Puberty blockers stunt children’s bone growth, research finds 

Unsplash/Mercedes Mehling
Unsplash/Mercedes Mehling

New research has revealed what doctors critical of transgender medicine have been saying for years, that puberty-suppressing drugs given to gender dysphoric youth stunt their bone growth.

Published in PLOS One last week, the study, "Short-term outcomes of pubertal suppression in a selected cohort of 12 to 15 year old young people with persistent gender dysphoria in the UK," found that puberty blockers do not alleviate psychological distress regarding one’s gender by any measurable benefit. The study does claim, however, that the overall experience of the patients on the blockers was “positive.” The study followed a cohort of 44 children who had undergone the experimental treatment in the United Kingdom’s lone gender clinic with the National Health Service.

When the children completed chemical puberty blockade at age 16, the researchers found “reduced growth” in both height and bone strength. Additional research is necessary to say whether the weakened bones are irreversible, researchers said. 

“In both cases (height and bone strength) there was some growth but less than would be expected during those years without hormonal suppression,” states the paper, which was published nine years after the research began.

Amid increasing visibility of gender identity policies and legislation, transgender activists and others have often asserted that such drugs are a mere “pause button” to allow children more time to decide whether to proceed with a full medicalized gender-transition, which includes cross-sex hormones and various cosmetic surgeries to appear more as the opposite sex. 

Of the 44 children that the latest study followed, 43 went on to take cross-sex hormones. 

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Dr. Michael Biggs of Oxford University, who has criticized the study’s methodology, said he found it “striking” that the youth who were tracked experienced no improvement in gender dysphoria.  

“We would have expected a large positive placebo response, as these kids and their parents were desperate to get the drugs,” he said, as was reported in the UK Times. 

In 2019, California endocrinologist Dr. Michael Laidlaw detailed in a Heritage Foundation panel the harms of gender identity medicine that Biggs had previously discovered through a freedom of information request. Biggs found that at the Tavistock gender clinic — which a U.K. high court ruled against in a recent judicial review — children that were treated at the facility reported greater self-harm with these particular medications, and girls exhibited greater emotional problems and dissatisfaction with their bodies.

In a Feb. 3 comment on the study on the PLOS One site, Biggs explained that “it is hard to square this finding with the authors’ claim that ‘pubertal suppression may be both a treatment in its own right and also an intermediate step in a longer treatment pathway.’” 

“Considered as a treatment in its own right, the suppression of puberty with GnRHa might be the only treatment provided by the NHS for which there is no objective evidence that the benefits outweigh the risks — as the authors themselves admitted in their statistical plan. The only justification for puberty suppression is to prepare a child for lifelong medicalization with cross-sex hormones and surgeries, with irreversible consequences for sexuality and fertility.”

Still, the Tavistock director, Dr. Polly Carmichael, who was part of the study, maintains that the research shows that “patient experience on the blocker is positive overall and there were no unexpected adverse events, but that more research is needed around this complex issue.”

The study’s acknowledgment of reduced bone strength dovetails with what doctors critical of the medicalization of gender have been saying for years about treating psychologically distressed youth with untested hormonal agents, children who are otherwise physically healthy.

In a 2018 interview about Lupron — a drug that is approved for and is routinely used to treat prostate cancer in men and endometriosis in women but is now being used to treat gender dysphoria in children despite lack of FDA approval for that purpose  — Dr. Quentin Van Meter, a pediatric endocrinologist from Atlanta, told The Christian Post of the numerous repercussions of using high-powered drugs to suppress normal puberty.

Unlike when a hormone blocker is administered to a child who is dealing with precocious puberty, another medical condition for which the drug has been formally approved, “when you give puberty blockers to a pubertal-aged child, what you're doing is sideswiping them out of the physiological development that puberty is intended to create and facilitate,” Van Meter explained at the time. 

“You are taking calcium out of the bones of girls which cannot be introduced later; you're putting them at risk for osteoporosis. On top of that, you're taking the ovaries and testicles, which have not yet started to mature to the stage of fertility, and you're cutting them off at the knees, essentially making them sterile," he said.

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