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Environmental Exposures Can Affect Puberty in Young Girls

Phenols, phthalates and phytoestrogens may accelerate or retard puberty

THURSDAY, May 13 (HealthDay News) -- Environmental exposure to the chemical classes known as phenols, phthalates and phytoestrogens may affect young girls' pubertal development, putting them at risk for health complications later in life, according to a study published online in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Mary S. Wolff, Ph.D., of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, and colleagues studied 1,151 girls (ages 6 to 8 at enrollment) from New York City, greater Cincinnati and northern California. The researchers measured levels of chemical metabolites in urine samples in an initial doctor visit, assessed breast and pubic hair development at the initial visit and one year later, and analyzed associations between pubertal development and degree of chemical exposure.

The researchers detected breast and pubic hair development in 30 and 22 percent of the girls, respectively. One phenol compound, two phytoestrogen compounds, and a subset of phthalates used in plastic tubing and building products were associated with later puberty. However, another subset of phthalates used in personal products, such as fragrant shampoos and lotions, was associated with earlier breast and pubic hair development.

"Although the suggestive associations we observed are small, within 10 percent of null, a small effect size could affect a significant proportion of the population, because of the ubiquity of these exposures and by their high levels (micromolar) observed in urine of the Breast Cancer and Environment Research Centers' cohort," the authors write.

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