“Mommy, what’s happening?” is usually met with “hunny, don’t worry. Its ok, but we need to have a chat” while your dumb founded mind tries to organize racing thoughts of “she’s only 9, what IS happening?”
Yes, your daughter began her period years before anticipated.
Well, the fact of the matter is that young girls are transitioning into puberty at the youngest ages we have ever seen. For years scientists have disagreed with this phenomenon however, there is no doubt that this is a wide spread issue among our daughters. There have been many mixed studies, but for the most part we can agree that puberty is coming at earlier and earlier ages, some stating that a percentage of the population will begin their period by the age of 7.
SEVEN. You are tucking your sweet girl in at night, promising her there are no monsters in the closet and by morning explaining how to use a pad and what the word “hormone” means.
Where did our babies go?
Most physicians are accepting this as the new norm and altering their practice accordingly. But when you stop and think about it, how can this be normal? When sanitary product companies are spending millions upon millions in reasearch and marketing targeting young populations and altering their packages to attract these audiences, there is no denying that there has been a shift.
So yes, I’ll admit.. you perhaps can tell by the tone of this blog that I do in fact have a daughter. One who has wildly curly blonde hair, is obsessed with her tutu/rubber boot combo and carries her beloved stuffed dinosaurs around with her everywhere. So forgive me if I am taken aback by sitting her down in a few short years and discussing her changing body, while I still have to get down on my knees to look her in the eyes.
I’m writing this because this is important for all parents to understand. Your daughter may not be showing overt symptoms of puberty however she could very well still be exposed to factors that promote it. Today young girls are getting bombarded with hormones from a variety of sources, all of which are seriously disrupting their endocrine (hormonal) systems. Their small systems are overwhelmed and no one is explaining why. Perhaps this is because many of the medical conditions associated to early puberty are quite rare, therefore this must be normal, right? Wrong! There are many external factors contributing to your daughters development.
Contributors to Early Puberty are:
- Weight Concerns: Weight issues and obesity are at an all time high. Coincidentally, in conjunction with sugar intake and a lack of physical activity. The fact of the matter is that we are consuming outrageous amounts of sugar, processed foods and food-like products. Essentially the science behind the weight and hormone connection is that an increase in fat cells causes an increase in insulin and insulin is directly associated with an enhanced ability to convert hormones into estrogen. Therefore, an increase in weight = an increase in estrogen.
- Alterations in Meat and Dairy Production: There have been a few studies that made the connection between a young girls meat intake and the age at which she began menses. This gives us some insight that hormone injected meats have an affect on the endocrine cascade in our body. Another food group which tends to alter our hormone levels is dairy. It is common practice now to inject dairy cows with genetically engineered growth hormone for the purpose of increasing their milk supply. Now while this is great for the farmer and their income, it is harmful for consumers (and the poor cows). Genetically engineered food of any sort should be met with caution. I am certainly not against eating meat but I do want you to understand that the quality of that meat determines how fit it actually is for our consumption. Steak is delicious, yes, but if it is part meat, part hormones and part antibiotics, than you may not neccessarily be getting what you signed up for.
- Stress: Stress wreaks havoc on our system in general. Most of us in today’s age are under a tremendous amount of stress however, unfortunately we are seeing this extend to younger and younger ages. Poor dietary choices, shortened sleep patterns, tension in the home and bullying are just to name a few of the issues that our young people deal with on a daily basis. Stress alters our hormonal systems and directly affects our bodys hormone levels.
- Environmental toxin exposure: Toxins can mimic estrogen in the body. These toxins are found in: our food sources, varieties of fabrics, mainstrean cosmetics, plastics, cleansers, pesticides, detergents and other common household products. What they do is mimic the effect of estrogen in our bodies and send signals to our endocrine system that it should “kick into gear”. In addition, doubling back to my first point.. an increase in fat stores also increases our bodys capasity to store toxins. The more toxins we have, the more our hormones are impacted.
Encouraging Hormonal Balance:
- Sugar is a killer. It is a slow, deliciously addicting, health distroying villan. Limiting your childs intake of sugar is primary in keeping their systems nice and healthy. This not only includes their endocrine system but also their immune, neurological and digestive health as well. Avoid sugar filled drinks, juice, candies, packaged treats and so on. Opt for water with berries or lemon and when juice is offered, always cut it with at least 50% water. If they would like a snack, go for a sweet fruit before unwrapping something.
