what is puberty?
it's a lot of things
Recently, there has been a debate over whether the age of puberty really is getting younger, by how much, and why.
One of the reasons for the confusion is that puberty is not a single event with a single cause. There are a lot of changes going on in different areas as the body morphs into that of an adult.
The average age for menarche, when a young woman gets her first period, hasn't changed much in recent times, at least if assessed in relation to weight rather than age. But because girls (on average) are a lot heavier than they used to be, menarche is occurring at an earlier age. Obviously, this added weight is not a sign of better health.
Adrenarche, or the maturation of the HPA axis, comes first, and the timing of adrenarche is what has so abruptly changed in recent years. Early adrenarche was once called "Benign Premature Adrenarche," but now it has become apparent that it isn't so benign after all. Several different chemicals in the environment have been found to increase androgen levels, and the hormones in meat and dairy products may play a role.
Adrenal androgens have also been found to go up whenever we have prolonged or repeated "fight or flight" stresses such as those experience while playing some video games. These "shots of adrenaline" are to prepare the body for sudden and extreme physical action. Yet sitting passively at the computer, the physical action is suppressed.
Further research will reveal which enviromental and behavioral factors play a role in premature adrenarche.
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