Mon, August 16, 2010
Lifestyle > Health > Unsafe formula threatens babies

FACTBOX: What might have caused infant girls to develop prematurely?

2010-08-16 15:10:29 GMT2010-08-16 23:10:29 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

BEIJING, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- China's Health Ministry on Sunday announced that a clinical investigation had found no evidence suggesting milk powder made by a Chinese dairy company, Synutra International, had caused three infant girls to grow breasts.

Earlier this month, parents and doctors in Hubei were reported voicing fears that milk powder produced by Nasdaq-listed Synutra International had caused at least three infant girls to develop prematurely.

Addressing a news conference here Sunday, Health Ministry spokesman Deng Haihua said the premature development of the three infant girls could only be diagnosed as "premature thelarche," a commonly seen condition involving isolated breast development without other accompanying signs of puberty.

The following are some key facts about premature thelarche based upon a report posted on the Health Ministry's website Monday.

WHAT IS "PREMATURE THELARCHE?"

Premature thelarche is a benign, self-limiting condition characterized by breast development with no other signs of sexual maturity, such as pubic hair and underarm hair.

According to the Health Ministry report, premature thelarche usually occurs among infant girls aged between six months and two years; it is often the result of a condition referred to as "mini- puberty."

However, girls between two and eight years also could develop premature thelarche because of factors such as long-term high protein diets, female sex hormone contamination in the environment, and the consumption of sex hormone-tainted food.

Generally, premature thelarche symptoms will fade without treatment and will not have any negative influence over the girls' growth and development.

The Health Ministry report, however, cautioned against misdiagnosing some pre-puberty conditions as premature thelarche, and said such a diagnosis would eventually impact the children's physical height and their psychological health.

WHAT IS "MINI-PUBERTY?"

Mini-puberty is the natural surge of sex hormones usually seen among infant boys up to six months old and girls up to two years old.

An infant boy can start producing sex hormones spontaneously, minutes after birth.

The levels of male sex hormones in infant boys during the mini-puberty period can sometimes be more than the minimum sex hormones a normal grown up man produces. This could result in a slight growth of the testicles and acne on the faces, in some cases. The symptoms could last for about six months.

Infant girls, on the other hand, start producing sex hormones several hours after their birth, and their level of the sex hormones can sometimes reach the lowest value of those of normal grown-up women during the mini-puberty period.

Infant girls sensitive to female sex hormones will then start to develop breasts. The symptoms will not last for long, and are not very obvious, but they could occur until the girls turn two years old, the report said.

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