Alcohol (ALC) use and abuse by adolescents has been rising at an alarming rate. Whether ALC consumption during prepubertal years affects specific hormones and the process of sexual maturation is not known. We used immature female rhesus macaques to assess the effects of ALC on circulating levels of hormones known to be critical for the pubertal process. Ten monkeys averaging 20.3 ± 0.3 months of age were bled by saphenous vein puncture at 0830 and 2030 h each day for 5 consecutive days to determine baseline levels of GH, insulin-like growth factor I, FSH, LH, estradiol (E2), and leptin. For the next 12 months, each day at 1330 h five monkeys were administered ALC (2 g/kg), and five monkeys were administered an isocaloric sucrose solution via a nasogastric approach. Blood was again collected twice daily on 5 consecutive days at 24, 28, and 32 months for hormone analysis. Food consumption and weight gain were similar for ALC-treated and control animals. The expected night-related increase in serum GH occurred during late juvenile development (28-32 months of age) in control animals, but was suppressed (P < 0.05) in ALC-treated animals. This action was paralleled by a decrease (P < 0.01) in serum insulin-like growth factor I. Serum LH and E2 were also depressed by ALC, with their effects most pronounced at 32 months (LH, P < 0.01; E2, P < 0.001). Serum FSH and leptin were not altered. Although ALC did not affect age at menarche, the interval between subsequent menstruations was lengthened (P < 0.05), thereby showing that ALC affected the development of a regular monthly pattern of menstruation. These results demonstrate the detrimental effects of ALC on the activation of hormone secretion that accompanies puberty in female rhesus monkeys. They also suggest that the subsequent growth spurt and normal timing or progression of puberty may be at risk in human adolescents and teenagers consuming even relatively moderate amounts of ALC on a regular basis.
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