In the past few years, a stream of studies and reports have come out about endocrine disruptors, chemicals that either mimic or block our bodies’ natural hormone signals. They are found in our food, water bottles, personal products, furniture, toys and more. Here at Lucine, we have covered the effects of endocrine disruptors on women’s health. Most notably xenoestrogens, which increase the body’s natural level of estrogen causing problems ranging from early onset puberty to breast cancer. But, what about our other half? Are these dangerous endocrine disruptors affecting men? If so, when does it start? What does it do? How can we protect our men?
Phthalates, BPA, and Parabens, OH MY!
While researching this topic, phthalates popped up over and over again. I recognized the word from my recent article, Toxic Cosmetics, but didn’t know what exactly it was or where it came from. The quick definition is that it a class of chemicals added to many products. The longer definition is that it is a chemical added to plastics to increase flexibility, transparency, durability, and to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Phthalates are found in literally everything: shampoo, soaps, children’s toys, the coating of pharmaceutical pills, glues, electronics, food, food products, paints, inks, textiles and I can go on and on with the list.
What does it do in the body? Unlike xenoestrogens, phthalates are anti-androgens and block the body from producing androgens, like testosterone, a hormone men have in abundance (women have testosterone too, just not as much). Parabens are another class of chemicals found in personal products that act as an anti-androgen in men. These chemicals combined with the xenoestrogens in our environment are causing male fish to grow eggs in their testes, female deer mice to pick males who weren’t exposed to BPA in a controlled environment, hyperactive rats (some scientist speculate that endocrine disruptors could be linked to the rise in ADHD amongst school children) and many other strange behaviors in the animal kingdom.
Baby Mine, Don’t You Cry
Our bodies are literally attacked with these harmful chemicals nonstop. There are now studies showing that it is causing physical feminization in male infants. There is a current controversy over whether or not pregnant women should take anti-depressants for post-partum depression, but one of the many side-effects of this treatment is the phthalates in the drug coating and increased exposure to the fetus. BBC reports that in a study published in the International Journal of Andrology, feminization in boys can be seen through their play habits, and on Huffington Post, a parent blogs about her 7-year-old son coming out as gay. Could this feminization be a combined effort of the mother’s diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding, the use of baby products with higher levels of these chemicals in order to be ‘tear free’, followed by exposure in lifestyle and diet, or merely a shift in culture?
Manly Man to Metrosexual Man to Extinction?!
What about our older men who were less exposed to these chemicals in the womb and growing up? If exposure to all the various environmental toxins inhibits the body from making testosterone and low testosterone causes erectile dysfunction in older men, is this the reason that every commercial break airs an ad for one of the many erectile function disorder drugs? What other damages are being done?
Most people associate estradiol (one of the many estrogenic hormones) with women and testosterone with men, when both sexes produce and need these hormones. Researchers are now looking at the increase in synthetic estrogens in our environment as a leading cause of prostate cancer. One major culprit is oral birth control and other pharmaceuticals in our water systems. According to a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the United Nations World Contraceptive Use, in 100 countries researchers analyzed rates of prostate cancer and oral contraceptive use among women. The report concluded that the areas with a high rate of oral contraceptive use also had a high rate of prostate cancer. Are these estrogenic and anti-androgenic chemicals changing our boys and killing our men?
While researching this topic, I came across one statistic that stated, “1 in 6 couples is infertile.” Low sperm count is another one of the many results of endocrine disruptors in our environment. A study released by the Denmark government concluded that “young men are less fertile than their fathers and produce only a third as much semen, proportionately, as hamsters.” In another study, there is evidence that the birth rate of boys is decreasing in industrial nations including Japan, US, Canada, Denmark and other European nations. And yet, in another report, evidence that men exposed to high levels of phthalates actually damaged the DNA of their sperm. Is the 2006, post-apocalyptic film, Children of Men, which takes place in a not-so-far-off future where mankind is no longer able to reproduce, just fiction or a warning tale? As we fight for women’s right to control reproduction, maybe we should also be fighting for the right to reproduce as well!
What Can YOU Do?
Knowledge is the best weapon. With knowledge we can change our lifestyle and diet to protect ourselves against some of these toxins. Because irreversible damage is done to fetuses and children, pregnant women and parents should be vigilant in researching and choosing what they eat and products they use in their family. Spread the word! Tell the men in your life about the research covered in this article. I know my brothers and boyfriend pay more attention to convenience and cost rather than ingredients, so I show them how easy it is to replace everyday items like plastic water bottles and food containers with more environmentally and health friendly products like a water filter that removes pharmaceutical residues, glass or steal reusable water bottles, and reusable glass food containers. Keep in mind it isn’t just one thing that is causing these changes in our bodies – it’s the accumulation of these chemicals. Little changes in our everyday life can make big differences in our health, mother earth, and the survival of man.
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