Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Humanity at Risk: Are the Males Going First?

This is not really about anything to do with masculinity or gender issues, but it is interesting in its own way for those of us of the male sex (or those who have or plan to have sons).

However, I do have some concerns about the 20% drop in male testosterone levels they note. Not only does this impact health (increased heart disease and testicular cancer, lower bone density, less muscle mass, less sex drive, and the list goes on), but it also has emotional and, by extension, spiritual impacts.

Anything that makes men less than they should be biologically is a serious issue.

The lower testosterone levels are almost certainly due to xenoestrogens, which would also explain the drop in conceived and birthed males.

Humanity at Risk: Are the Males Going First?

Something is happening to today's boys and men: Fewer are being born compared with girls, they're having more trouble in school, virility and fertility are down and testicular cancer rates are up. Now, scientists say these 'fragile males' may be more vulnerable than females to pollutants, affecting their development as early as the womb. If so, writes Martin Mittelstaedt, it could be a bigger threat to our future than global warming

Martin Mittelstaedt, Environment Reporter

September 20, 2008

The first clue was how difficult it was becoming to find enough young boys to cobble together a baseball team.

Then, women in prenatal groups started remarking on how everyone in their groups was having girls.

Jim Brophy remembers those casual observations with vivid clarity, and how they eventually led to one of the most puzzling scientific findings in Canada - the lopsided tally of girls compared with boys being born in the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, a community nearly surrounded by a complex of petrochemical plants.

Mr. Brophy, who runs the occupational-health centre of nearby Sarnia, Ont., was holding discussions five years ago with residents worried over the discovery of elevated levels of mercury and lead in soil on the reserve. Out of the blue, someone asked if anyone else had noticed anything odd going on - like more girls being born than boys.

"It was almost like somebody had told the family secret," Mr. Brophy recalls.

The impression was quickly backed up by a check of band records: In some years, nearly two girls were being born for every boy - a major anomaly given that the normal boy-girl sex ratio is 106 to 100.

The Sarnia area has been prone to many pollution-related woes, but the implications here seem to be arising all over the world: Males may be the more fragile sex when it comes to exposure to modern chemicals, from the embryonic stage on.

The recent sci-fi thriller Children of Men imagined a world population doomed to extinction when, over the coming years, every last human being on Earth becomes infertile. Now, some scientists are painting a similarly frightening picture of a widespread threat to male birth rates and later virility and fertility; what's more, they believe serious damage to men and boys is already occurring.

Researchers tracking childhood behavioural disorders, sperm counts, testicular cancer and even the shrinking size of male gonads are convinced that something is amiss.

The University of Pittsburgh's Devra Davis, in a study issued last year, found that the U.S. and Japan combined had a staggering tally of 262,000 "missing boys" from 1970 to about 2000 because of a decline in the sex ratio at birth. Although it could be a statistical anomaly, she says the figure is "very worrisome."

Dr. Davis, director of the Centre for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, points out another disturbing trend - the rise in what scientists have dubbed testicular dysgenesis syndrome, a catch-all phrase for a raft of male reproductive-system ailments.

Among them is hypospadias, a disfiguring penis abnormality in babies where the urinary opening is on the underside rather than its normal position on the tip. The condition is not new, but boys today are far more likely than their fathers to be born with it. The incidence, adjusted for population size, is up about 60 per cent since the mid-1970s in Canada. Other countries have also experienced increases.

The incidence rate of testicular cancer in young Canadian men aged 20 to 44, for reasons unknown, has risen 54 per cent from 1983 to 2005, according to figures compiled by Cancer Care Ontario.

And levels of testosterone - the hormone that choreographs male development from libido to muscle mass - have inexplicably declined in U.S. men over the past two decades by nearly 20 per cent.

A recent study found that women in the San Francisco area during the 1960s who had higher levels of PCBs gave birth to a third fewer boys than women with low amounts of the chemical, suggesting in utero exposures to the now-banned toxin were able to cull males.

Oddities among males are also occurring in the animal kingdom. Studies in the laboratory and in the wild show that man-made contaminants often attack males of different species with greater ferocity.

Researchers at the University of Florida found that about 35 per cent of male toads from heavily farmed areas of the state exhibited intersex (or hermaphrobitic) attributes: Males showed female coloration and ovarian tissue growing near their testes. Compared with toads in suburban areas, the farmland males also had lower levels of testosterone, more on par with females, suggesting that something related to agricultural practices was feminizing the male amphibians.

For Dr. Davis, there are just too many peculiar things happening to be mere coincidence. "These things theoretically have a common etiology," she says. "Something is tweaking what we can think of as boy-making cells."


A theory rapidly gaining currency is that man-made substances are upsetting the intricate working of hormones - the chemical messengers that even in mere parts per trillion are able to control key aspects of sexual and mental development.

During fetal development, all humans begin life as female, with some assuming male characteristics only after prodding from hormones. If hormones aren't at precisely the right levels in the womb, something in that process might go awry.

University of Florida zoologist Theo Colborn is often heralded as a modern-day version of environmental prophet Rachel Carson. In 1996, she co-wrote Our Stolen Future, which first raised the possibility that synthetic chemicals may interfere with normal hormone functioning. More recently, she has begun giving lectures on "the Male Predicament."

"I definitely feel that the males are really suffering more," says Dr. Colborn, who is also president of the Colorado-based Endocrine Disruption Exchange.

Among her biggest fears is that some chemicals are able to harm brain development, with greater impacts on males than females. She is worried that this attack on male thinking may pose an even greater threat to society than global warming.

Read the whole article.

This last section could explain the predominance of ADHD in boys that the article mentions, not to mention other issues related to development and behavior.

We are in the midst of an environmental crisis that has nothing to do with climate change. All the chemicals in our water and food (and air) are changing our biology (especially males, who seem to be more suseptible all around) in ways we are only just now beginning to grasp.

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