The following article is another example of a problem that impacts boys and men considerably more than women and girls. The difference is that this problem does not seem to be a result of feminism, gynocentrism, or our white knight legislators. This is a result of our lifestyle, our corporations, and our biology.
The sad truth is that we are living in a world that is saturated by chemicals that mimic human hormones. These chemicals have been dubbed “Endocrine Disruptors” since their mimicking confuses and throws off the delicate balance of our human endocrine system. EDC’s as they are called, (endocrine disrupting chemicals) are all around us. They are in our streams, our lakes, our grocery stores, our carpeting, our lawns, our cars, in the food we eat, in our toothpaste, soaps, plastics and just about everywhere you look. Most of these are derivatives of fossil fuels, often plastics. They are in fertilizers, pesticides, even the byproducts of pills like birth control pills, This stuff is everywhere.
But what is the big deal? Why get hyped up about these small amounts of chemicals?
The informative endocrinedisruption.org web site states that “Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) interfere with hormone signaling in a variety of ways depending on the chemical and the hormone system.” They go on to state that “biomonitering of chemicals in the blood and urine has shown that 100% of the people tested have EDC’s in their bodies.” So this is not about someone else, this is about you and me.
This is not a small dilemma. The same web site states that EDC’s have been implicated in neurological diseases, reproductive disorders, thyroid dysfunction, immune and metabolic disorders and more. But guess what? These chemicals impact boys and men considerably more than they do girls and women. Look at the list of problems that are thought to be related to EDC’s and males: ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, delayed puberty, hypospadias, obesity, early testicular cancer, male dysgenisis syndrome, prostate cancer and more. Almost all of these problems have been growing each year. ADHD has been increasing by 3% each year since 1997 and 5% a year since 2003. Many scientists are starting to believe that EDC’s are a part of this problem.
Imagine the havoc you could wreak if you started taking hormones into your body, you could throw off a very delicate balance of a finely tuned system by increasing the amount of one hormone or another. Imagine we started giving boys and girls additional estrogen on a daily basis. What do you think would happen? It would likely confuse their biological system and throw the normal process into chaos. Right. This is a crude description of what is happening in our world today. Both boys and girls are exposed to substances (EDC’s) that mimic estrogen (most EDC’s mimic estrogen or in some cases block testosterone) and these substances are throwing off the natural balance of the endocrine system. But these are in such small amounts, you wouldn’t think they would be that harmful, right? Wrong.
The endocrine system is extraordinarily sensitive. In fact, it is amazing. It makes decisions based on infinitesimal amounts of hormones that are released in the body. One of the pioneers in understanding Endocrine Disrupters is Theo Colburn, PhD. Listen to the way she describes things in her book Our Stolen Future “The endocrine system is so fine-tuned that it depends on changes in hormones in concentrations of a tenth of a trillion of a gram to control the womb environment. That’s as inconspicuous as one second in 3,619 centuries.” This is why it is so critical to worry over even tiny amounts of chemicals around us that mimic hormones. A tiny amount can cause big problems.
The place those tiny amounts can cause the biggest difficulties is in the womb. It’s a contained environment that is controlled by minute amounts of hormones. Developmental actions and processes are started and stopped in the womb by these tiny amounts of hormones. If the mother has EDC’s in her system from the food she eats, the soft plastic raincoat she wears or drinking from plastic bottles this can cause difficulties to the infant in utero. This is obviously the most vulnerable time since fetal development is often related to minute changes in hormone levels. If you have substances in utero that throw off that sensitive balance by mimicking natural hormones you can have permanent damage to the fetus.
Then shortly after birth the infant may be less vulnerable but is often subject to plastic bottles from which they drink warm liquid, plastic pacifiers they suck on, or a huge array of other ways to ingest EDC’s. Have you ever taken a swig of water out of a clear plastic bottle that had gotten warm in the sun? When you did, did it taste plasticky? What you were tasting was the endocrine disrupters that had been released from the plastic when heated. You just got a dose of estrogen.
Theo Colburn calls EDC’s the “stealth” chemicals and for good reason. The government has been testing for cancer producing agents for some time but the tests needed to evaluate a possible endocrine disrupter are much more subtle. With 12,000 new chemicals entered into our country every day it would be an overwhelming task to keep tabs on them all. This means that many of the endocrine disrupters are probably going under the radar. The EPA has been mandated to test for EDC’s for some time but has dragged its feet to such a degree that law suits have been filed to force them to do so. According to Colburn the corporations are spending mega-bucks to keep this quiet. They have a huge investment in their products and seem more concerned about their profit than about human suffering.
So how does this stuff manifest?
Scientists were shocked to find that male alligators at a lake in Florida had shriveled testicles and genitals. The gators also showed high levels of female hormones. What was going on? They struggled to figure it out and ultimately came to the conclusion that these poor gators had been victims of EDC’s from the pesticide DDE that had found its way into the lake. These chemicals had created chaos in the male gators and their genitals proved it.
Male fish are also taking a hit from EDC’s. Many fish across the country are now swimming in water that has higher levels of EDC’s. Fish tend to have their sex determined by the levels of hormones in their bodies. When the hormones are at a certain level, that fish will be male, when it is at a different level it will be a female. So now we have fish swimming in water that is higher and higher in EDC’s that mimic estrogens and guess what happens? The EDC’s impact the males in a profound manner. They turn the males into non-descript fish that have genitalia that is a bizarre mix of male and female. It is the male fish that have been seen showing the bizarre genitalia, sometimes the male fish will grow eggs instead of testes! What a mess.
But what about humans?
One of the suspected connections with EDC’s is that of changing the timing of puberty for both boys and girls. Girls onset of puberty has been steadily getting younger and younger. It used to be that girls would enter puberty around 11-12 years old with boys lagging about a year after them. But now guess what is happening? Girls are entering puberty when they are 9 years old on average and even younger in the black community. At the same time the boys puberty is becoming delayed. Many experts are thinking the EDC’s mimicking estrogens plays a part in this.
Human males also seem to be taking the hardest hit from the EDC’s. American boys today are three times more likely to be born with genital abnormalities then boys 30 years ago. The frequency of smaller then normal penis’s, hypospadias, and undescended testes are all examples of this.
Scientists are also thinking that the drop in testosterone levels of boys and men in the past 30 years may also be due to the EDC’s. A 35 year old man today has 20% less testosterone than a 35 year old man 30 years ago. Men just aren’t like they used to be…
Leonard Sax points out that the bone strength of boys seems to be deteriorating. Boys today are nearly twice as likely to break bones as boys were 30 years ago and many are thinking this is related to lowered bone density due to EDC’s. It seems at the same time that girls bone density may be going up. Go figure.
The only good news is that we do have some power in limiting our exposure to EDC’s. Eating whole foods that are unprocessed, eating organic foods that have not been exposed to pesticides, wearing clothes are have not been treated with chemicals, and on and on. We all need to become more informed about this problem, especially when it comes to women who are thinking about getting pregnant. For more information on EDC’s you can find some great information on youtube. Here’s a start but I would urge you to google it and see what you find.
Some beginning resources:
Theo Colburn, PhD. has done a video titled the Endocrine Disruptors, The Male Predicament. It is a quick introduction to this problem from the scientist who first named the problem back in the 1990’s. <7 minutes
Theo Colburn — Endocrine Disruption: Are Males at Risk? < 48minutes
PBS FRONTLINE HORMONE DISRUPTERS / XENOESTROGENS < 4 minutes
Theo Colburn reads letter to the white house about EDC’s < 18 minutes