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Skepchick Quickies 3.3

Amanda

Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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  1. I stopped reading the puberty before 10 article after page 1. The woo is stong in that one :(
    It's impossible to distinguish fact from fiction. And 'have you seen a western doctor for this' made me slightly ill…

    1. I pushed on and after the first page, there was little if any other mention of quackery (except the guy who thinks sugar is a poison, but I think he's a legitmate, though borderline doctor), until the last page when it gets back to  the woman in the lead, who turns out to be running her own "herbal, non-toxic" cosmetics business.  There is absolutely no mention of how craptastic applied kinesiology is.  (Accorfing to the linked Wikipedia article, even AK'ers think that testing for allergies, toxins, etc. by having the patient hold a sealed glass container of the substance is wacky.   BTW,  the Wikipedia article also has a decent list of skeptical evaluations of applied kinesiology in the External Links section.)
       
      Is it possible that the writer thought the alt-med perspective was so ludicrous that all she needed to do was describe it objectively and all the readers would see that?  Either she's giving her readers too much credit, or I'm giving her too much credit…
       
      BTW, it only took 9 comments for someone to say it was poor reporting because it neglected this essential topic and ask "What about the boys?"  (That comment got 250 up-votes.)
       

  2. I agree with Konradius about the woo… Clearly not a competant scientific doctor in that first page.
     
    My thoughts on the puberty piece are probably a little abnormal… Basically, human beings have an incredibly long gestational period, and then an extended developmental period before we're considered fully functional adults of our species. If our bodies are beginning to display accelerated growth and development, isn't that an enhancement of the species? 
     
    I understand that external hormones may be having an effect, and that it's not exactly healthy. I don't even take the pill anymore because I don't think we fully understand the long-term effects of bovine hormone being constantly in our systems, and my family has a history of cervical cancer, etc. (At least three women in my family have had hysterectomies.)
     
    Basically, my thought is that if we're seeing a trend of advanced puberty, we could be looking at an overall shorter developmental period for human beings. Theoretically, if the body developes more quickly, so could the mind. We could be seeing the start of a shorter childhood, and therefore a longer adulthood in which we could accomplish even more.

    1. We could be seeing the start of a shorter childhood, and therefore a longer adulthood in which we could accomplish even more.

      I have to disagree.  I thought that the reason our brains take so long to mature is *because* they are so complicated.  If we reached our final adult form as quickly as, say, dogs do, we might not be much more intelligent than dogs.
       

    2. It's the physical development not neccessarily the mental development. Which is problematic since it means people would be sexually viable that much sooner than they're mentally cabable of handling the consequences and responsibilities.
      Also my freaking dog is so smart I swear she has opposable thumbs and somehow manages to hide them from me.

      1. I understand what you mean. My thinking was that due to faster development in our bodies, our brains would eventually begin to develop to match our bodies. We would, theoretically, have to begin thinking in more advanced ways at an earlier age. The reference to a shorter childhood and longer adulthood is a theoretical end–it would take a long time to get there, but it's a potential possibility.

  3. Reading the puberty story just proves to me how well meaning people can go so far off track.

    This woman is so hell bent on her daughter being “normal” that she is chasing answers from anyone who will tell her that she is or, if not, who/what to blame. What she is overlooking (and what three doctors told her) is that puberty onset at six, while early, is not abnormally so. She’s trying to fix something that ain’t broken.

    I think there is a (understandable) tendency to do this, much in the same way that some parents put their kids on Ritalin for being, well, kids. ADD and ADHD is widely acknowledged, buy doctors at least, as having been over diagnosed at least in part because of this fear of abnormality. I suspect that the “epidemic” of Autism Spectrum Disorder may have a similar small component. That’s not to say that it is even a conscious thought, or that it is a large part, or that anyone would even do it on purpose but I suspect that, strange as it may seem, having a child with a disorder or a disease is easier to deal with sometimes then having a child who just doesn’t listen, or isn’t too bright, or has impulse control problems, or what have you.

    Everyone wants their kids to be different, but not abnormal. I think it’s sad that this woman won’t accept that her child actually is normal.

    The other thing that struck me was that this “doctor” told her exactly what she suspected, even though it is unproven at best, and that this woman will probably be feeding into the huge pile of horseshit about “western” doctors not listening and how great alternatives are. Ugh, too bad science-based medicine needs to stick to provable facts.

    I’m so mad I’m shaking.

    1. I'm with you.  There was a throwaway line that broke my heart, about how the little girl "closed her eyes, as if to shut out the embarrassment" – not of her symptoms, but the fact that her mother keeps dragging her to practitioner after practitioner to talk about it

      While I sympathise with having concerns for your childrens health, I'm equally concerned by the harm that this kind of crusading can have on your child.  And it is crusading – the fact that she started a business producing hormone-free products kind of shows she's made the diagnosis and is looking for a professional, any professional who will agree with her.
      I'm not against looking for help and therapies, because extremely early puberty is not a benign thing and can have some less than pleasant effects, but at some stage you reach a point where your child needs acceptance more than they need to be "cured", or forced to be what their parents consider normal.