- Speaking of sugar, not many people know that their carbohydrate intake is contributing to their sugar intake as well. Carbohydrates are chains of sugars that break down to simple sugars in our body, the speed of which this occurs is dependant on the type of carb it is in the first place. Be mindful of refined carbohydrates, pastas, breads, crackers etc. Make a well balanced diet their staple – clean proteins, vegetables, good fats and fruit. If you have a picky eater.. try pairing these with a nice dip. I have yet to meet a child that will refuse eating something with their fingers and diving it into a dip (guac, hummus etc).
- Cook with your litte one! It is the best possible way for them to learn about and explore food. In addition, the sense of pride and accomplishment once the meal is complete also contributes to higher compliance with trying new foods and finishing their plates!
- Get your child off the couch and in the backyard! Free play and exploration is not only wonderful for their body but excellent for their mind as well.
- Practice what you preach!
Reduce Exposure to Environmental Estrogens:
- Select organic whenever feasible. Especially dairy and meat products (for reasons mentioned above). I know that it is outrageously expensive so perhaps you could opt for mixing in some vegetarian dishes, fancy organic egg dinners and some wild caught fish once in a while, to keep costs down. Organic vegetables also help keep the toxic burden to a minimum, yet the price can be a deterrent for many. Try a veggie soak of water cut with vinegar for 20 minutes to remove as much as possible before consumption.
- Stick with glass water bottles that can be refilled rather than bottles of water.
- Avoid plastic containers for storage or plastic wrapped foods that require heating or re-heating. Sticking with whole foods and glass tupperware is your best bet.
- Be mindful of what your little one (although I know she may be 12 plus) is putting on her skin. Need a moisturizer? Perfect, you have coconut oil. Want to start wearing lip gloss.. find a homemade recipe online. Super easy and super cheap. If she persists and wants to dive into make-up, stick with natural brands rather than mainstream.
Help her Manage Stress:
- Exhibit great empathy and express to your daughter that she should reach out someone or yourself if she is under a tremendous amount of stress in school (whether it is due to learning issues, bullying, anxiety etc)
- Keep an eye out for how she speaks to and about herself. If she is overly critical about physical traits, her appearences or what others think, than this is your cue that her self esteem and confidence are lacking, which could lead her down a self-destructive road. Compliment and focus on aspects of her that are non-physical, (ie. her tremendous compassion, kindness, generosity and heart). Expanding how she sees herself will give her a well-rounded view rather than focusing on her self-perceived flaws.
- Encourage her to join a sport or class that intrigues her. This should not be forced but more so an experiment in exploring her interests and keeping her active, while still having fun.
- Reduce exposure to TV violence or circulating news channels. Children do not need to see this continuously. It only instills fear and distorts how they view their world.
- Teach and practise simple meditation or relaxation skills. This is an invaluable tool that can be implemented at anytime during perceived stress. Deep breathing to a mantra (ie. I Am – inhalation; Calm – exhalation) or visualization techniques (ie. visualizing herself placing all of her worries in a balloon and watching it float away into the distance). You can find many meditation and visualization techniques online that are age appropriate and very effective.
- Talk to her, a lot! About her body or whatever she wishes. We have to remove the stigma around puberty and provide her with an open line of communication so she can express her concerns or ask questions of her changing body.
We cannot allow this generation of girls to be the research statistics for the next. Young bodies and minds are so sensitive to internal and external factors. They are in their building stage of life. If we set a strong foundation early, it will gift her with good health and vitatilty for a lifetime. Do not be overly concerned about discussing food and health with your daughter. She is strong and intelligent. It is when we blantantly avoid the topic because we are concerned about instilling self-confidence issues regarding her weight, that we do her a disservice. Uncertainty, shame and fear promote unhealthy behaviours in our young girls. Education, open communication and confidence promote health. Self-confidence, self-love and self-care are qualities that must be encouraged and modelled for her from a young age. When we know better, we do better.
As always, like many other issues I speak about, if you have concerns about your daughters (or sons) health in any way, have your naturopath sit down with her (or both of you – depending on her wishes and age), to have a discussion about health, hormones and her body.
Yours in health,