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Common chemicals linked to early onset of puberty, study says

By Angel Wilson, Palm Beach Post Washington Bureau
Thursday, February 8, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Chemicals found in common items such as plastics and cosmetics are among the factors believed to cause early puberty in young girls, scientific experts said Wednesday.

These chemicals, along with several other possible factors such as genetics, may be contributing to the phenomenon of girls around the age of 8 -- and in extreme cases, age 3 -- developing breasts and pubic hair, the scientists said at a news conference sponsored by Environmental Media Services.

A study by Dr. Marcia Herman-Giddens involving 17,000 girls who were seeing pediatricians across the country revealed that early puberty is no longer uncommon. By age 8, 48 percent of black girls and 15 percent of white girls show clear signs of puberty.

This early onset of womanhood can have both physical and mental consequences, said psychologist Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Policy Research for Women and Families.

One study Zuckerman cited states that girls who experience the early stages of puberty before the age of 9 were "more likely to be depressed, aggressive, socially withdrawn, have sleeping problems and report obsessive behavior."

Dr. John P. Myers, director of the W. Alton Jones Foundation, said animal experiments have linked early puberty in mice to exposure to common chemicals such as bisphenol A -- used in polycarbonate plastic, such as food and drink containers -- and phthalate esters, which are found in cosmetic and beauty products, especially hair and nail products.

The American Plastics Council, released a statement challenging the claims.

"Any association between (premature sexual maturation) and exposure from consumer products made of polycarbonate is unfounded. . . . Over the last 40 years, polycarbonate has been thoroughly tested by both government and industry researchers," the council said.

Herman-Giddens said no one is trying to point fingers, but that scientists and industry should try to work together to determine the causes of premature puberty.

Is this those water bottles too?

-- (, February 09, 2001


I believe Dr Andrew Weil recommends avoiding all translucent plastic containers, in favor of the crystal-clear "PET" plastics. I may be misremembering my source, but I remember the advice correctly; if not Dr Weil, it would have been one of my other health-nut-type references.

-- L. Hunter Cassells (, February 09, 2001.

A couple of years ago Consumers Reports had an article on the clear plastic baby bottles - they contain bisphenol A. I think the types of plastic in the clear baby bottles has been changed. Bisphenol A is also in dental sealants used to seal the back molars of children today. There was an article in the Washington Post Health SEction in Jan 25, 1994: Estrogen in the Environment: Are Some Pollutants a Threat to Fertility by Rick Weiss. You can download (for a fee) this article from the archives. Basically, bisphenol A (and some other chemicals) acts as an artificial estrogen in the body. Included in the Post article is a report that a Tufts University researcher were experimenting with breast cancer cells that grow only when given estrogen. At one point, the breast cancer cells continued to grow even when not given estrogen; after several months the researcher discovered that the petri dishes/flasks manufacturer had changed the type of plastics. The newer flasks contained phenols which leached into the cancer cells when they were heated. After reading that article I stopped microwaving in plastic dishes. However, the pseudo-estrogen from those types of plastic could just as easily leach into hot food just from contact.

An NIH doctor and psychologist spoke at our public elementary school (Springhill Elementary - McLean, VA) about puberty last year. The doctor mentioned the possible theory (not confirmed of course) that estrogen in milk and other dairy products contributing to early puberty in girls. Cows are given estrogen which then exists in their milk.

-- slza (, February 09, 2001.

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