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N Engl J Med. 2003 Apr 17;348(16):1527-36.

Blood lead concentration and delayed puberty in girls.

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  • 1National Center for Environmental Assessment, Office of Research and Development, Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC 20460, USA. selevan.sherry@epa.gov

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Environmental lead exposure has been linked to alterations in growth and endocrine function. It is not known whether such exposure affects pubertal development.

METHODS:

We analyzed the relations between blood lead concentration and pubertal development among girls (defined as females 8 to 18 years of age) who were enrolled in a cross-sectional study (the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) in which race was self-reported or proxy-reported: 600 were non-Hispanic white, 805 were non-Hispanic African-American, and 781 were Mexican-American girls. Puberty was measured on the basis of the age at menarche and Tanner stage for pubic-hair and breast development.

RESULTS:

Geometric mean lead concentrations were less than 3 microg per deciliter (0.144 micromol per liter) in all three groups. As compared with concentrations of 1 microg per deciliter (0.048 micromol per liter), lead concentrations of 3 microg per deciliter were associated with decreased height (P<0.001), after adjustment for age, race, and other factors, but not with body-mass index or weight. Blood lead concentrations of 3 microg per deciliter were associated with significant delays in breast and pubic-hair development in African-American and Mexican-American girls. The delays were most marked among African-American girls; in this group, the delays in reaching Tanner stages 2, 3, 4, and 5 associated with a lead concentration of 3 microg per deciliter as compared with 1 microg per deciliter were 3.8, 5.3, 5.8, and 2.1 months, respectively, for breast development and 4.0, 5.5, 6.0, and 2.2 months, respectively, for pubic-hair development; the associated delay in age at menarche was 3.6 months. In white girls, there were nonsignificant delays in all pubertal measures in association with a lead concentration of 3 microg per deciliter.

CONCLUSIONS:

These data suggest that environmental exposure to lead may delay growth and pubertal development in girls, although confirmation is warranted in prospective studies.

Copyright 2003 Massachusetts Medical Society

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PMID:
12700372
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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