). This has been defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as: ” …an ‘exogenous agent’ that interferes with the synthesis, secretion, transport, metabolism, binding action or elimination of natural blood-borne hormones that are present in the body and which are responsible for homeostasis, reproduction and developmental process.”

The growing number of chemicals may accumulate in exposed individuals over time and can cause adverse consequences due to their actions. Urine Samples are used to detect the presence of EDCs in the body.  Because urine has a higher concentration of metabolites, it is considered a good source for detecting EDCs. If you think you have an overexposure to chemicals, speak with your medical or natural health provider to discuss your concerns and testing.

Environmental contaminants are from varied sources. Typically, exposure occurs via ingestion, inhalation, and contact with materials that contain these substances. Most of EDC’s are high production volume chemicals found in numerous products for everyday use. Some were banned or otherwise removed from production several years ago, but persists in the environment.

Estrogen Copycats:

Among the numerous EDC’s identified, estrogen-like EDC’s (EEDC’s), otherwise known as xenoestrogens, have been pointed out as having one of the greatest effects on female puberty. ”Xeno” means foreign. Xenoestrogens are hence foreign estrogens. The similarity in the structure of xenoestrogens with estrogens allow them to interact and activate receptors. Studies have demonstrated that receptors have more affinity for xenoestrogens than with estrogen itself. Thus, regardless of endogenous estrogen levels in the body, xenoestrogens can stimulate the development of premature puberty. Unknowingly, we are frequently exposed to these chemicals as they are found in materials that are commonly used in a day-to-day basis. Major sources of xenoestrogens may be from the following:

Chemical Pesticides and Fertilizers:

The discovery of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) led to its extensive use as an agricultural insecticide. It eventually paved way to the development of numerous pesticides (organochlorides, organophosphates, carbamates) which are being used with few guidelines or restrictions. However, in 1970’s, the use of DDT was banned in the United States and Sweden because it was found to be toxic. Similar studies conducted on pesticides and fertilizers have gathered evidence of varying toxicity and endocrine-disrupting effects from such chemicals, leading to an increased susceptibility in the development of health risks. It was found that some of these can persist in soil and aquatic sediments, consumed and/or absorbed by the lower food chain and eventually by human beings.

Other examples of pesticides and fertilizers with estrogenic effects are:

•    Atrazine, a commonly used weed killer
•    Dichlorodiphenylchloroethylene (DDE), a known breakdown product of DDT
•    Dieldrin, Endosulfan, Heptachlor, Lindane and Methoxychlor– restricted insecticides in many countries
•    Pentachlorophenol, used as a general biocide and wood preservative.

Plastics:

In the modern world, plastic is a very important material that can be found almost anywhere.  It is cheap, durable, reusable and very practical for daily use. Hence, there is an immense magnitude of supply and demand for plastic products globally. However, researchers have also recognized that there are plastic additives that have estrogenic effects. A growing number of research and published scientific journals have gathered evidence of an increase in the health risk of highly susceptible individuals with frequent exposure.

Organochlorines, byproducts of the plastic and pesticide industries, are one of the largest sources of xenoestrogens. These compounds can leach out into your food, water, and even directly through skin contact. They can volatilize over time or in response to stimuli, most especially to heat.

Common examples of plastic components that can cause estrogenic-effects are the following:

Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical plasticizer found in the lining of food cans, juice containers, and other hard plastic materials. Its production has been banned in some countries. The United States has banned BPA from being used in baby bottles, but has not banned its use in all food products.

Phthalates are found especially in soft plastics. They are manufactured for food storage containers, toys, clothing, footwear, toiletries, and many more.

Household Cleaners and Nonstick Kitchen-Wares:

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is used as a component in Teflon polymers and nonstick kitchen wares. Studies have shown that this chemical also has estrogenic effects and increases the risk of cancer, reproductive problems and liver damage in laboratory animals. Certain laundry detergents and fabric softeners because they leave residues on clothing and are constantly in contact with the skin. Additional information about cleaning products and safe alternatives can be found here.

Cosmetics and Toiletries:

Beauty and hygienic products are popular in the market with a wide age spectrum. However, there are certain components that are considered as xenoestrogens such as the following:

•    Phthalates
•    Benozophenone-3
•    Homosalate
•    4-methyl-benzylidene camphor (4-MBC)
•    Octyl-methoxy cinnamate
•    Octyl dimethyl-PABA.

Exposure to these xenoestrogens occurs through absorption through the skin. Research has shown that absorption through the skin is 10 times more potent than those taken orally. The only caveat being that the particles must be small enough to be absorbed.   Products that can contain these compounds can be identified if the ingredients contain  parabens and phenoxyethanols. Products that could contain xenoestrogens are nail polish, sunscreen, body lotion, moisturizers, shaving foams, tanning lotions, deodorants, toothpaste, soap, gels and hair sprays.

It is evident that xenoestrogens are responsible for numerous disturbances of the reproductive system, especially in girls, and we are exposed to them daily. However, with education and awareness of these issues, we can make an effort to minimize exposure to these toxic chemicals.

So how can we avoid toxic chemicals?

We can start by examining the products we use on a daily basis whether they contain EDCs or not. Limit, if possible, the use of these identified products.  It would be almost impossible to avoid xenoestrogens altogether, and you do not have to.  Be educated and try to avoid toxic chemicals when possible, making small changes is better than doing nothing at all.  However, it  does not stop there. You should share this information with friends and family, especially anyone living with estrogen-induced cancers, so they can be aware of the possible effects of EDCs. With the support of many, action may be requested from the government for industrial and environmental regulation. Remember, no matter how mundane these tips are, they still matter. Though they are small and simple steps, it can make a huge difference to our future health and environment. Begin a healthier life now.

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