Puberty in Boys and Girls: How to Support Hormones

Jan 5, 2023 1:00:00 PM

Written By:
Dr. Charlie Ware. AP, DOM


Both boys and girls may know about the physical changes of puberty, but most are unaware of how to make the transition go more smoothly. Eating the right foods, exercising moderately, and taking targeted, high-quality supplements can support hormonal changes during puberty.*

What is Puberty?

Puberty is the natural process of a child’s body transitioning to sexual maturity. When a part of the brain called the hypothalamus releases gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), it causes physical changes in both boys and girls. The GnRH then stimulates the pituitary gland to release two more hormones: luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). These trigger the gonads to produce sex hormones—most notably, estrogen in girls and testosterone in boys.

This generally starts with breast development in girls around age nine or ten, and with testicular enlargement and pubic hair in boys around age eleven or twelve. Once these signs, called “secondary sex characteristics,” begin to manifest, the entire process of puberty continues progressing for another few years.

Puberty in Boys: What You Should Know

What happens to boys during puberty? A cascade of hormone changes leads to a variety of physical changes from around age 11-15. The natural surge in testosterone is responsible for most of the prominent signs of male puberty.

The first signs are usually enlarging testicles and, due to the work of the adrenal glands, the development of pubic and underarm hair. Around a year later, he will notice an enlargement of the scrotum and penis, followed by a general increase in growth and muscle mass throughout the body. Boys can grow around three inches per year until around age 17, causing discomfort in the muscles and joints.

Some lesser known changes relate to the deepening of the voice, low moods, and risk-taking behaviors, attributed to the 30-fold increase in testosterone during puberty.[1] The changing hormones can also cause carb cravings, skin breakouts, and body odor. If hormones are not balanced during puberty, these more bothersome symptoms are more pronounced than average.


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Puberty in Girls: What You Should Know

What happens to girls during puberty? Although the GnRH to LH/FSH pathway triggers sexual maturity changes in both boys and girls, it does so in different ways according to the distinct biological structures of males and females.

While males and females both naturally produce a variety of sex hormones, a discussion on puberty focuses mainly on the effects of surging estrogen for girls and testosterone for boys. At this point in the cascade, the ovaries are stimulated to produce estrogen in girls, whereas the testicles are stimulated to produce testosterone in boys.

On average, girls between ages 10 and 11 begin to experience breast enlargement brought on by rising estrogen levels. Around one year later, menstrual periods begin, although they might not be monthly at first. Breasts continue to grow, and pubic and underarm hair increases.

Like boys, girls’ skin becomes oilier and more prone to breakouts during puberty. They also grow in height at a rate of two to three inches per year until around age 16. As estrogen and progesterone are produced in cyclic waves each month, emotional changes, including irritability and sadness, are common for pubescent girls.

The monthly menstrual cycle is expected to become more regular by the end of puberty, but it can be quite uncomfortable at times. The sharp drops in estrogen mid-cycle, after ovulation, can cause discomforts like digestive disturbance, and the subsequent end-of-cycle progesterone drop can cause a host of unwelcome feelings, from fatigue to low moods.

Is Puberty Starting Earlier?

Rumor has it that puberty is starting earlier and earlier these days. Is that true? Age ranges for the onset of puberty have always been fairly flexible, with boys starting around ages 11 or 12, and girls starting around 10 or 11, with many beginning a few years later.

If a boy develops secondary sexual characteristics before age 9, or a girl does so before age 8, this is considered abnormal and called precocious puberty. Sometimes, this early development and accelerated growth is attributed to a malignant condition, such as a tumor or traumatic injury to the central nervous system, a genetic abnormality, family history of early puberty.

More often, precocious puberty is idiopathic—without a known cause—and assumed to be a result of environmental exposures, starting as early as in the womb. Endocrine disrupting xenoestrogens abound in modern life, leaching into our bodies from plastic water bottles, food containers, and common body and beauty products. These estrogenic pollutants linger in the environment and bioaccumulate in the body, and can disregulate the delicate hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis that controls puberty and reproductive health for life.[2]

For the past 25 years, a clear secular trend is showing the earlier onset of puberty, mostly of idiopathic—likely environmental—origin. Even without any malignant causes, many doctors and parents may consider treatment to stop or slow the progression of puberty, both to limit eventual adult height and mitigate social stigma. An antagonist to GnRH is given as the standard of care.


