Today, Gary Francione, abolitionist animal rights philosopher, posted this article, Eating meat/dairy products linked to early puberty on his Facebook page concerning animal products and early puberty/health problems:

My comment:

The China Study (2006), by Dr. T. Colin Campbell (the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University) and his son, Thomas M. Campbell, a physician, examines the relationship between diet and a range of chronic diseases responsible for most of the morbidity and mortality in the Western world, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and autoimmune diseases. According to Campbell, The China Study is:

the most comprehensive study of diet, lifestyle and disease ever done with humans in the history of biomedical research. It was a massive undertaking jointly arranged through  Cornell University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine. The New York Times called it “The Grand Prix of Epidemiology.” This project surveyed a vast range of diseases and diet and lifestyle factors in rural China and more recently, in Taiwan. This project eventually produced more than 8,000 statistically significant associations between various dietary factors and disease.

What made this project especially remarkable is that, among the many associations that are relevant to diet and disease, so many pointed to the same finding: people who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease. Even relatively small intakes of animal-based food were associated with adverse effects. People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored. The health implications of consuming animal or plant-based nutrients were remarkably different.

The findings of the China Study were also backed up by extensive laboratory research conducted by Dr. Campbell and others.

The China Study concurs with the results of the Journal of Nutrition study and many other studies in finding an association between consumption of animal products and the incidence of breast cancer. According to Campbell, other factors which also increase the risk for breast cancer are:
  • Early age of menarche (age of first menstruation)
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Late menopause
  • High exposure to female hormones
The China Study also found that there is a relationship between consumption of animal products and all of the above risk factors. Concerning menarche, the Study found a dramatic difference between age of menarche comparing China with the US. The average age of menarche in 130 Chinese villages was found to be 17 years; in the US the average age is 11 years! Menarche is triggered by growth rate and girls who grow at an abnormally fast rate  due to consumption of animal products experience menarche earlier. Early age of menarche leads to higher levels of blood hormones such as oestrogen and if the diet remains high in animal products, these higher hormonal levels persist throughout the reproductive life, exposing women to a higher risk of breast cancer. 

In Western countries where the standard diet is high in animal products, early puberty caused by animal products is also a significant problem in terms of teen pregnancies, which are a major cause of poverty and disadvantage for girls and women and their children. Often, teen pregnancy is part of an intergenerational cycle of poverty and disadvantage which adds up to a social disaster.

It may not be ideal to get pregnant at age 17, but how much worse at age 11, or 13, or 15? And how much more able is a girl of 17 to engage in planning and to consider the consequences of her actions than a child of 11? While not wishing to stigmatise teenage mothers and acknowledging that many prove to be competent and devoted parents, there has always seemed something very puzzling and even wrong to me about the fact that nature allowed human children and young adolescents to bear children, often in the absence of the maturity and means to care for them adequately, invariably ruining their life chances and those of their children, or having to suffer the trauma and grief of being forced to give their child up for adoption.

So when I discovered that this situation is not at all a normal physiological state of affairs, but just another sad by-product and distortion of the speciesist culture of consuming animal products, it all made a great deal of sense. Of course children should not be bearing children! This is an absurd and troubling situation which has come to be accepted as almost normal and inevitable. 

In addition to the injustice to non-human animals involved in consuming animal products, this situation constitutes a form of oppression of female children who are fed high levels of animal foods that cause early puberty, leading to premature sexual activity, making them vulnerable to pregnancy. Simultaneously, they’re sexualised by the culture and robbed of their childhoods, bombarded by constant use of sex and sexism in advertising to sell products and exposed to incessant messages in the media urging them to have sex. And then, if these girls do, surprise, surprise!, get pregnant, sanctimonious patriarchs, i.e. right-wing politicians and their reactionary supporters, want to deny them abortion or any kind of decent financial assistance that would enable them and their children to live a life of dignity as equal citizens. Finally, to add insult to injury, as single mothers these hapless girls, and the women they become, can be conveniently blamed for all social ills.

