More than one study has detected the increase in the number during the first months of the pandemic than is normally a rare conditionhighlighting a potential link between the virus and a trigger in early adolescence.
Now, a study presented at the 60th Annual Meeting of the European Society of Pediatric Endocrinology in Rome suggests it may have nothing to do with infection.
Rather, time spent during lockdowns scrolling through smart devices for hours on end could be to blame.
Researchers at Gazi University and Ankara City Hospital in Turkey exposed 18 immature female rats to a spectrum of light predominantly emitted by our LED screens for relatively short or long periods each day, finding which bathed in the blue light for longer periods showed the hallmarks. of maturity earlier than the rest.
“We found that exposure to blue light, sufficient to alter melatonin levels, is also capable of altering reproductive hormone levels and causing an earlier onset of puberty in our rat model. In addition , the longer the exposure, the sooner it will start,” says the endocrinologist and endocrinologist. lead author Aylin Kilinç Uğurlu of Gazi University.
While it’s far from a blow to the case for why more girls around the world might have hit puberty when they did during the pandemic, it’s a finding that should be taken seriously as we depend more and more of personalized digital technology.
Statistically speaking, most of us begin experiencing the joys (and horrors) of puberty at age 12, amid a bell curve that stretches from ages 9 to 14 for boys and 8 to 13 in girls
Precocious puberty in girls is defined as the signs of secondary sexual characteristics that appear before the age of eight. It is difficult to say with confidence how many girls this includes, as measures of the prevalence of the disease vary considerably around the world.
The reasons for the early rise in hormones are also a mystery. Leaving aside forms of cancer or other disorders of the nervous system, a good proportion are idiopathic, meaning there is no obvious cause.
So when the number of girls reporting an idiopathic form of precocious puberty in Turkey jumped from 25 in April 2019 to 58 in March 2020, researchers were perplexed, proposing anything from high-calorie foods until the pandemic scare.
One intriguing possibility was the sharp increase in the use of smart devices. Or, to be more precise, a significant increase in the time we spend exposed to the blue light emitted by our phones and tablets every day.
Being the diurnal animals that we are, evolution has shaped our bodies to interpret the blue hue of daylight as waking hours and the less vibrant glow of dawn, dusk and evening as ideal to rest
This relationship could be so deeply connected to our functionality that any serious disruption of the pattern could affect our health in profound ways, most likely by altering the tides of a hormone called melatonin.
Although it is generally thought of as the chemical that helps us sleep at night, inhibiting melatonin at a crucial time in our development could also signal to the body that it is time to increase the hormones that prepare the body for sleep. puberty
Using rats as a more convenient test subject, the team of researchers showed that this hypothesis could have a lot going for it.
Female rats exposed to twice the duration of blue light each day not only experienced their rodent version of puberty at a relatively younger age than their peers, but also had lower levels of melatonin and higher levels of of the reproductive chemical signals estradiol and luteinizing hormone.
This does not imply that other factors cannot play an important role. The biology of puberty is incredibly complex, leaving plenty of room for a wide variety of influences that are shaping the timeline of adolescence in humans.
“Since this is a rat study, we cannot be sure that these findings will be replicated in children, but these data suggest that exposure to blue light could be considered a risk factor for the onset of earlier puberty,” says Uğurlu.
This research was presented at the 60th Annual Meeting of the European Society of Pediatric Endocrinology.