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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Dr Andre Budihardjo, MM and Physician Lim Sock Ling on July 14, 2022

Tips To Help Your Child Through Precocious Puberty

If you notice that your child seems to be developing early, then it could be precocious puberty. Find out what causes it and how to support your child's health here.

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Precocious puberty can be an embarrassing or scary condition for your child to deal with. They may not know what’s going on with their body, and this can be concerning.

It occurs when a child attains puberty, signified by changes in the body, much earlier than normal. It develops in girls younger than eight years old and boys younger than nine years old.

In this guide, we’ll explain common causes of precocious puberty and tips for helping your child through this condition.

What Is Precocious Puberty?

Developing fair hair at a young age can be a sign of early puberty in boys.

Precocious puberty occurs when your child begins to develop an adult’s body or sexual maturity too soon.

It occurs when there is an early release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) from the brain. GnRH is a hormone made in the hypothalamus that controls the production of sex hormones.

Causes and risk factors

The exact cause is difficult to identify. However, the risk is higher in girls, African Americans, obese children, and patients who have received radiation therapy to the brain.

In rare cases, it may be caused by tumors of the adrenal or pituitary glands, defects, or injuries to the brain. Problems in the ovaries, testicles, adrenal glands, or pituitary glands may also contribute.

Early puberty can also develop due to external sources of estrogens, such as through creams or ointments. An unhealthy diet and sugar-sweetened soft drinks are associated with the risk of this condition. 

Symptoms

Some signs include rapid growth, acne, development of pubic or underarm hair, and body odor. Girls may exhibit breast growth and have their first period.

Boys have enlarged testicles and penis, facial hair, and deepening of the voice. If your child shows any of these symptoms before the age of eight for girls and nine for boys, make an appointment with a pediatrician for a thorough evaluation. 

Health Risks Of Precocious Puberty

Early puberty can make your child self-conscious about their body.

One may ask why precocious puberty is such a big deal. After all, a child would develop these features in a few years anyway.

However, the symptoms of precocious puberty come with their own set of social and emotional problems. Girls and boys at that tender age are extremely self-conscious of the changes happening in their bodies. Early development of sexual characters can affect their self-esteem and even cause depression.

Apart from social and emotional issues, another concern is that children with precocious puberty stay shorter than the normal height they would have attained. This is because they tend to grow quickly and be tall earlier than their peers.

However, because their bones mature faster than normal, they tend to stop growing earlier. As a result, they stay shorter than average as adults. 

Is Precocious Puberty Preventable?

You can delay the symptoms of precocious puberty from progressing with early identification and appropriate treatments. Though development that has already occurred cannot be reversed, the right remedies can allow your child to grow normally untill the right age for puberty. 

You can also take a few steps to reduce your child’s risk of the condition. Ensure they have a balanced and healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight.

This involves a good amount of exercise and outdoor time. The increase in cases during the COVID-19 lockdowns have attributed to children not getting enough exercise and being bound to the couch or digital devices.

Also, be mindful about keeping them away from external sources of estrogen, testosterone, and chemicals that mimic sex hormones in the body. These include dietary supplements, prescription creams for adults, and plastic products. Many fast foods also contain hormone-disrupting chemicals, such as phthalates, that are best avoided in your child’s diet.

Research shows that Bisphenol A (BPA) binds to estrogen receptors and may lead to reproductive disorders, such as precocious puberty. However, one study found that Korean ginseng helps protect the body against BPA damage that leads to early puberty.

Precocious Puberty Treatment Options

Both Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) differ in their approach to treating the condition. However, both agree that the key lies in starting treatment early. 

Western medicine

Doctors will evaluate your child to ascertain the exact cause of precocious puberty. Treatment will vary depending on the child’s age and the pubertal changes seen.

It may include medicines called GnRH agonists. They are available in various formulations, which can be inhaled through the nose or injected into the muscle or skin. It is safe, with no serious side effects.

Other treatments remove the source of sex hormones in the body and may involve medication or surgery. It is important to monitor developmental changes, growth, and bone maturation while on treatment. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine

According to TCM Physician Lim Sock Ling, “The main pathogenesis of precocious puberty is Kidney Yin Deficiency and Liver Stagnation that transforms into Liver fire. We target the root cause using syndrome differentiation and treat by nourishing the Kidney Yin, relieving Liver Stagnation, and clearing Liver fire.”

Various formulations have been tested in clinical studies and have reported good effects. These include Zhi Bai Di Huang Pills, Zi Yin Xie Huo granules, and Zi Shen Qing Gan granules. 

Acupuncture treatment may also help. Physician Lim recommends stimulating the acupoints San Yin Jiao (SP6) and Gui Lai (ST29). “San Yin Jiao is the intersection point of the Liver, Spleen, and Kidney meridians. It is often used to nourish Yin,“ she explains. Both points treat reproductive endocrine diseases and regulate the level of sexual hormones.

Final Thoughts On Precocious Puberty

If you see your child developing faster than normal, do not worry. Treatments are available in both Western and TCM. Just ensure you seek help early. 

According to Physician Lim, “TCM therapies are generally safe in children but I would still recommend seeking professional advice instead of self-medicating.“

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