Does Nutrition Affect Puberty?

Puberty marks the entry of a child into adolescence and sexual maturity. During puberty, your body goes through many changes that affect the way you look, feel and behave. Eating a healthy diet affects the age at which you reach puberty as well as your growth during puberty. Talk to your doctor about your eating habits to make sure they keep you healthy during this important time of growth.

Puberty Features

A series of hormonal changes triggers the production of luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone, which begin changes in your body. Boys and girls enter a growth spurt in which they get taller and experience redistribution of weight on their bodies. Young men begin producing testosterone and adult sperm cells. The eggs in a young woman's ovaries begin to mature and she produces estrogen. These physiological changes mark your movement toward sexual maturity.

Age of Onset

The age of onset of puberty depends on a variety of factors, including nutrition. Most girls enter puberty between age 8 and 13, while guys enter puberty from age 10 to 15. A 2010 study published in "Pediatrics" by Frank Biro found that girls begin puberty at a younger age than in previous decades. The modern American diet, which includes many processed, high-fat foods, may be to blame for this phenomenon. Being overweight or obese increases the likelihood that a girl will enter puberty earlier than average. Obesity may delay the onset of puberty in boys.

Research presented at the 2008 annual meeting of the Endocrine Society by scientist Deborah Sloboda found that pregnant rats that ate a high-fat diet had babies that reached puberty sooner. This suggests that a mother's prenatal diet may affect her child's age of pubertal onset.

Nutritional Needs

In addition to affecting the age of pubertal onset, nutrition affects a child's progression through puberty. Puberty triggers a growth spurt, which increases your daily caloric needs. Following a healthy diet helps your body grow without becoming overweight. An adolescent also needs more protein, iron, calcium, zinc and folate during puberty for healthy growth. Menstruating girls are at an especially high risk of iron deficiency. Failing to get enough calcium or protein during puberty may damage your bone and muscle growth, which could affect your health later in life.

Considerations

In addition to delaying the onset of puberty, being overweight could cause hormonal imbalances that lead to serious health problems. Maintaining a healthy diet before and during puberty is essential to proper growth and development. Other factors, including genetics and environmental agents, also affect pubertal onset and development. Talk to your doctor about your diet to make sure you get enough nutrients during puberty.

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