New Study Links Hormone Disruptors to Earlier Puberty and Health Risks

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A study published last week highlights a concerning trend: American girls are reaching puberty earlier than ever before, with significant long-term health risks. Over the past decades, the average age of puberty onset has decreased, leading to a range of potential health issues including mental health problems, increased risk of breast cancer, and fertility challenges later in life.

Research has consistently shown that the age at which girls reach puberty is declining most rapidly among racial minority groups, girls from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and those with higher body mass indexes (BMIs), reported The New York Times.

Important Takeaways From the New Study

Key findings of the recent study include:

  • Mental Health: Early puberty is linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and social isolation due to the physical and emotional changes occurring at a younger age.
  • Physical Health: Early onset puberty is associated with a greater risk of breast cancer and other chronic health conditions like coronary heart disease.
  • Environmental Factors: Contributing factors include childhood obesity, stress, improved nutrition, and exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

On May 31, 2024, PBS reported on this important study and its implications in an interview with Dr. Shruthi Mahalingaiah of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Hormone Disruptors in Hair Relaxers

Chemical hair relaxers have substances called endocrine-disrupting chemicals. These chemicals can affect your endocrine system, which includes important glands like the thyroid, ovaries, pancreas, and adrenal glands. As a result, hormone levels change. Some of these harmful chemicals, like phthalates and parabens, are found in hair relaxers.

In 2023, several important studies have shown a link between chemical hair relaxers and higher rates of uterine cancer. These relaxers work by breaking down hair proteins to make hair straight. In October 2023, under pressure from Democratic Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Shontel Brown, the FDA proposed banning hair-smoothing products with formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing chemical.

A study from Boston University, published on October 10, 2023, found that postmenopausal Black women who used chemical hair relaxers more than twice a year or for over five years have a higher risk of uterine cancer. The Black Women’s Health Study (BWHS) followed 44,798 Black women for up to 22 years and discovered that postmenopausal women who used hair relaxers for at least 10 years had a higher rate of uterine cancer, regardless of how often they used them.

Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Update

As more research highlights the risks, many Black women have sued major beauty brands like L’Oreal and Revlon. They claim these products cause uterine cancer, fibroid tumors, and infertility.

The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has combined all federal lawsuits related to chemical hair relaxers into a new class action MDL (IN RE: HAIR RELAXER MARKETING, SALES PRACTICES, AND PRODUCTS LIABILITY LITIGATION, MDL No. 3060). About 60 cases were moved to the Northern District of Illinois to be overseen by Judge Mary Rowland.

As of May 1, 2024, the JPML reported 8,468 hair relaxer lawsuits are pending in the MDL.

In early May 2024, a second wave of defendants was added to the chemical hair relaxers litigation, according to Levin Papantonio Rafferty (LPR) Attorney Chelsie Green, who serves on the Leadership Development Committee for the hair relaxer MDL.