Teen Hormonal Health
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 causes of why it’s getting worse.
Puberty has progressively come at an earlier age over the last 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 years
- In 1950, it was 13.1 years
- In 1980, it was 12.5 years
- By 2010, it had dropped to 10.5 years old...
The Department of Environmental Health at Boston University sums 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 not only of 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 has 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. Idle 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 has an impact on causing imbalances within 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 of growth-promoters in meat products also needs to be taken into account, for its influence on the growth patterns of children, and the impact on the endocrine system imbalances.
The result of all these factors is that our teens are 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 non-invasive way to help regulate hormones. However, it’s a band-aid at best; and at worst, it 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 synthetic hormones 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.
Secondly, is that many women today don’t metabolise hormones well, which is why they're 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 recognised, then many chronic and severe hormonal conditions can develop.
The other prescription for teens is low-dose antibiotics for acne. Acne can be a terrible condition for teens. But 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 longer-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 leads them to this point should be questioned.
Is there a better way?
Yes. 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 carefully evaluated and addressed at an earlier age. Because children can be 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 it's difficult to change and limit these foods, we need to critically examine what the teen is eating, and apply basic principles of healthy eating.
For acne and skin related issues, it's 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 digestive system.
So much hinges on a healthy digestive tract. Many children 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, such as serotonin - so it must be corrected with fermented foods and drinks. Using coconut water kefir is an easy way to include ferments in smoothies, and it begins to correct this imbalance.
When it comes specifically to hormonal symptoms, the underlying imbalance must be corrected. In teens, two things happen. First, the surge in hormones needs to be metabolized by the liver and gut. If this doesn't happen, there is a re-circulation of hormones and a double whammy effect.
Improving digestive 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, sugar intake must first be limited. Sugar directly disrupts the endocrine balance and reduces the liver's ability to metabolise hormones.
The adrenal glands also need to be considered. Teens suffer a lot from stress, and elevated cortisol from stress disrupts the 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 hypothalamic-pituitary axis. Regulating this control centre with select herbal medicines, such as Cimicifuga racemosa, vitex agnus castus and sage (all present in Happy Hormones) allows the body to naturally balance its hormone levels without the interference of external synthetic hormones.
We find that teenage girls respond very quickly, and notice improvements almost immediately, as their systems are still quite responsive.
For teenage boys, zinc is the best option, to allow for better testosterone conversion; and it's a common deficiency among boys, and seen with white spots on their nails.
Despite the 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 having a healthy diet and lifestyle. However, as with all hormonal issues, often diet and lifestyle are just not enough.
That is why 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.