By Dr. Mercola
The chemical industry is only 100 years old, but in this short time they've created substances that may now be threatening human survival.
A handful of these chemicals are detailed in the film The Disappearing Male, which gives an educational glimpse into exactly why environmental chemicals, and particularly the gender-bending kind, are so detrimental.
It's becoming quite clear that chemicals in the environment are prompting significant changes to animals, especially males, and that extends to human 'animals' as well.
Infertility Rates are Rising as Sperm Counts Drop
One couple in the film described the waiting room at their infertility clinic as similar to an emergency room – packed with lines extending down the hall. Infertility is more common than many think these days. An estimated 1 in 6 American couples struggle with getting pregnant each year1 and there's compelling evidence that hormone-disrupting environmental chemicals are partly to blame.
The problem with low sperm counts has become so severe that the World Health Organization has had to continually drop what's considered a 'normal' sperm count to lower and lower levels over the last several decades, lest too many men be classified as infertile.
Chemicals that may disrupt sperm count and quality are pervasive in today's modern world. They lurk in personal care products, food containers, medical tubing, toys and more. Bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates are two of the most well known culprits.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
BPA is a common ingredient in many plastics, including those in water bottles and children's toys, as well as the lining of most canned goods. It was recently discovered that even many cash register receipts contain this chemical. BPA is so pervasive it has been detected in the umbilical cord blood of 90 percent of newborn infants tested!
Recent studies have confirmed suspicions that BPA is affecting male fertility, primarily by reducing semen quality. One such study, which provides the first epidemiological evidence of an adverse effect on semen quality, was published in the journal Fertility and Sterility.2 The researchers found that higher urine levels of BPA were significantly associated with:
- Decreased sperm concentration
- Decreased total sperm count
- Decreased sperm vitality
- Decreased sperm motility
Compared with those who did not have detectable levels, the men with detectable levels of BPA had more than:
- Three times the risk of lowered sperm concentration and lower sperm vitality
- Four times the risk of lower sperm count
- Twice the risk of lower sperm motility
In women, BPA can also reduce chances of successful in vitro fertilization (IVF) by interfering with oocyte (immature egg cell) quality. Two recent studies attest to this. One found an inverse association between BPA concentration and normal fertilization,3 and the other found that "BPA was detected in the urine of the majority of women undergoing IVF, and was inversely associated with number of oocytes retrieved and peak estradiol levels."4
Phthalates are another group of chemicals that wreak havoc with reproductive health. Exposure to phthalates can lead to incomplete testicular descent in fetuses, reduced sperm counts, testicular atrophy or structural abnormality and inflammation in newborns.
Phthalates are commonly found in vinyl flooring, detergents, automotive plastics, soap, shampoo, deodorants, fragrances, hair spray, nail polish, plastic bags, food packaging, garden hoses, inflatable toys, blood-storage bags, intravenous medical tubing, and more.
A 200% Increase in Male Genital Birth Defects
Gender-bending chemicals are the likely culprit behind a 200% increase in male genital birth defects in recent years, the film cited, highlighting one woman who believes her son's undescended testes falls into this category.
Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act in 1996, which required the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to initiate the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP) to screen pesticides and other environmental chemicals for their potential to affect the endocrine systems of both animals and humans. According to the EPA:5
"In the 1990s, some scientists proposed that certain chemicals might be disrupting the endocrine systems of humans and wildlife. A variety of chemicals have been found to disrupt the endocrine systems of animals in laboratory studies, and compelling evidence shows that endocrine systems of certain fish and wildlife have been affected by chemical contaminants, resulting in developmental and reproductive problems."
However, despite the fact that nearly two decades have passed since the beginning of the program, the market is literally flooded with chemicals that have the potential to wreak havoc on reproductive health, especially when exposure occurs in utero or during childhood (as is often the case).
The strongest evidence showing that exposure to environmental chemicals can lead to disruption of endocrine function comes from the bizarre changes seen in a number of wildlife species, such as male fish transforming into females; frogs developing a variety of defects like multiple testes or ovaries; and hermaphrodite bears, just to name a few.
The effects are being seen in humans as well. The endocrine-disrupting chemicals phthalates, for instance are linked to testicular atrophy or structural abnormality. In experiments on rats, phthalates have demonstrably blocked the action of fetal androgens, which affects gender development in male offspring, leading to undescended testes at birth and testicular tumors later in life.
Studies have also found that boys whose mothers had high phthalate exposures while pregnant were much more likely to have certain demasculinized traits and produce less testosterone.
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.
Even the Most Vulnerable Are Being Inundated with Gender-Bending Chemicals
Studies have shown that premature babies are exposed to extremely high concentrations of phthalates, which are widely used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) used in medical tubing and other medical equipment. With each plastic tube that a newborn is hooked up to, the rate of phthalate exposure increases. And for those premature infants who spend weeks and months in the neonatal intensive care unit, the exposure levels can be extraordinary.
A report released by the nonprofit organization Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI) found that male infants exposed to phthalates through medical procedures are most at risk of suffering health effects.6 The phthalate di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate, or DEHP, in particular, is raising concern because of research linking it to:
Disturbed lactation "Decreased dysgenesis syndrome": A syndrome involving cryptorchidism (undescended testicles), hypospadias (birth defect in which opening of urethra is on the underside of the penis instead of at the end), oligospermia (low sperm count), and testicular cancer Interference with sexual differentiation in utero Enlarged prostate glands Impaired ovulatory cycles and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) Numerous hormonal disruptions Early or delayed puberty Breast cancer and uterine fibroids
A typical American comes in regular contact with some 6,000 chemicals and an untold number of potentially toxic substances on a less frequent basis. There are approximately 75,000 chemicals regularly manufactured and imported by US industries, so you could be exposed to any number of them. Disturbingly, most of them have never been adequately tested for safety for adults, let alone their impacts on the most vulnerable among us, our children.
The chemical industry has, in fact, resisted testing chemicals on developing bodies, as might occur when a fetus is exposed in utero, likely because they'd have trouble explaining away all the ill effects that are likely to be revealed. Furthermore, there is absolutely no toxicology research that takes into account the effects of multiple, simultaneous chemical exposures and their resultant synergistic toxicity, which is what actually happens to exposed populations in the real world.
The Chemical Industry Is One of the Most Powerful Lobbyists
Like the biotech, pharmaceutical and processed food industries, the chemical industry wields incredible power over Congress, and uses it to have bills passed in their favor – and regulatory violations overlooked. Perhaps that is why, despite the proven risks, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has denied a petition to ban BPA from food packaging. The FDA and most other US regulatory agencies are backed by pro-industry, pro-corporation advocates who often have massive conflicts of interest when it comes to protecting the health of the public.
In fact, the revolving door between private industry and government oversight agencies like the FDA is so well established these days, it has become business as usual to read about scandal, conflicts of interest and blatant pro-industry bias, even when it flies in the face of science or the law. The fact is, if you want to stay safe, you can't depend on the FDA, the EPA or any other government agency; you've got to look out for yourself.
Protecting Yourself in a Chemically Driven World
No one knows what health consequences to this toxic chemical cocktail will cause to an adult, let alone a developing baby. Unfortunately, it is our future generations, and possibly the species as a whole, who will likely pay the heftiest price for this lack of safety concern, as an embryo and fetus develop at a much faster rate than adults.
While this development occurs, cell division and growth is rapid -- and these rapid changes provide many opportunities for mistakes to occur. It's clear that boys appear to be at particular risk but, really, no one is safe. I encourage everyone with children or grandchildren to review Theo Colburn's Our Stolen Future, which is one of the BEST resources on this topic. Further, while you make the switch to remove and reduce chemicals around your home, remember that one of the ways to significantly reduce your toxic load is to pay careful attention to what you eat.
Organically-grown, biodynamic whole foods are really the key to success here, and, as an added bonus, when you eat right, you're also optimizing your body's natural detoxification system, which can help eliminate toxins your body encounters from other sources. Rather than compile an endless list of what you should avoid, it's far easier to focus on what you should do to lead a healthy lifestyle with as minimal a chemical exposure as possible:
- As much as possible, buy and eat organic produce and organic free-range 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 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, including dangerous artificial sweeteners, food coloring and MSG.
- Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap and canned foods (which are often lined with BPA-containing liners).
- 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 database7 to help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals. I also offer one of the highest quality organic skin care lines, shampoo and conditioner, and body butter that are completely natural and safe.
- Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances.
- Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
- 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, or install a glass shower door. Most all flexible plastics, like shower curtains, contain dangerous plasticizers like phthalates.
- Limit your use of drugs (prescription and over-the-counter) as much as possible. Drugs are chemicals too, and they will leave residues and accumulate in your body over time.
- Avoid spraying pesticides around your home or insect repellants that contain DEET on your body. There are safe, effective and natural alternatives out there.