How does female puberty work?

The shift from confident child to confident adult is not seamless-puberty can be challenging for a girl.

Picture a little girl, showing no signs of adulthood, joyfully skipping or hand-clapping or squealing with childish delight. Gazing at this happy-go-lucky kid, you would never see the biological tumult within. Her hormones are laying the foundation for enormous unrest and change-puberty is on its way.

Puberty is initiated when a small gland inside the middle of the base of a female's brain (the hypothalamus) begins to distribute a chemical that until now has been dormant for years and years.

This chemical is known as gonadotropin-releasing hormone, or GnRH. Inside the hypothalamus, GnRH has been biding its time, waiting for its signal from a gatekeeper gene called GPR54.

The hypothalamus keeps tabs on the state of a girl's body, seeking just the right balance in system-wide conditions to buttress puberty. One primary condition monitored is the level of leptin, a hormone produced in fat cells. When a girl's body fat reaches a predetermined level and there is an adequate amount of leptin, the hypothalamus initiates the process of puberty.

The GPR54 gene lends a hand as the GnRH charges out of the hypothalamus and travels to the pituitary gland directly beneath the hypothalamus. The pea-shaped pituitary gland has been anticipating the appearance of GnRH, and with its arrival the gland now launches its own chemicals: leutinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).

As these chemicals now course throughout a girl's body-prompting hormone production in the ovaries, causing the breasts to develop and triggering psychological and physical chaos-childhood is officially drawing to a close and paving a path to womanhood.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.