I never knew that there was a link between age at menarche and an increased risk of breast cancer until I found myself in a doctor’s office being asked all kinds of questions regarding my family history and background. I was 13 back in 1980 when I got my first “period.” According to WomensHealth.gov, the average American girl has her menarche now around the age of 12. However, girls as young as 7 and 8 are getting their periods.
Once breast development begins, the first menstrual period usually occurs within 24 to 30 months, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Once menstruation begins a girl will usually continue to grow for only about two more years and then they reach their full adult height. So early menarche can also lead to shorter height as an adult.
When a girl gets their period before the age of 12 they are considered to have an added risk factor for the chance of getting breast cancer. This is only one risk factor, so don’t start worrying about your daughters and jumping to conclusions just yet. Since menarche is considered the beginning of puberty there is an increase in estrogen being produced. Increased levels of estrogen are also common in women with breast cancer.
Today in the United States about 16% of girls enter puberty at a young age of 7 and 30% by the age of 8. The age is getting younger and younger and may be due to several factors. A girl’s diet is known to have an impact on age of onset of puberty. High intakes of meat, dairy and sugar and low intake of plant-based foods can lead to earlier development.
When looking at trends across the world, it is estimated that the normal, healthy age of menarche should fall between the ages of 15 and 18. This would be under an optimal nutrition diet. In the U.S. we eat a “western” diet full of processed foods, refined sugars, meat and dairy. Our children are suffering from childhood obesity and studies show that a higher childhood BMI goes along with earlier puberty. Excess body fat alters ones level of hormones leading to early menarche.
Meat and dairy intake also go hand in hand with ingestion of environmental endocrine-disrupting chemicals which are in animal tissues. Chemicals in plastics, pesticides and industrial chemicals such as BPA and phthalates are also associated with early puberty in girls.
We are a society that consumes high amounts of fast food, soda, and processed foods that are not only making us obese but are also disrupting normal development. The longer a female is exposed to ovarian hormones (and it is longer if you start menarche at a young age), the more increased their risk for developing breast cancer.
If you want to help your young daughters to decrease their risk of developing breast cancer and hopefully delay the onset of menarche, incorporate a few simple changes. Help them to exercise and be active. Don’t let them spend all their time on electronics and in front of the television. Get them moving! Decrease (or even better, eliminate) their meat and dairy consumption. Try almond milk, veggie burgers, and more whole grains with vegetables and fruits. Minimize all processed foods and sugary foods. Buy organic and avoid plastics that have BPA and chemicals in them.
We all want our children to live happy and healthy lives. Lets help them avoid becoming one more breast cancer statistic.
Choosing healthy living over dying 🙂