Puberty and teenage years can be a difficult time for parents and teens alike. Hormones can mean the difference between a healthy transition and a hormonally driven nightmare. In this article, we discuss how to better manage hormonal issues in teens and look into some of the causes why it’s getting worse.
Puberty has progressively become earlier in age of the past 156 years. A study by Dr. Marcia Herman-Giddens found that in 1860, the average age of the onset of puberty in girls was 16.6 years. In 1920, it was 14.6; in 1950, 13.1; 1980, 12.5; and in 2010, it had dropped to 10.5.
The Department of environmental health at Boston University sum up the issue well.
“The causes of most precocious puberty cases remain unknown. While many of the cases are attributed to excess weight gain or (paradoxically) improved nutrition, exposures to phthalates and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals have also been implicated as possible risk factors. The limited data show that the worldwide incidence of precocious puberty has increased and the age of pubertal changes has decreased over the past two decades”
So although the cause is unknown certainly diet, genetics, lifestyle and the environment are playing a role.
The increase in obesity is driving many cases of early puberty. But also the high intake of sugar and refined food is placing a strain on the liver. The liver is the primary organ that metabolises hormones and when its function is reduced, hormones are able to recirculate causing a ‘double effect’ on development. So we are seeing a situation of not only early development but very fast development where we see young girls fully developed by the age of 12 and 13.
A change in the genetic susceptibility to hormonal issues can occur in a single generation. If the mother has had hormonal issues poorly managed and taken synthetic hormones prior to conception, then this too will affect the offspring’s ability to metabolise hormones. There is a well-established link between mother and daughter in terms of hormonal imbalance susceptibility.
Children in general are becoming more and more sedentary with the rise of technology. Once they reach teenage years the reliance on digital products creates a “constantly on” situation where their brains and nervous systems are not switching off. The best thing for teens is activity. Idol minds lead to problems of over analysis. Sport and physical activities are needed to release the stress associated with schooling and expectations.
Without a doubt the exposure to exogenous environmental toxins have an impact on unbalancing the endocrine system. Many environmental chemicals from agriculture affect a developing endocrine system such as phytates from pesticides and plastics. Petrochemicals also accumulate and block hormone receptor sites. The impact on growth promoters in meat products also need to be considered in influencing growth patterns of children and the impact on the endocrine system
The result of these factors is our teens suffering from a range of symptoms associated with puberty and development of the endocrine system. Common symptoms are;
- Irritability and mood swings
- Early or precocious development
- Painful periods
- Heavy periods
- Insomnia and disturbed sleep patterns
The typical prescription for young women is the contraceptive pill. The pill is seen as a simple and noninvasive way to help regulate hormones however it’s a band-aid at best and worst sets them up for a lifestyle of hormonal issues.
The problem with synthetic hormones as a treatment is twofold. First it suppresses the body’s own natural production of hormones. This in itself is not a big issue at this age however the impact of substituting the body’s natural hormone production with synthetic hormones must raise questions about these hormone contributing to the development of hormonal conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids and infertility, not to mention breast and other cancers. Later in life when hormone production matters in perimenopause and menopause this early use of synthetic hormones can contribute to the severity of symptoms.
The second issue is that many females today don’t metabolise hormones well, which is why they are having issues in the first place. Putting hormones into the system can be like adding fuel to the fire and we can see these girls react to the hormones and their symptoms get worse. If this is not recognized, then many chronic and severe hormone conditions can develop.
The other prescription for teens is low dose antibiotics for acne. Acne can be a terrible condition for teens however antibiotics only disrupt the GUT ecology which is so important for hormone metabolism and excretion. So whilst it may manage some acne issues it only sets up the teen for more dramatic and long lasting health issues.
The final prescription once these options don’t work is antidepressants. It’s a slippery slope once teens get to this point and the road that lead them to this point should be questioned.
Is there a better way?
Many of the general principles of health need to be applied first in terms of diet and lifestyle otherwise any natural medicines will only have a temporary effect.
Our children’s diets need to be considered and addressed at an earlier age. Due to children being picky eaters they can end up with diets which are high in sugars and highly refined with many children’s food being high in sugar and fats. So although difficult to change and limit these foods, a critical examination of what the teen is eating needs to be addressed and the basic principles of healthy eating need to be applied. For acne and skin related issues it is critical that sugar, dairy and wheat intake is restricted and alternatives found.
Once the diet is corrected, then the next issue that must be addressed is digestive health and the bacterial balance in the GUT. So much hinges on a healthy digestive tract. Many children have had several courses of antibiotics as they were developing and this leads to GUT dysbiosis and microbial imbalance. The GUT produces many of our feel good hormones, namely serotonin so it must be corrected with fermented foods and drinks. The coconut water kefir is an easy way to include in smoothies and begins to correct this imbalance.
Then when it comes specifically to hormonal symptoms, the underlying imbalance must be corrected. In teens two things happen. First the surge in hormones need to be metabolized by the liver and GUT. If this does not happen there is a recirculation of hormones and a double whammy effect. Improving GUT function is important with high fibre foods and fermented foods or probiotics, but the liver may need some support.
The next piece of the puzzle is correcting the underlying endocrine imbalance. To do this first sugar intake must be limited. Sugar directly disrupts endocrine balance and reduces the livers ability to metabolise hormones.
Then the adrenals need to be considered. Teens suffer a lot from stress and elevated cortisol from stress disrupt endocrine balance. Again exercise is a great stress releaser but have a look at the workload of the teen and decide if there may be ways to lighten the load. Teens should also be encouraged to sleep and digitally detox. Constant stimulation is not healthy for the adrenal glands and sufficient sleep is essential.
Finally from a hormonal perspective we need to look towards the hormone control centre in the brain. The hypothalamus/pituitary axis which is present in all women. Regulating this control centre with select herbal medicines, cimicifuga racemosa, vitex agnus castus and sage (present in Happy Hormones) allows the body to naturally balance its hormone levels without the interference of external synthetic hormones. We find that in teenage girls they respond very quickly and notice improvements almost immediately as their systems are quite responsive still.
For teenage boys Zinc is the best option to allow for better testosterone conversion and is a common deficiency amoung boys seen with white spots on their nails.
Despite teenage years being difficult in themselves there is a way to prevent the health consequences from run-away-hormones. A lot of it is dependent on a having a healthy diet and lifestyle however as with all hormonal issues, often diet and lifestyle is just not enough. This is where Happy Hormones is an excellent tonic to correct the underlying endocrine imbalance and then in conjunction with GUT and liver support most symptoms can be avoided.
This is a better option for teens and by treating these issues correctly you prevent the underlying endocrine system imbalance from progressing which commonly manifests in more chronic and debilitating hormonal conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome PCOS, Endometriosis, Fibroids, Infertility, and Depression.