Puberty blockers ‘stunt bone growth of children’ The Times 03.02.21

The original article is here.

Puberty blockers stunted the height and impaired the bone mass density of children wishing to change gender, researchers have found.

The study followed 44 children, aged 12-15, who had treatment for gender dysphoria at England’s only NHS specialist clinic for children.

By the time the children had finished their stint on puberty blockers at the age of 16, researchers found “reduced growth” in height and bone strength.

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

The authors said that more research was needed to determine whether the impairment was permanent.

Until recently puberty blockers were billed as a “fully reversible” treatment that paused the physical transformation of puberty, but the NHS has since updated its guidance to say the long-term impact on brains and bones is unknown.

The Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) suspended the treatment for children in November, after the High Court found it was “unlikely” that under-16s could give informed consent to drugs that may impair their future fertility and sexual function.

A commonly stated reason for suppressing puberty is to give adolescents “thinking time”. However, in the paper, published in the journal Plos One, the researchers found that puberty blockers brought no improvement in psychological function, quality of life or gender dysphoria — a result they attribute to either the drugs bringing “no measurable benefit nor harm” or the drugs preventing patients from feeling worse.

All but one of the participants went on to the next, irreversible step towards transition, cross-sex hormones.

Researchers said the overall response in the study was “mostly positive”, with many reporting feeling happier. Others reported negative changes related to side-effects such as headaches, flushes and fatigue.

The study had no control group, meaning its findings on the possible harms or benefits remain inconclusive.

Dr Polly Carmichael, director of GIDS, said: “The results show 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.”

Dr Michael Biggs of Oxford University, who has criticised the study’s methodology, said: “The striking finding is that there was 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.”

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