BACKGROUND: Previous animal and ecological studies have provided evidence for an earlier sexual maturation in females in relation to fluoride exposure; however, no epidemiological studies have examined the association between fluoride exposure and pubertal development in both boys and girls using individual-level biomarkers of fluoride. Capitalizing on an ongoing Mexican birth cohort study, we examined the association between concurrent urinary fluoride levels and physical markers of pubertal development in children.
METHODS: We conducted a cross-sectional study of 157 boys and 176 girls at age 10-17 years living in Mexico City. We used ion-selective electrode-based diffusion methods to assess fluoride levels in urine, adjusting for urinary specific gravity. Pubertal stages were evaluated by a trained physician. Associations of fluoride with pubertal stages and age at menarche were studied using ordinal regression and Cox proportional-hazard regression, respectively.
RESULTS: In the entire sample, the geometric mean and interquartile range (IQR) of urinary fluoride (specific gravity adjusted) were 0.59 mg/L and 0.31 mg/L, respectively. In boys, our analysis showed that a one-IQR increase in urinary fluoride was associated with later pubic hair growth (OR = 0.71, 95% CI: 0.51-0.98, p = 0.03) and genital development (OR = 0.71, 95% CI: 0.53-0.95, p = 0.02). No significant associations were found in girls, although the direction was negative.
CONCLUSIONS: Childhood fluoride exposure, at the levels observed in our study, was associated with later pubertal development among Mexican boys at age 10-17 years. Further research is needed to confirm these findings.