A team of U.S. and British researchers posed a standard play questionnaire to the parents of 145 preschool-age children. Then they ranked the types of play on a scale from most masculine (such as play fighting or using trucks) to most feminine.
An effect was identified among the sons of women with higher concentrations of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) in their prenatal urine. On average, those boys scored 8 percent further away from the masculine end of the scale than other boys.
Phthalates are one of several groups of chemicals that have the power to disrupt the endocrine system, both in animals and humans. Nicknamed “gender-benders,” these chemicals are causing the males in many species to become feminized.
Are Men Becoming an Endangered Species?
According to a report issued by ChemTrust last year, HALF of all male fish in British lowland rivers have been found to grow eggs in their testes! And that’s just one eye-opening example of the impact these gender bender chemicals are having on our environment.
Their study lists the symptoms found in each of the numerous species tested, which includes testicular cancer, hermaphrodites, genital deformations, low sperm counts, and infertility.
Numerous other studies over the past eight years confirm that similar dangers are posed to human health, and males are particularly at risk.
Decreased sperm motility and concentration, as well as genital abnormalities in baby boys have been linked to these chemicals.
The fact that endocrine disruptors like phthalates affect the reproductive system in nearly all mammals is becoming rather well known, although governments and public health- and safety organizations are slow to respond.
Why Pregnant Women Need to Become More Health Conscious
Two studies published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives in 2003 found that pregnant women who are exposed to phthalates may be at risk of shortened pregnancy. Women who were exposed to the chemicals gave birth more than one week earlier than women who were not exposed to them.
Although it’s not clear exactly how phthalates impact the developing fetus, it’s believed they may play a role in inducing an intrauterine inflammatory process, which is a well-established risk factor for premature birth.
In addition, the more a pregnant woman is exposed to high levels of phthalates, the greater the risk her son will have smaller genitals and incomplete testicular descent, leading to impaired reproductive development. The chemical also appears to make the overall genital tracts of boys slightly more feminine.
It is believed that phthalates have these adverse effects because they reduce testosterone synthesis by interfering with an enzyme needed to produce the male hormone. This raises yet another worry: What if they also alter other biological processes dependent on this hormone? Why wouldn’t they?
This latest study adds to the growing body of evidence showing the harmful effects these chemicals have on males in particular.
Women who had higher concentrations of two types of phthalates (DEHP, and DBP) also had boys who appeared more feminized in their personality, while playing.
The presence of phthalates in the mothers was not associated with any differences in the girls’ play behavior. However, that is NOT an indication that phthalates are “safe” for women.
They also affect women’s endocrine systems and reproductive health although the effects are different between the genders.
The glands of your endocrine system and the hormones they release influence almost every cell, organ, and function of your body. It is instrumental in regulating mood, growth and development, tissue function, metabolism, as well as sexual function and reproductive processes.
One indication that this is an issue for both male and female is that infertility is on the rise. Girls are also reaching puberty earlier than ever before.
Bovine growth hormones used in food production, soy foods, and bisphenol-A (BPA), just to name a few, add to the problem as they also mimic estrogen and disrupt your endocrine system.
Other studies have linked the chemical to thyroid problems in both women and men, and researchers have also suggested a link between phthalates and illnesses like allergies, asthma, and contact dermatitis, all of which are on the rise in children.
Common Sources of Phthalates
Phthalates, or “plasticizers,” are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible and resilient. They’re one of the most pervasive of the endocrine disrupters.
Phthalates are found in, among other things:
Processed food packaging
Vinyl flooring and wall coverings
Lubricant and adhesives
Beauty products like nail polish, hair spray, shampoo, deodorants, and fragrances
Other Gender-Bender Chemicals to Watch Out For
Endocrine disrupting chemicals are everywhere these days and can be difficult to avoid unless you take decisive steps to limit or eliminate them from your immediate surroundings. This is particularly important if you are pregnant, or planning a pregnancy.
Reading labels is a necessity these days. PVC plastics, which contain phthalates, will oftentimes carry the plastic recycling symbol # 3.
Some of the other gender-bender agents to look out for include:
Bisphenol A (BPA) -- a common ingredient in many plastics, including those in reusable water bottles and resins lining some food cans and dental sealants, can change the course of fetal development in a way that increases your risk of breast cancer.
Plastic items carrying recycling symbol # 7 is oftentimes indicative of a BPA-containing plastic.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) -- found in grease- and water-resistant coatings like Teflon and Gore-Tex, is a likely carcinogen.
Methoxychlor and Vinclozin-- An insecticide and a fungicide respectively, have been found to cause changes to male mice born for as many as four subsequent generations after the initial exposure.
Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) -- Known to be potent endocrine disrupters, these chemicals affect gene expression by turning on or off certain genes, and interfere with the way your glandular system works. They mimic the female hormone estrogen, and have been implicated as one reason behind some marine species switching from male to female.
Bovine growth hormones commonly added to commercial dairy have been implicated as a contributor to premature adolescence.
Soy products, which are loaded with hormone-like substances.
MSG -- A food additive that’s been linked to reduced fertility.
Fluoride -- This chemical in the U.S. water supply has been linked to lower fertility rates, hormone disruption and low sperm counts.
For more information about the various health hazards inherent with each of these agents, please click on the individual links above.
How to Minimize Your Exposure to Chemicals That Can Harm Your Unborn Baby
In July 2008, the U.S. Congress finally passed legislation banning six types of phthalates from children’s toys and cosmetics. Legislators in Washington, Vermont and California have also restricted phthalate use in children’s goods, and several major retailers, including Wal-Mart, Toys-R-Us, Lego, Evenflo and Gerber claim they will phase out phthalate-laden toys voluntarily.
Yet, so many more products contain endocrine disruptors of varying types, it’s far easier to memorize the healthiest options, rather than compiling a never-ending list of items to avoid.
Here are a number of practical techniques you can use to limit your exposure to endocrine disruptors, and other common toxins:
As much as possible, buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic foods to reduce your exposure to pesticides and fertilizers.
Rather than eating conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality purified fish or krill oil, or eat fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity.
Eat mostly raw, fresh foods, steering clear of processed, prepackaged foods of all kinds. This way you automatically avoid artificial food additives of all kinds, including dangerous artificial sweeteners, food coloring and MSG.
Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap.
Have your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (even those in your shower or bath).
Only use natural cleaning products in your home.
Switch over to natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group has a great safety guide to help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals.
Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances.
When redoing your home, look for “green,” toxin-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint and vinyl floor coverings.
Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric.