According to new information from the University of Glasgow, girls who develop breasts abnormally early are at risk for a host of physical problems and diseases later in life. In addition, they may suffer from social and psychological issues in their preteen and teenage years.

First of all, you might be wondering what is meant by “abnormally early.” While the majority of girls begin to develop breasts around the age of 10, many develop earlier or later. For years, it’s been thought that this is perfectly normal. However, it’s been discovered that early puberty coincides with a heightened risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and reproductive cancer.

As of now, doctors only slow the onset of puberty if it begins before the age of seven. In these cases, early puberty is linked to hormonal imbalances. That said, scientists believe that by stunting early breast development, girls could avoid myriad health issues later in life.

By studying women and girls at various stages of life, researchers found that those who developed breasts before the age of 10 were 20 percent more likely to develop breast cancer later in life.

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Could scientists really slow the development of breasts in prepubescent girls? As the University of Glasgow discovered, controlling a molecule known as ACKR2 could be the key.

As breasts grow, so do specialized cells called epithelial branches. These branches make up the shape and size of breasts, creating a structure for fatty tissue to rest upon. Although the epithelial branches stop growing once someone has reached adulthood, they start up again before and after pregnancy, allowing milk-producing glands to grow.

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Immune cells, known as macrophages, work with the breasts to facilitate these changes. However, before macrophages move into the breasts at the time of puberty, they are blocked by ACKR2. If physicians could somehow increase the time of this block, they might be able to stop girls from developing breasts early, as well as developing breast cancer later in life.

However, breast cancer isn’t the only health issue that girls who develop breasts early can face. The study also found these women to have a heightened risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, among other things.

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