The American Journal of Epidemiology has published some interesting research findings following its population-based cohort study entitled Maternal Smoking During Pregnancy and Timing of Puberty in Sons and Daughters.
Putting aside the health risks to the baby and herself caused by a mother smoking during pregnancy, a pattern emerged whereby sons experienced earlier genital and pubic hair development plus voice breaking, and daughters experienced earlier breast and pubic hair development, as well as starting their periods earlier.
The Danish study authors stated: 'Between 2012 and 2017, 15,819 children from the Danish National Birth Cohort, born during 2000-2003, provided half-yearly information on puberty from the age of 11 years. We estimated adjusted age differences (in months) at attaining various pubertal milestones, including Tanner stages, per 10 daily cigarettes smoked in first trimester.' Concluding, 'Fetal exposure to tobacco smoke may advance timing of puberty in boys and girls'.
These outcomes, showing that puberty may be more likely to start earlier in both male and female children born to mothers who smoked whilst pregnant may have a further link concerning these children's likelihood of developing premature hair loss
Long-term health effects of early puberty
Early puberty - or 'precocious puberty' - is defined by the NHS in the UK as signs of puberty starting to emerge before the age of 8 years old for girls and 9 years old for boys. In many cases it may be an inherited trait, though there are also a number of health issues which may be responsible for this early onset, including brain damage, brain tumours, thyroid disorders
or problems with the ovaries.
However, early puberty is a growing trend with studies in the USA showing the average age for girls to start being 9 years old in 2011, compared to nearly 12 years old in the 1970s. Furthermore, this affects different races to greater degrees with a BBC Health Gap report
quoting a separate study which 'found that 18% of white, 43% of Black non-Hispanic and 31% of Hispanic girls hit puberty by their ninth birthday'.
The concern behind this trend, and the corresponding research, is that early puberty has been linked to diseases and poor health later in life. These include increased risks of diabetes
, HPV, breast cancer, heart disease
, substance abuse - including alcohol
and smoking cigarettes and marijuana, depression
, eating disorders and anti-social behaviour, according to Louise Greenspan, a paediatric endocrinologist who also co-wrote the book, The New Puberty: How to Navigate Early Development in Today’s Girls.
A 2015 report published in Scientific Today demonstrated how researchers from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge found 48 separate health conditions to be associated with the age at which boys and girls started puberty. After reviewing data from nearly half a million people accessed via the UK Biobank, higher risks for heart disease, depression and type 2 diabetes in both men and women were found as well as further links to irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, glaucoma and psoriasis
as well as early menopause in women.
The study's lead author, Dr Felix Day, said of the findings: “Up until now, the link between early puberty and risk of disease has been blamed on weight and obesity, but our findings suggest that men and women of a normal weight who go through puberty relatively early or late may also carry these risks."
Whilst it is vital to find ways in which to help those affected to prevent these health issues, it is also critical to identify ways in which early puberty may be brought on, which is angle the Danish maternal smoking study has taken. Whilst smoking is widely ill-advised, this latest evidence provides another incentive to give up for expectant mothers.
Links to hair loss
There are various ways in which the effects of early puberty may be associated with hair loss in both young men and women.
The health issues shown to be more prevalent in adults who started puberty early, including diabetes and heart disease, have established connections to thinning hair in both men and women. This can happen directly as a result of the stress caused to the body, as well as being a side-effect of prescription medication
used to treat the conditions. This condition is known as Telogen Effluvium
when it lasts for up to six months, and Chronic Telogen Effluvium
when it lasts for longer. It presents as diffusely thinning hair which sheds from all over the scalp and around 30 per cent of scalp hair may be affected at once, causing a noticeable drop in hair density as well as what can appear to be sudden and extreme hair fall.
Furthermore, lifestyle issues such as smoking
and drug-taking have been shown to damage the hair, making it increasingly dry, weaker and causing hair loss. Smoking has also been linked to the hair going prematurely grey
Lastly, genetic hairloss - more commonly referred to as Male Pattern Baldness
and, for women, Female Pattern Hair Loss
- can begin any time following puberty in genetically predisposed individuals. It is permanent, affecting the top of the head from hairline to crown, and its onset can be sped up, or the rate of shedding exacerbated, by issues which place strain on the body, from underlying illnesses to emotional
or physical stress. Therefore, the earlier puberty comes on, the earlier hereditary hair loss may start, especially where there are exacerbating factors known to spark this permanent condition, including the illnesses, health and lifestyle issues outlined above.
Whilst the listed hair loss conditions
can all be effectively treated, it is important to get a professional diagnosis first in order to establish the most suitable solutions based on a range of factors including pattern and level of shedding, medical profile and age. Following a consultation, appropriate hair loss treatment
course recommendations can be made based on the specialist's findings.