Precocious puberty in girls increased during the pandemic, and we finally know why – Teach me about the science

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

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

Precocious puberty, on the other hand, refers to an early onset of puberty, characterized by the appearance of secondary sexual characteristics (breast development, pubic and axillary hair), among many other changes, before age 8 in the case of girls.

It’s a rare condition, so when an increase in the number of girls with precocious puberty during the pandemic became apparent in different parts of the world, researchers began to suggest that it wasn’t just a coincidence.

With reports showing this rare increase in girls with idiopathic precocious puberty, it began to be determined with great certainty that there must have been one factor (or more) that appeared with greater frequency during the pandemic and was able to cause this situation.

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

To better understand this connection, you should consider that it is the blue light emitted by phones and tablets that can interfere with our system.

How did they determine this in the study?

To establish that this connection is possible, the researchers exposed immature female rats to the spectrum of light emitted mainly from smart device screens for varying periods of time (short or long) each day.

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

What can these results show?

While it is true that more specific studies are yet to be performed to extrapolate these results to humans, the truth is that these results are sufficient to suggest that prolonged exposure to blue light emitted by smart devices, in addition to has an effect on melatonin (a hormone that regulates sleep cycles), is able to change the sex hormones that lead to puberty.

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

As for how this factor affects melatonin, in general, it’s because our brain interprets the blue tint of light as a signal to stay awake, which alters our sleep cycle with the use of these devices at night, causing levels to drop. of melatonin when it should actually be high.

What’s thought so far is that, as ScienceAlert points out, “inhibiting melatonin at a crucial time in our development may also tell the body it’s time to increase the hormones that prepare it for puberty,” but surely more research is needed to confirm this fact.

“We found that exposure to blue light, sufficient to alter melatonin levels, was also able to alter reproductive hormone levels and cause an earlier onset of puberty in our rat model.” Also, the longer the exposure, the earlier the onset,” describes endocrinologist and lead author Aileen Kilinch Ugurlu of Gazi University.

“Because this is a rat study, we cannot be sure that these findings will be replicated in children, but these data suggest that exposure to blue light may be considered a risk factor for early puberty,” he says. .

Full study details at: 60th Annual Meeting of the European Society of Pediatric Endocrinology.

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