Updated: Jan 28, 2022
Most girls will enter puberty between the ages of 8 to 13 years old. It can be an overwhelming, and/or exciting time in a young girls life; it's a good time to discuss what to expect with your daughter before she experiences changes in her body. For girls who are especially shy or uncomfortable, there are loads of great books and resources available to keep them informed. The first sign of puberty in young girls is usually breast buds, or sometimes pubic or underarm hair growth, or sometimes even a change on body odour. Girls undergo a rapid rate of growth during this time (growing at a faster rate than when they were babies!), & typically their menstrual cycle will begin 2 or so years after their breast buds first appeared. Nutrition is an important regulator of growth, and provides critical nutrients that are required to build the hormones needed for puberty, so it is a really important time to to look at your daughter's food & nutrient intake.
To go through puberty, a lot of hormonal changes are occurring in a girls body: an increase in luteinising hormone & follicle stimulating hormone, which stimulate the production of oestrogen & progesterone. In addition to the sex hormones, growth is regulated by an increase in growth hormone (GH), and IGF-I and insulin. So there's a lot going on! The sex hormones can take a little time to balance and establish - in particular, it can take some time for progesterone to start being produced, so it is common for girls to have an irregular cycle and heavy bleeding for the first year or two of menstruating. (However, if irregular and/or heavy periods continue after two years; it’s worth seeking some medical advice, as these can lead to iron deficiency, or indicate other hormonal issues.) The changes in hormones can also cause moodiness in your teen or tween. And they can exacerbate or trigger issues like anxiety, or skin issues like acne.
It is also common to see your daughter gain some weight in this time. Weight gain during puberty is physiologic because normal puberty in girls is accompanied by increases of BMI and subcutaneous adiposity.
How can we support our girls through this transition?
Support their liver
Detoxification (or conjugation) through the liver is an important part of eliminating excess hormones, & helps with regulation, so support your daughter's liver & detoxification processes through serving up lots of leafy greens, lots of cruciferous vegetable, onions, garlic, beetroot, artichoke, asparagus & citrus fruits like grape fruit, lemon & lime.
Support their gut
Excess hormones are also excreted through our stool, so support your child's gut & effective stool elimination habits with a high fibre diet; serve a variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, wholegrains, nuts & seeds.
Particular nutrients for hormonal & nervous system health
To build and make our sex hormones, our bodies need particular supply of certain nutrients, ;
zinc (found in oysters, red meat
B6 (found in beef liver, tuna, salmon, chicken, eggs, chickpeas & dark leafy greens)
magnesium (pepitas, chia seeds, almonds, spinach & leafy greens)
omega-3 fatty acids (oily fish like mackerel & salmon, cod liver oil, oysters & seafood, chia seeds, flaxseed)
iron (organ meats, red meat & poultry, tofu, lentils & most protein foods)
In general, all aspects of a healthy menstrual cycle will be supported by a wholefood, anti-inflammatory diet (like the Mediterranean Diet) - low in sugar and refined carbohydrates, rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes & whole grains, seafood, eggs, nuts & seeds, & grass fed meat & poultry.
Some Resources to Help
Welcome to Your Period by Yumi Stynes & Melissa Kang
It's Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
The Edge of Thirteen by Nova Weetman (I read this after my daughter, and it gave me great insight to me for how a young girl could feeling about their body changing!)
Dinu M, Colombini B, Pagliai G, Cesari F, Gori A, Giusti B, Marcucci R, Sofi F. Effects of a dietary intervention with Mediterranean and vegetarian diets on hormones that influence energy balance: results from the CARDIVEG study. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2020 May;71(3):362-369. doi: 10.1080/09637486.2019.1658723. Epub 2019 Aug 28. PMID: 31462113.
Soliman A, De Sanctis V, Elalaily R. Nutrition and pubertal development. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2014;18(Suppl 1):S39-S47. doi:10.4103/2230-8210.145073