This article is very dear to my heart, having two pre-teens and also as a Naturopath working with teens I am sensing a serious urgency to share and educate the importance of caring for teen physical and mental health at such a critical time in their life.
What EXACTLY is puberty?
Puberty is essentially the onset of adult reproduction, a milestone in development that involves a complex transformation of a child’s anatomy, physiology and behaviour at rapid speed! Puberty can offer a vital window of opportunity for healthy interventions that can impact their health positively for the rest of their life.
Puberty occurs in 5 stages, and are governed by the endocrine (hormonal) system that modulates the growth and development of the sexual glands and hormonal secretions.
First stage 6-8 years or adrenarche. This is a time when adrenal androgens increase to start the beginning of sexual maturation. Most commonly a child will experience a sudden growth spurt.
The second stage 10-12 years or gonadarche. A time for sexual organ growth, pubic hair and body shape changes begin to take place with the help of gonadal steroids, such as estradiol and testosterone.
Third stage 9-15 years growth spurt begins, boys gain more muscle mass, girls may experience more vaginal discharge as they get closer to menarche. Boys start to experience erections.
Fourth stage 11- 17 years, girls can begin menarche (this is often 2 years from breast buds). Irregular menstruation is normal. Boys begin to experience frequent erections and wet dreams. Body hair is thicker and boys facial hair starts to grow. Skin becomes oilier for both sexes. Boys voice deepens. After girls have menstruated for up to 10 months they will begin to ovulate.
Fifth stage 14-18 years both girls and boys at the end of puberty will reach their full height with gonadal hormones peaking. Genitals and pubic hair are now fully developed. Boys will grow chest hair and shaving may become necessary. Girls are now ovulating and menstruating more regularly with breasts and hips fully developed.
Important Nutrition for Puberty
Those who already have teenagers can attest that their teens have ravenous appetites, with the fridge door seemingly always open! Boys require an average of 2,800 calories per day and girls require and average of 2,200 calories per day.
Below is a list of essential nutrients and food. Teach your kids important skills and get them involved in meal planning, prepare shopping lists and cooking.
Iron: for healthy growth, energy, mental focus, immune and thyroid function. Food sources: Lentils, spinach, sesame & pumpkin seeds, red meat, poultry, olives, Swiss chard, kidney beans, blackstrap molasses, parsley, apricots, avocado, pine nuts.
Magnesium: for vascular and muscle health, blood sugar and calcium regulation, calms nervous system, reduction menstrual pain. Food sources: pumpkin seeds, spinach, sesame seeds, quinoa, cashews, sunflower seeds, navy beans, almonds, brewer’s yeast, cacao, kelp, figs, eggs, leafy greens, legumes and blackstrap molasses.
Vitamin D & K, Calcium,
Phosphorus: Important for healthy muscles, bones and teeth, protective against diseases and immune function. Food sources: sardines, eggs, shiitake mushrooms, liver, milk (in moderation overconsumption can lead to magnesium deficiency), leafy greens, parsley, broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, kelp, oats, almonds, beef, chicken, chickpeas, garlic, nuts, tahini.
Vitamin A: essential for vision, immune, brain, and thyroid function as well as reproductive organ and hormonal function/growth. Food sources: Liver, sweet potato, carrots, spinach, kale, apricots, eggs, leafy vegetables, cheese, papaya, mangos, peaches, alfalfa, asparagus, beetroots and turnips.
B vitamins: metabolism, nerve and muscle nutrients, brain and immune function, immunity, energy production, mental wellbeing. Food sources: Animal liver, kidney, mushroom, spinach, beet greens, tempeh, yoghurt, eggs, asparagus, dates, parsley, citrus, lentils, seafood, bananas, chickpeas, nuts, turkey, venison, broccoli, lettuce and turnips.
Vitamin C: antioxidant, immune booster, tissue healer. Food sources: Papaya, capsicum, broccoli, brussel sprouts, pineapple, kiwifruit, rockmelon, cauliflower, black currants, citrus fruit, tomatoes, cabbage, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, spinach, zucchini, fennel and parsley.
Zinc: Co-factor for 300 enzymatic processes, insulin regulation, wound healing, immunity, anti-viral, antioxidant, gut healing. Food sources: Beef, lamb, oysters, sunflower and sesame seeds, brewers yeast, lentils, cashews, turkey, quinoa,prawns, capsicums, egg, ginger, liver.
Selenium: Antioxidant, reproductive health, thyroid function. Food sources: Sardines, turkey, cod, chicken, lamb, scallops, beef, Brazil nuts, butter, cashews, liver, garlic, oysters, onions and turnip.
Eating a whole food diet that includes all or most of the above foods will also ensure they achieve enough protein, carbohydrates, fats and fibre to fuel their growth and development.
With the absence of a healthy diet and lifestyle the delicate hormonal changes can be disrupted leading to issues such as: dysmenorrhea – painful periods, menorrhagia - excessive period bleeding, chronic acne, obesity, sexual maturation delay, eating disorders, cardiovascular disease, allergies, mental illness, gastrointestinal conditions, hyperlipidemia and risk of osteoporosis.
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs)
I could easily dedicate another article to this topic, however it is essential to understand EDCs interfere with human hormonal modulation and function. EDCs mimic our hormones, blocking natural hormonal function and affect the production, distribution, metabolism and storage of hormones. EDCs have been linked to poor sperm quality, infertility, sex organ abnormalities, endometriosis, early puberty, metabolic issues, obesity, growth, learning disabilities, diabetes, respiratory problems, immune dysfunction, just to name a few! EDCs are in pesticides, plastics, food storage materials, industrial solvents, household cleaning and personal care products (make-up, perfume, deodorant, skin care, shampoo/conditioner, hair colour). How to avoid? Get savvy when shopping, consider Chemical Maze app and switch your household and personal care items for natural. Excellent reading for more guidance: Low Tox Life by Alexx Stuart.
Next month I’m very excited to talk about Teen Mental Health. I hope to share positive solutions so families and teens can support themselves and each other.
Take care of you and each other, love and light ~ Jaunita May, Your Family Naturopath