Adrenarche: What Is It and How Does It Affect Children?
Adrenarche is a normal stage of development that occurs in both boys and girls before puberty. It involves the increase of certain hormones called androgens, which are produced by the adrenal glands. These hormones can cause some physical and emotional changes, such as hair growth, body odor, acne, and mood swings. Adrenarche usually starts between the ages of 6 and 8 years, but it can vary depending on the individual. Here are some facts and tips about adrenarche and how to support your child during this time.
What causes adrenarche?
The exact cause of adrenarche is not fully understood, but it is thought to be a natural process that prepares the body for puberty. The adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys, produce several hormones that regulate various functions in the body, such as salt balance, stress response, and growth. During adrenarche, the adrenal glands start to produce more androgens, which are also known as “male” hormones. Androgens can have different effects on different parts of the body, such as hair follicles, sweat glands, skin cells, and brain cells.
What are the signs and symptoms of adrenarche?
Adrenarche can cause some noticeable changes in your child’s appearance and behavior. Some of these changes may include:
- Pubic hair and/or armpit hair growth. This is one of the most common signs of adrenarche, and it may occur before any other changes. The hair may be fine and sparse at first, but it may become thicker and darker over time.
- Body odor. Androgens can change the composition of sweat and make it more prone to bacterial growth. This can result in a stronger or different smell than before.
- Acne. Androgens can also stimulate the production of oil (sebum) in the skin, which can clog the pores and cause pimples or blackheads. This type of acne is usually mild and affects mainly the forehead, nose, and chin.
- Mood swings. Androgens can affect the brain chemistry and influence emotions, such as anger, sadness, anxiety, or excitement. Your child may experience more frequent or intense mood changes than before.
Not all children experience all of these changes during adrenarche. Some may notice only one or two differences, while others may not notice anything at all. It is important to remember that these changes are normal and natural, and they do not mean that your child is starting puberty too early.
How is adrenarche different from puberty?
Adrenarche is a separate stage of development that happens before puberty. Puberty is the process of reaching sexual maturity, which involves changes in the reproductive organs and secondary sex characteristics. Puberty usually starts between the ages of 9 and 14 years for girls and between 10 and 15 years for boys, but it can vary depending on genetics, nutrition, health, and environment.
Some of the signs of puberty include:
- Growth spurt. Your child may grow taller and gain weight rapidly during puberty.
- Breast development in girls. The breasts may start to grow as early as 8 years old or as late as 13 years old. They may be tender or sore at first.
- Testicular enlargement in boys. The testicles may start to grow as early as 9 years old or as late as 14 years old. They may also produce more sperm.
- Voice change in boys. The voice may start to deepen around 11 to 15 years old due to the growth of the larynx (voice box).
- Menstruation in girls. The first period may occur around 10 to 16 years old due to the maturation of the ovaries and uterus.
- Facial hair in boys. The beard and mustache may start to grow around 12 to 16 years old due to the increase of testosterone.
Adrenarche does not directly cause puberty, but it may be related to it in some ways. For example, some studies have suggested that early adren