(NaturalNews) Girls who eat a diet higher in meat reach puberty significantly earlier than girls who eat less meat, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Brighton and published in the journal Public Health Nutrition.
The researchers followed more than 3,000 girls from birth, analyzing their diets at the ages of three, seven and 10. At the age of 12 years and eight months, they compared the diets of the girls who had begun to menstruate with those of the girls who had not.
They found that girls who ate 12 or more servings of meat per week at age seven were 75 percent more likely to have started their periods by the end of the study than the girls who consumed the least meat at that age. Girls who ate more than eight servings of meat a week at age three were also significantly more likely to start their periods earlier than those who rarely ate meat.
The age at which children reach puberty has been steadily dropping since the beginning of the twentieth century, resulting in longer lifetime exposure to sex hormones and a correspondingly higher risk of certain health conditions (such as breast cancer in women). In part, this trend has been attributed to increased body weight. In the current study, however, the researchers controlled to exclude body weight as an influencing factor.
The researchers attributed the effect of meat largely to improved nutrition.
"Meat is a good source of zinc and iron, requirements for which are high during pregnancy," lead researcher Imogen Rogers said. "A meat-rich diet could be seen as indicating suitable nutritional conditions for a successful pregnancy."
Another major factor believed responsible for earlier puberty, however, is the growing prevalence of endocrine (hormone)-disrupting chemicals in the environment. The majority of these chemicals are fat-soluble, and thus build up in the bodies of humans and other animals over the course of a lifetime.
To limit exposure to endocrine-disrupting substances, the National Resources Defense Council suggests limiting consumption of fatty animal foods such as meat, seafood and dairy.