Precocious puberty in girls increased in the pandemic, and we finally know why – Teach Me About Science

During the COVID-19 pandemic many things changed and the lags derived from this situation are still evident today. One of the strangest and most intriguing situations occurred in girls around the world, where a significant and unusual number of cases of idiopathic precocious puberty (the specific cause is unknown) were observed.

In general, most people begin to experience puberty between the ages of 11 (girls) and 12 (boys), and a range of 8-13 years for girls and 9-14 for boys is considered normal.

For its part, precocious puberty refers to an early onset of puberty that is distinguished by the appearance of secondary sexual characteristics (breast development, pubic and axillary hair), among many other changes, before the age of 8 in the case of the girls.

This is a rare condition, so when this increase in the number of girls experiencing precocious puberty during the pandemic became apparent in different parts of the world, researchers began to suggest that this was not just a coincidence.

With the reports that showed this rare increase in cases of girls with idiopathic precocious puberty, it began to be determined with great certainty that there must have been one factor (or more) that occurred with greater incidence during the pandemic and was capable of triggering this situation.

Many possible causes have been investigated, including a probable effect of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and now a new study presented at the 60th Annual Meeting of the European Society for Pediatric Endocrinology in Rome has determined that it is probably nothing to do with said pathogen. , but with the time spent in front of smart devices.

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To better understand this association, you must take into account that it is specifically the blue light emitted by phones and tablets that can interfere with our system.

How did they determine this in the study?

To determine that this association is possible, the researchers exposed immature female rats to the spectrum of light that is mainly emitted by the screens of smart devices for different periods of time (short or long) daily.

Surprisingly, they observed that those rats that had been exposed to blue light for longer periods showed earlier characteristics of maturity compared to the others.

What can these results indicate?

Although it is true that more specific studies remain to be carried out to extrapolate these results with humans, the truth is that these results are sufficient to suggest that prolonged exposure to blue light emitted by smart devices, in addition to having an effect on melatonin (a hormone which regulates sleep cycles), is capable of altering the sex hormones that lead to puberty.

This is made more real by recognizing the increase in the use of electronic devices in children during the pandemic.

About how this factor affects melatonin, in general, this is because our brain interprets the blue hue of light as a signal to stay awake, which alters our sleep cycle with the use of these devices during night, causing melatonin levels to drop when they should actually be high.

What is believed so far is that, as specified in ScienceAlert, “the inhibition of melatonin at a crucial moment in our development could also tell the body that it is time to increase the hormones that prepare it for puberty”, but certainly more research is needed to confirm this fact.

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“We found that blue light exposure, sufficient to alter melatonin levels, is also capable of altering reproductive hormone levels and causing an earlier onset of puberty in our rat model. Also, the longer the exposure, the earlier the onset,” describes endocrinologist and lead author Aylin Kilinç Uğurlu of Gazi University.

“As this is a rat study, we cannot be sure that these findings will replicate in children, but these data suggest that blue light exposure could be considered a risk factor for early onset of puberty,” he says. Ugurlu

All the details of the research at: 60th Annual Meeting of the European Society for Pediatric Endocrinology.

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