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Prenatal exposure to acetaminophen accelerates the onset of puberty in females.

Puberty refers to the period of sexual development and maturation and the achievement of fertility. The onset of puberty varies between individuals and is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors, including prenatal exposures. Findings from a 2018 study suggest that prenatal exposure to acetaminophen accelerates the onset of puberty in females.

Acetaminophen is a widely use pain reliever and fever reducer. Although it is generally considered safe for use during pregnancy, a growing body of evidence suggests that acetaminophen is an endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disruptors mimic or interfere with normal hormonal processes in the human body and may influence health throughout the lifespan.

The study involved nearly 16,000 children (and their mothers) enrolled in the Puberty Cohort of the Danish National Birth Cohort. The mothers provided information about their acetaminophen use during pregnancy via phone interviews conducted during and after pregnancy. Starting at the age of 11 years and continuing every six months until they reached sexual maturity, the children provided information about their achievement of specific puberty-related events, such as underarm hair growth, menarche (the first period), first ejaculation, and others.

The investigators found that prenatal exposure to acetaminophen accelerated puberty in females by as much as three months, especially if the mother took the drug more than 12 weeks. Exposure to the drug did not appear to affect the onset of puberty in males.

These findings suggest that acetaminophen exerts dose-dependent endocrine disruptive effects during fetal development, thereby influencing pubertal timing. Because early onset of puberty is associated with a wide range of chronic diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, further study is needed to determine whether acetaminophen use during pregnancy is safe.

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