What foods you shouldn’t be feeding them and a few other products to avoid.
When we talk about “hormone imbalance,” we’re usually referring to adults. But kids have hormones too, and imbalances are not unheard of. Did you know that certain lifestyle choices can actually cause hormone imbalance in your kids?
Before we get alarmist though, let us first reassure you: in general, kids’ health is incredibly resilient. And so are endocrine (hormone) systems. So let this be a guide to eliminating the foods that mess with it, and adding in foods that support it – your kids health will thrive all the more when you make these changes. And, bonus: so will yours! When a home and the foods prepared there are in alignment with our bodies, beautiful, gorgeous things can happen.
Let’s start by talking about how hormone imbalance manifests in young adults, and why it’s a cause for concern.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN A CHILD’S HORMONES ARE IMBALANCED?
First of all, “hormone imbalance” can mean so many things with kids, because it’s a catch-all phrase that includes everything from suppressed melatonin (a hormone that helps children sleep; when it’s suppressed, they can experience insomnia and anxiety) to excess estrogen (a hormone every child has – boys too! – that helps create healthy bones; too much can create early puberty). So we’re not just talking about one condition, as hormone health governs much of your child’s overall health. Too much screen time, for example, can manifest in a hormone imbalance with kids that prevents deep sleep, which prevents deep healing, which sets them up for brain inflammation. Yikes! So, there’s that one.
But since we’re focusing on food in this article, let’s look at endocrine disruptors, since that’s typically what we talk about when we talk about food and hormone trouble. Can food really interfere with your child’s hormone development?
WHAT ARE ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS?
You can find an in-depth primer on hormone disruptors here, but we also like this lay definition from Green Child Magazine:
Your body can only function smoothly if the proper balance of hormones is in your bloodstream. When the receptors in your body are exposed to an abundance of hormones – real or not – chemical messages are received and your body reacts accordingly.
Endocrine disruptors and hormones work much in the same way. Hormones are chemical messengers. Their purpose is to bind and give the receptors in our bodies specific instructions to perform. The chemicals that mimic hormones will act in much the same way as the chemical messenger they are copying. So if an endocrine disruptor is similar to estrogen, your body will end up producing more female sex hormones than it needs. Conversely, endocrine disruptors may act more as a block to other hormones. In the previous example, that means your body would produce lower levels of estrogen. Although a little more or a little less of a hormone may not seem like a big deal, even just a small upset in our body’s internal balancing act can result in major consequences. When we are exposed to endocrine disruption, we become at risk for cancer, obesity, infertility, and neurological disorders — just to name a few.”
So when we talk about endocrine disruptors, we’re talking about chemicals that do a fake-out on your body, sending it off to diligently prepare more, say, estrogen, when it really shouldn’t. Now, why is that bad?
WHY SHOULD I BE CONCERNED ABOUT ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS AND MY KIDS?
The biggest concerns with kids and hormone imbalance (probably because it’s gotten a lot of media attention) is early onset puberty, and genital abnormalities. While the latter is somewhat rare, the former is a trend that has been growing for a while now (here’s a story from CNN in 2010 about it, and here’s a more recent story from Newsweek). A statistic from that Newsweek story helps put this into perspective:
“At the turn of the 20th century, the average age for an American girl to get her period was 16 to 17. Today, that number has plummeted to less than 13, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.”
It can be unnerving to parents when their daughter experiences the most extreme outcome, a diagnosis called “precocious puberty.” With this condition, young girls can experience breast development, growth of pubic hair, moodiness, and even their first period before age 10. But the outward manifestation of early onset puberty is one thing – the increased cancer risk is another. One study found a link between this trend and increased vulnerability to breast cancer and other reproductive cancers:
“[There is] up to a 30 percent increased risk for breast cancer when a woman experiences her first period at a younger age. [And] for each year that age of menarche was delayed, the risk of premenopausal breast cancer was reduced by 9 percent, and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer was reduced by 4 percent.”
Considering that estrogen – especially when combined with stress hormones – can contribute to the development of some cancers, it’s not a good health situation when an early-maturing girl produces more estrogen over the years. This elevates her lifetime risk, so when early production can be avoided, it should be.
SO HOW DO I REDUCE THE RISK? i.e. WHAT FOODS SHOULD I AVOID?
Ah, finally, the answer you’ve all been waiting for!
Now that we’ve set the groundwork for endocrine disruptors and kids, let’s talk about what to ex out of your family meals.
In general, it’s less about the “what” with food, and more about the “how.” How is it getting to you, and how was it grown or raised? Here’s a list of some of the most common, and how you can avoid them:
- BPA: Mimics the action of estrogen. Linked to early puberty, breast cancer, and heart disease. Found in plastic water bottles and the lining of food Avoid bottled water (use reusable containers, fill with purified water) and look for “BPA-free” on canned food items.
- Lead: Reduces sex hormone production and interrupts adrenal glands. Found in some drinking water, depending on your area. Invest in a water filter and fill your child’s bottles only with purified water.
- Organophosphate pesticides: Reduces testosterone production, interferes with testosterone signaling, can create thyroid dysfunction. Found in conventionally farmed fruits and vegetables. Buy organic.
- Soy: Mimics estrogen. This one’s not so secret: You can find it in any product that touts soy as an ingredient, from soy milk to veggie burgers. Reach for coconut, almond, or oat milk instead, and check out ingredient lists for soy.
- Dioxin: Disrupts both male and female sex hormone signaling, can reduce sperm quality and lower the sperm count in men. Found in non-organic milk, eggs, meat, cheese, and butter. Buy organic for these items, and/or eat fewer animal products.
More of the most common endocrine disruptors can be found here, but as you can see from the above, there are some good, basic rules of thumb to avoid hormone imbalance in your kids:
- Filter your water,
- Buy organic,
- Eat less animal products,
- Eat less processed food in general.
Here’s to your family’s health! What are you guys doing to promote hormone health? We’d love to hear from you on Facebook.
ADDITIONAL LINKS + RESOURCES:
 “YIKES: Too Much Screen Time is Making Your Kids Moody and Insane,” read more at: https://www.popsugar.com/moms/Effects-Screen-Time-Kids-45007913
 “The Dangers of Endocrine Disruptors and How to Avoid Them,” read more at: https://www.greenchildmagazine.com/endocrine-disruptors/
 “Study: More U.S. Girls Starting Puberty Early,” read more at: http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/08/09/girls.starting.puberty.early/index.html
 “Puberty Comes Earlier and Earlier for Girls,” read more at: https://www.newsweek.com/2015/02/06/puberty-comes-earlier-and-earlier-girls-301920.html
 “Identifying Opportunities for Cancer Prevention During Pre-Adolescence and Adolescence: Puberty as a Window of Susceptibility,” read more at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4037133/
 “Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors,” read more at: https://www.ewg.org/research/dirty-dozen-list-endocrine-disruptors#.W1-MjVMvzFQ