Danish researchers have discovered a possible link between the environment and the onset of puberty.
Although our genes largely determine when we will enter puberty, there are a number of other factors that can influence when it starts.
Researchers have been studying chemical modifications – called epigenetic modifications – that occur when children enter puberty, and the results suggest that those changes are heavily involved in defining the onset of puberty.
The age that Danish girls start puberty continues to fall and the average age is now 10. However, there has been a less dramatic fall in age among boys, leading some researchers to believe that genes alone are not responsible for the onset of puberty.
It’s not just in the genes
The new study carried out at Rigshospitalet in co-operation with the University of Copenhagen focused on the role of epigenetics and found a number of areas in which they controlled the onset of puberty.
Epigenetics is an important way in which the environment communicates with genes. Environmental and lifestyle factors can affect the epigenetic regulation of genes. Epigenetic changes during puberty are indicators of how environmental factors can affect the onset of puberty.
“To our knowledge, this study is the first to demonstrate how the environment can affect pubertal onset in humans,” said Professor Anders Juul, a senior author of the study.
“It gives us significant insight into the crucial role of epigenetic factors on our reproductive development.”
Juul said the study “emphasises the importance of understanding the role of environmental impact on pubertal development”.