Without denying that males also pay a price for consumption of animal products in terms of increased risk of hormone-related cancers like prostate cancer, as well as a range of other diseases, females, in addition to hormone-related cancers and these same diseases, are at risk of early pregnancy. The scope of human suffering and social problems caused by teen and pre-teen pregnancy and the effects over generations is incalculable, affecting both genders, and could obviously be largely avoided through adoption of a healthy vegan diet.

If menarche occurs at an average age of 17 in China, where diets are typically much lower in animal foods but rarely exclusively plant-based, then I wonder what the average age of menarche would be in a vegan culture? Obviously, the later that menarche is delayed, the better, from the point of view of prolonging the relatively and hopefully carefree years of childhood and delaying first pregnancy until a more appropriate level of physical, emotional and intellectual maturity has been attained, not least so that an informed and conscious decision can be made as to whether to become a parent at all!  

It seems there is always some new benefit to be discovered in relation to veganism. How much more desirable would it be to have a society in which vulnerable pre-teen children and young teenage girls did not run the risk of the devastating event of unplanned pregnancy due to premature puberty? (And let’s not forget that pregnancy is always a potentially fatal condition). Here is another reason, among many, why anyone who considers themselves a feminist ought to be vegan and promote veganism. 


However, I’m certainly not suggesting that veganism is “the answer” to all the problems besetting women in a patriarchal society. I’m simply talking here about removing the hormonal distortion that places girls at risk of early pregnancy through adoption of a healthy vegan diet. The issue of patriarchy is an entirely separate one and there’s no reason to believe that becoming vegan necessarily leads to rejection of patriarchy and sexism. I’m also aware that issues relating to female sexuality cannot be simplistically explained by hormonal factors alone and cannot be discussed in isolation from patriarchy. My concern here is only the issue of early pregnancy due to premature sexual maturation caused by consumption of animal products, not the sexual culture and behaviour that underlies it, involving gender relations under patriarchy, which is a complex subject outside the scope of this discussion.

Just as later menarche decreases the years of exposure that a woman has to hormones such as oestrogen, and hence risk of breast cancer, so does earlier menopause. The China Study also found that age of menopause was related to hormone exposure, with a higher level of exposure occurring with animal-based foods, and thus later menopause. Campbell states that for Chinese women menopause occurs three to four years earlier, on average, as compared with Western women. 

Campbell explains:

[W]hen hormone levels among Chinese women were compared with those of British women, Chinese estrogen levels were only about one-half those of British women, who have an equivalent hormone profile to that of American women. Because the length of reproductive life of a Chinese woman is only about 75% of that of the British (or American) woman, this means that with lower estrogen levels, the Chinese woman only experiences about 35%-40% of the lifetime estrogen exposure of the British (and American) women. This corresponds to breast cancer rates that are only one-fifth of those of Western women. 

Campbell points out that the net result of earlier menarche and later menopause for Western women, as a result of their high animal foods diet, is that an average of nine years is added to their reproductive life. Some people may think this is a good thing. I certainly do not. I consider that our participation in the enslavement and exploitation of non-human animals, including the exploitation of the reproductive systems of female animals in the production of eggs and milk, merely for the sake of palate pleasure, is having as one consequence an artificially and pathologically prolonged, and arguably burdensome, reproductive phase for  women, with an increased risk of disease. Although Campbell doesn’t mention it, we also need to take into account that the longer the reproductive life, the longer women are likely to take the contraceptive pill, which also increases the risk of hormone-related cancers, constituting an even greater risk for women who are rarely given accurate information by mainstream health authorities about the risks they face from consuming animal products and the superiority for health of a nutritious vegan diet. 

We need to get the word out about veganism at every opportunity — first and foremost, the need for it as the moral baseline if we take animal interests seriously, and also for the sake of our own health. 

*********

To quote Gary Francione: 

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

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