  4. My daughter is 6 years old and has started to show the signs of puberty.  In her case, the development is fairly advanced according to the bone growth measurements.  The key concerns we have with her are how much physical growth potential she has and how she is able to cope psychologically among her peer group with her body changes being so different than the other children.
    We have been to a pediatric endocrinologist, and his first reaction was that it was most likely precocious puberty, but not likely as far advanced to be really worried.  Then, after the blood test and x-ray he changed his tune.  According to her bone growth, she has potentially only a few more years of growth left, which means she could be well below 5' tall as an adult.
    So we were in a situation at first where there was probably no recommended treatment, but taking into account the advanced nature of her devlopment the doctor is now recommending a hormone treatment to stall her puberty for a few years.  It's an expensive treatment, but is shown to be very effective, with little in the way of side effects. 
    My point here is, I guess, that every case is a bit different.  It sounds as if Ainsley in the article is showing some signs, but still has normal bone growth – which means her growth potential is still in the normal range and she may yet reach a more normal stature.  So it sounds as if her mother was unsatisfied with the doctors' conclusion that treatment wasn't indicated in her case, and so went on to the woo.  I'm particularly disgusted by the applied kinesiologist's attitude, and I too could not read the rest of the article.  Maybe I'll give it another try once I've calmed down a bit.
     

    1. I’m not sure I would recommend it. After they moved on from the applied kinesiologist they moved on to such wonderful reporting “one theory is” (with no others given), to “evolutionary psychology offers a theory” (with no counter), to “here’s a doctor that thinks sugar is poison, let’s get his opinion”. Ugh.

      Combined with the fact that they focused on what the mother looked like (irrelevant), cited old studies that were questioned at that time, spouted as fact speculation about PBA, xeno-estrogens, and stress levels. Mentioned without much detail a 1973 incident involving PBB, and worst of all quoted a parent making a joke about keeping his daughter on the puberty stopping medication until she was 22.

      There may be a story to write about how environmental factors affect puberty, but this mess wasn’t it. Didn’t The New York Times used to be better than this, or am I remembering wrongly?

      I wish your daughter well, just remember that being happy and healthy is more important then being tall. :)

  5. Last I checked, the most popular, scientifically sound explanation for the change in menarche was the increasing amount of fat in first world diets.
    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/121/Supplement_3/S208.full
    That's not to say that any particular "precocious" child is overweight or has a bad diet, as these things are all on a gigantic bell curve.  But if we're talking statistics, the science on the overall effects is pretty clear.

  6. At least the letter to the tiny white man made me less grumpy. :)

    But I have to wonder if the cost-benefit analysis team that was in charge of telling The Ford Motor Company that moving a poorly placed bolt on the Pinto was more expensive than any potential lawsuits created by all the fiery explosions was also in charge of telling the Grand Old Party that little hormone pills are more expensive than the resultant abortions, wards of the state, and increased future prison population? Well, anyway they will at least get lots of future cheap labor, cannon fodder, and maybe even some good, God-fearin’ Christians to pump out even more cheap labor and cannon fodder.

    Holy shit, I seem to have overdosed on cynicism. I need a drink.

  7. Thanks for the well-wishes.  Yes, the height isn't as much of a concern – although my wife and I both being fairly tall makes us desire the same for our daughter, which shouldn't really be a huge factor.  It's more along the lines of how 'vertically challenged' people can struggle in a world seemingly made for taller folk.  Of course, most who are below the median height in a population do just fine and are quite happy being who they are.
    If it were only the height issue, we'd probably choose not to treat.  However, other factors at play (which just shows that every case is different), is that when we were planning to adopt our daughter we were told that she may have been exposed to alcohol in utero, and that FASD was a distinct possibility.  Well, fast-forward 6 years, and we have a preliminary diagnosis from a neurologist for alcohol-related brain abnormalities.  Without going TOO far off topic, this can (and in our case does appear to) affect emotional development, ability to cope, associate cause/effect, etc.  Given that her emotional age is about 3-4 years old, her ability to cope with body changes, hormonal effects on behaviour, etc, that makes treatment more of a priority.
    We're still waiting on some more test results, but it looks like hormone treatments are going to be recommended, and given the safety/effectiveness the research has shown, we will have no problem going down that road.
    Thank you for summarizing the rest of the article.  I think i will let it go, and not read the rest of it.  I wonder how long it will be, though, before one of my woo-soaked aunts finds the article and sends it to us.
    And yes, I had heard the same hypothesis that increased fat content in first-world diets are a potential factor in early puberty.  I neglected to raise this with the endocrinologist, though.  He did say that the vast majority of cases of precocious puberty have no discernable cause.  In some very rare cases, there is something like a tumor on/near the pituitary that can cause this (among other potentially nasty things).  One of the upcoming tests is an MRI to rule that out before treatment can begin.
     

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