Hormonal Support During Puberty

Most hormonal changes that occur during puberty are natural and normal, transitioning a child to a physically and sexually developed adult. Unfortunately, even natural and normal hormonal shifts can cause unpleasant discomforts—physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Lifestyle changes, including nutrient-dense foods, moderate exercise, and stress reducing activities can ease the hormonal transitions of puberty. Signals of a concerning hormone imbalance during puberty include excessive digestive disruption, skin eruptions, and mood disorders. These red flags indicate the need to work with a functional medicine doctor to check hormone levels and potentially work on detoxification and gut restoration protocols.

In some ways, society is setting up our boys and girls for a challenging puberty experience. Sleep is crucial for the growing body, yet kids are more overscheduled than ever. High-quality fats and proteins are necessary for hormone balance, yet children are accustomed to sugary, nutritionally void convenience foods. These unnatural lifestyle conditions lead to metabolic irregularity, cravings, and mood swings.

Supplements that Support Puberty*

Trace mineral deficiencies are common, especially among picky children heading into adolescence. Because kids and teens spend so much time on screens instead of outdoors in the sunlight, many suffer from vitamin D deficiency. All of these vitamin and mineral deficiencies wreak havoc on hormone health and make puberty more bothersome than it needs to be.

Here are our top five supplement recommendations to support a smooth hormonal journey through puberty, for boys and girls alike.*

  • Omega-3. DHA, EPA, and ALA are essential fatty acids, meaning the body cannot make them and they must be sourced from food or supplements. They are crucial for healthy development for children through adulthood due in part to their role in regulating neurotransmitters and thus, mood.* Check out KiddOmega-3 for a rich source of DHA and EPA.
  • B Vitamins. Taking a B vitamin complex like Focus Chewable can help with a variety of issues pertaining to pubescent boys and girls, from muscle growth to focus and mood support during turbulent times.*
  • Probiotics. Research shows that teens supplementing with a high-quality prebiotic are less likely to suffer from extreme mood disruptions and behavioral changes during puberty.*[3] Chewable Kidbiotic combines probiotics with digestive enzymes, to help support healthy digestion.*
  • Multivitamin. It sounds simple, but the indoor, screen-oriented, fast-food-eating kids are deficient in many vitamins and minerals. A high-quality supplement like Mightiest Vite can fill in the gaps.
  • Phyto Benefits. A blend of nutrient dense, antioxidant-rich herbal extracts including broccoli, pomegranate, and green tea, supports metabolic processes that can get bogged down during times of hormonal shift.*


Set children up for a smooth ride through puberty by creating healthy habits early on. Encourage outdoor play, take targeted supplements, and eat whole, nutrient-dense, organic foods with plenty of healthy fats and protein.

Teach your kids to choose natural body products that are free from endocrine disrupting xenoestrogens, and promote stress-relieving activities like meditation and journaling from an early age. Stock the pantry with phytonutrient-rich herbal teas, and fill those water bottles every morning to stay hydrated.

The hormonal changes that occur during puberty can be rough at times, but lifestyle choices and healthy habits can ease the transition for boys and girls alike. For any doubts about what’s normal during puberty, talk with your child’s pediatrician or an experienced functional medicine practitioner.

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[1] Duke SA, Balzer BW, Steinbeck KS. Testosterone and its effects on human male adolescent mood and behavior: a systematic review. J Adolesc Health. 2014 Sep;55(3):315-22. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.05.007. PMID: 25151053.

[2] Massart F, Parrino R, Seppia P, Federico G, Saggese G. How do environmental estrogen disruptors induce precocious puberty? Minerva Pediatr. 2006 Jun;58(3):247-54. PMID: 16832329.

[3] Murray E, Sharma R, Smith KB, Mar KD, Barve R, Lukasik M, Pirwani AF, Malette-Guyon E, Lamba S, Thomas BJ, Sadeghi-Emamchaie H, Liang J, Mallet JF, Matar C, Ismail N. Probiotic consumption during puberty mitigates LPS-induced immune responses and protects against stress-induced…in adulthood in a sex-specific manner. Brain Behav Immun. 2019 Oct;81:198-212. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2019.06.016. Epub 2019 Jun 15. PMID: 31212008.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.