Puberty Blockers Can Help Transgender Youth. Is There a Cost? – The New York Times

[A]s an increasing number of adolescents identify as transgender — in the United States, an estimated 300,000 ages 13 to 17 and an untold number who are younger — concerns are growing among some medical professionals about the consequences of the drugs, a New York Times examination found. The questions are fueling government reviews in Europe, prompting a push for more research and leading some prominent specialists to reconsider at what age to prescribe them and for how long. A small number of doctors won’t recommend them at all.

Dutch doctors first offered puberty blockers to transgender adolescents three decades ago, typically following up with hormone treatment to help patients transition. Since then, the practice has spread to other countries, with varying protocols, little documentation of outcomes and no government approval of the drugs for that use, including by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The drugs suppress estrogen and testosterone, hormones that help develop the reproductive system but also affect the bones, the brain and other parts of the body.

During puberty, bone mass typically surges, determining a lifetime of bone health. When adolescents are using blockers, bone density growth flatlines, on average, according to an analysis commissioned by The Times of observational studies examining the effects.

Many doctors treating trans patients believe they will recover that loss when they go off blockers. But two studies from the analysis that tracked trans patients’ bone strength while using blockers and through the first years of sex hormone treatment found that many do not fully rebound and lag behind their peers.

That could lead to heightened risk of debilitating fractures earlier than would be expected from normal aging — in their 50s instead of 60s — and more immediate harm for patients who start treatment with already weak bones, experts say.

Puberty can help clarify gender, the doctors say — for some adolescents reinforcing their sex at birth, and for others confirming that they are transgender.

“The most difficult question is whether puberty blockers do indeed provide valuable time for children and young people to consider their options, or whether they effectively ‘lock in’ children and young people to a treatment pathway,” wrote Dr. Hilary Cass, a pediatrician leading an independent review in England of medical treatments of adolescents presenting as transgender.

On her recommendation, England’s National Health Service last month proposed restricting use of the drugs for trans youths to research settings. Sweden and Finland have also placed limits on the treatment, concerned not just with the risk of blockers, but the steep rise in young patients, the psychiatric issues that many exhibit, and the extent to which their mental health should be assessed before treatment.

In the United States, though, there is no universal policy, and the public discussion is polarized.

Republican governors and lawmakers in more than a dozen states are working to limit or even criminalize the treatments, as some in their party also seek to restrict access to sports and bathrooms, ban discussion of gender in public schools, and call into question whether transgender identity even exists.

Source: Puberty Blockers Can Help Transgender Youth. Is There a Cost? – The New York Times

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