Maternal Depression May Correlate With Daughter's Earlier Puberty
WebMD News Archive
March 24, 2000 (Lake Worth, Fla.) -- A study from two researchers in New
Zealand theorized that a mother's stress, mood disorders, or divorce may be
related to their daughters' earlier puberty. When they looked at 87 girls and
their mothers, 67 of whom had mood disorders, their theory seemed sound.
While the study, which appears in the March/April issue of the journal
Child Development, shows a correlation between mothers with mood
disorders and their daughters' earlier puberty, Bruce J. Ellis, PhD, one of the
researchers, says that a direct cause and effect relationship cannot be
"Both marital and family dysfunction and early pubertal timing in
daughters may be caused by common underlying genetic factors," he tells
WebMD. Ellis is a lecturer in psychology at the University of Canterbury in New
The study only looked at maternal depression, family conflict, divorce and
remarriage, and when puberty began. Other factors that are known to cause early
puberty, such as genetics and nutrition, were not looked at.
Puberty is starting younger and younger with each generation, according to
Hadine Joffe, MD, who is director of the Women's Center for Behavior
Endocrinology at McLean Hospital at Harvard Medical School. Joffe, who reviewed
the study for WebMD, says the findings are an interesting evolutionary
The nature or nurture issue came up in the study when the authors noticed
the correlation between the age of the daughter when the father left the
household, and the exposure to either a stepfather or the mother's boyfriend.
The researchers theorized that the influence of unrelated males on puberty
could be due to pheromones. Pheromones are hormones that are thought to
stimulate, through smell, sexual reactions in animals.
The pheromone theory goes along with a lot of recent interest in the sense
of smell and its influence on behavior, says Arnold Licht, MD. Of course, he
says, one has to be careful not to make broad associations that could have
wide-range implications. More research needs to be done on the senses before
this conclusion is reached, he says.