Node Smith, ND

Adolescence is a difficult time. It is a time of incredible change, as the brain develops higher level cognitive abilities, muscles grow, hair grows, and speech changes. Social behavior also undergoes a radical shift, as we learn how to involve our peer group into our social sphere in addition to our nuclear family. These changes often bring with them a predisposition for risky behavior, and other social behavior that can be concerning or disheartening for parents and other authority figures.

What do hamsters have to tell us about hormones?

It has conventionally been assumed that the hormonal changes of puberty cause these behavioral changes, which make teenagers sometimes difficult to handle. However, a recent research study on hamsters actually turns this assumption on its head. The study concludes that the social behavior changes of adolescence are not due to corresponding changes in hormones.

Puberty and adolescence are 2 separate developmental processes

Sex hormones are drastically increased in teenage years, accounting for what we call “puberty.” However, puberty and adolescence are actually 2 separate developmental processes, which overlap one another – according to this study. Puberty is marked by the hormone changes which create thicker hair growth, changes in metabolism and weight distribution, and above all, the ability to reproduce. Adolescence on the other hand is merely the time period (commonly teen years) when social behavior changes are most commonly seen.

Research indicates neurological changes during teen years play a much larger role in the social changes observed than hormonal changes

During the study, the researchers were able to manipulate the time period of animals’ puberty (development of sex hormones) and observe any corresponding changes in social behavior. What was seen was that there was no change in the time frame of social behavior change; all the animals were seen to transition from playful interactions to social dominance hierarchy behavior along the exact same timeline.

This research may indicate that the neurological changes which happen during teen years play a much larger role in the social changes observed than do hormonal changes. This research doesn’t comment at all on how to handle a rowdy teenager, merely that the hormones are likely not the cause, which is interesting, though perhaps not very helpful.

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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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