Donna Easto, C.H., H.C. M.H., Certified Herbal Consultant
In the last article, we discussed women pioneers in the field of herbalism. With this essay, we start a series based on women’s health, beginning at puberty. Puberty’s the time when a series of physical, endocrine, and reproductive changes begin to transform most girls from childhood into adolescence and womanhood. Puberty often begins earlier than parents expect. Many factors influence the timeline on the progress of puberty, but generally, it starts between the ages of 8 and 13.
After a girl’s 8th birthday, an area of the brain called the hypothalamus starts to release gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). When GnRH travels to the pituitary gland (a small gland under the brain that produces hormones that control other glands throughout the body), it releases two more puberty hormones — luteinizing hormone (L.H.) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
Puberty is divided into four distinct stages: 1) most girls start their development between the ages of 8 and 13 (the average age is 12) and have a growth spurt between the ages of 10 and 14. 2) the beginning of breast development; 3) development of body hair, primarily due to an increase in androgens (male hormones); 4) the final stage of puberty, menarche, the onset of menstruation.
By around 17 years, 50% of girls will have achieved full adult height. Many will grow another 1-2 inches after getting their period. Bone density increases and the body’s overall fat will increase from 15.7 to 26.7%. Full development is almost always achieved by 21.
Q. What is an early sign of puberty?
A. The development of breast “buds,” small bumps under the nipple between ages 8 and 13. It’s not unusual for breast development to be one-sided initially and to be a little tender.
Q. When should I begin to talk with my daughter about periods?
A. On average, menstruation begins within 2 – 2 ½ years after the development of breast “buds.” Talking about puberty isn’t a one-time conversation. If you haven’t already done so, the “buds” ‘ appearance is a great time to begin an honest and open discussion about the changes she can expect over the next years. It’s an amazing and special time in a girl’s life. Indeed, nothing to be embarrassed about.
Q. Are there any “red flags” I should be aware of?
A. Signs of puberty before eight years of age or very long after; body changes that progress too fast, and body changes occurring out of the usual order are all worth mentioning to your family health care provider. There are simple tests to determine if hormonal or glandular issues are a possible cause.
Next week: common problems of puberty in adolescent females, botanical treatments.