A rise in the number of girls experiencing idiopathic precocious puberty, or abnormally early onset of puberty, has been linked to COVID-19 as one of the more confusing health crises to affect the global population.
There has been more than one study that has noted the increase in cases of what is usually a rare condition during the early months of the pandemic, showing a probable connection between the virus and an early adolescent trigger.
Currently, a study presented at the 60th Annual European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology Meeting in Rome raises the possibility that it may not even be connected to the disease at all. Instead, browsing endlessly on mobile devices when in a lockdown may be to blame.
"We have found that blue light exposure, sufficient to alter melatonin levels, is also able to alter reproductive hormone levels and cause earlier puberty onset in our rat model," endocrinologist and lead author Aylin Kilinç Uğurlu from Gazi University said. "In addition, the longer the exposure, the earlier the onset."
Researchers from Gazi University and Ankara City Hospital in Turkey exposed 18 immature female rats to a spectrum of light that is primarily emitted by our LED screens for relatively short or long periods of time each day. They discovered that the rats who were exposed to the blue-tinged light for longer periods of time displayed the signs of maturity earlier than the other rats.
The reason why more girls may have reached puberty at the same time as the pandemic is far from clear-cut, but this result should be taken seriously as our reliance on individualized digital technologies grows.
Statistically, most of us begin to experience puberty around the age of 12, in the middle of a bell curve that ranges from 9 to 14 in boys and 8 to 13 in girls.
The reasons for the early spike of hormones are likewise unknown. Aside from cancer and other nervous system problems, a large number are idiopathic, which means there is no evident explanation.
When the number of girls reporting an idiopathic form of early puberty in Turkey increased from 25 in April 2019 to 58 in March 2020, doctors were perplexed, speculating that anything from high-calorie foods to pandemic dread could be to cause.
The sharp increase in the use of smart devices was one intriguing possibility. Or, to be more accurate, a notable rise in the amount of time each day that we are exposed to the blue light that is emitted from our phones and tablets.
This does not rule out the possibility of other factors having a significant impact. Due to the incredible complexity of puberty's biology, there is potential for a wide range of influences to have an impact on how long humans spend in adolescence.
This research was presented at the 60th Annual European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology Meeting.