Sex Hormone Pollution (Endocrine Disruptors)

I’m reading a fascinating book, Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Dr. Leonard Sax.  Dr. Sax’s fourth factor is endocrine disruptors – chemicals in the environment that mimic female sex hormones that are affecting male animals around the world, including human males.  I had vaguely heard about this problem, but the research and theories Dr. Sax reports on is eye opening.  Like our bodies, the environment is a soup of chemicals that works in a delicate harmony, and the amount of pollution the environment is receiving is reaching levels equal to taking medicine for our bodies.


Since the beginning of the industrial age we’ve been dumping billions of tons of countless man-made chemicals into the environment, and we’ve yet to learn the ultimate outcome of these actions.  If climate change deniers are freaking out over the idea of global warming, based on one natural element being increased in the environment, what will they make over sex hormone pollution? It was one thing to hear back in 1996 that synthetic sex hormone mimics were affecting amphibians and fish, but it’s a whole other thing to think they’re affecting human boys growing up today.

A good recent overview of the problem is “How Chemicals Affect Us” by Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times.  Also read his older piece, “It’s Time to Learn From Frogs.”  A more sensational piece is “Boys with Boobs” by Beth Greer at Huffington Post.  Greer has several recommendations on how to avoid the kind of chemicals that can affect our sex hormones.  [Man, I’m giving up drinking from plastic bottles!]

To read more of these types of articles on your own follow this link to Google.

Dr. Sax’s theory about endocrine disruptors and boys takes these protests up a quantum leap.

Dr. Sax theorizes that endocrine disruptors are making girls reach puberty earlier and boys later, partly explaining why boys are having so much trouble in school.  Girls are now doing much better in school and college than boys and his book Boys Adrift tries to explain why.  One of Dr. Sax’s theories suggests that endocrine disruptors are changing boys at a sexual hormonal level thus affecting their learning personalities.  I don’t know how much research has gone into this hypothesis but it’s a very interesting one.  Plus, I must point out that Dr. Sax has an array of theories about various problems affecting boys, endocrine disruptors are just one – but I think a significant one. 

Is sex hormone pollution enough to change the dominant gender in our society from men to women?  Sax doesn’t say that, but that’s what I’m reading into the story.  What will the climate change deniers make over that idea?  If Dr. Sax’s hypothesis is correct, and I’m not saying that it is, this will take the whole issue of man-made pollutions to a much higher level of impact than ever before.  It’s one thing to change the biosphere, it’s a whole other issue to fundamentally change humans.

You can read Boys Adrift at Google Books.

JWH – 10/31/13

7 thoughts on “Sex Hormone Pollution (Endocrine Disruptors)”

  1. I would be
    most careful with this kind of claims.
    Yes, in some heavily polluted rivers problems were observed with fish. But it’s a big stretch to extrapolate this and other extremely low dose effects to humans.
    Essentially, there are no procedures available to quantify this kind of influence. Consider: we are talking about microgram or picogram concentrations over prolonged time. We can’t experiment on humans. Nobody will finance a lab experiment on chimps (or whatever) lasting a decade or more.
    So we take rats (or mice), stuff them with huge doses of chemicals in question over a couple of weeks or months, and then do some extraordinary guesswork to interpolate the results for humans, extremely low doses and exposure over decades. Silly, really. Yet this is the procedure we use to determine permissible doses of pesticides, etc.
    One can of course take a number of patients with a certain disorder, and start looking for possible causes of this disorder. But – unless you get a clear cut human sample group which has been influenced by a certain – and known factor (like they got with asbestos), it’s an impossible task. There are too many variables with unknown effects (genetics, lifestyle, exposure to other possibly harmful stuff, etc.), and you can’t really quantify them. With so much background noise it is impossible to identify minuscule effects.
    Take a look at Lomborg’s “Skeptical Environmentalist”, or Wildawski’s “But Is It True?” to see this point driven home.

    1. Janis, I agree we have to be skeptical, that’s why I tried to word things carefully. Endocrine disruptors is one of five factors Dr. Sax suggests comes into play affecting boys and education, and probably is the most controversial. All five factors are hypotheses that must be researched. However, if boys have delayed puberty and girls have earlier puberty due to these chemicals I don’t think it’s a big stretch to suggest that it could have a massive impact in the long run. Remember, for this issue, the canary is just starting to swoon.

      We know fish and amphibians are being affected. Shouldn’t we start to worry now that these chemicals might have wider effects on the environment?

      Also, what does explain why boys are doing so badly in school? Why are girls graduating college at almost 2 to 1 ratios over boys? It can’t just be video games.

      Yes, Janis, we have to be skeptical, but we also should be worried.

  2. Like some other pollutants these don’t break down quickly, so they build up over time. We are bathed in plastic from birth to death. The corruption in our politics is so overwhelming very little serious study of this issue as been done. The little that has been is not promoted. You can see the ideological attacks Republicans make against studying climate change. But for nearly a hundred years there has been successful economic attacks on science from both republicans and democrats. Our politicians have bipartisanly embraced corporate pollution. If it effects rich people in a high-profile way democrats might be moved to speak out, but in the shadow they are every bit as much for sale as their republican brethren.

  3. I’d be skeptical, too, I think. Anyone can write a book and make it sound very plausible. Whether it’s true or not, that’s an open question.

    I’d go with the scientific consensus, if there is a consensus. I have no idea. However, it’s stupid to let these chemicals loose in the environment if we’re not sure they won’t cause problems. I mean, in this case, it’s the polluters who need to prove their case.

    On the other hand, we use these chemicals for good reason. Without pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals, most of us would starve to death. We don’t permit these things just because we want corporations to make more money. We do so because we want what a high-tech life can give us. (Heck, we want life itself.)

    So I’m taking the middle ground here. If we have reason to believe that certain chemicals are doing these things, we need to spend whatever’s necessary to find out. And the people responsible for making and using those chemicals need to pay for that – to a large extent, at least.

    However, not everything is harmful, and for most things, the poison is in the dose. Hysteria won’t help, and neither will conspiracy theories. We need to be most concerned with chemicals that don’t break down easily in the environment. And we do need to have reason to think that they’re harmful.

    It’s too bad, really. We shouldn’t be polluting at all. But that’s not reality. Life is pollution. And with seven billion people on the planet, every little bit adds up.

    1. Readers can go to Google Scholar and find 65,600 articles on the subject of endocrine disruptors. That’s scholarly articles, not your normal Google crap like I write.

      It’s not easy reading, but just surveying the articles will show that this is more than idle speculation. Just tracking declining sperm count in men over the last 30 years is enough to cause worry. Add the fact that we’re seeing more male genital defects in newborns is another striking clue. The fact that girls are starting puberty as early as 8 or 9 should trouble many. That in many lakes and rivers around the world we’re finding sex identity weirdness in fish and amphibians should be freaking people out.

      To avoid the issue of sex hormone pollution because its speculation would be dangerous. Skepticism is fine. Avoiding another pollution issue would be an act of denial.

      Science doesn’t always provide conclusive answers for a very long time when new studies begin, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry until all the research is in.

      I know where you stand Bill regarding science, but I’m not sure where Janis’ skepticism is taking her.

  4. It’s nice to see skepticism in the responses. Effects of BPA in parts-per-trillion are never going to be proven to scientific certainty. Some of us can remember that toothpaste came in lead tubes- it didn’t hurt James Wharris any, but maybe that’s caused a generation of grandsons to have fat little titties. Or maybe a book named “Boys With Boobs*” is a guaranteed money maker for the publisher. Leonard Sax has done some interesting evaluation studies of boys schooling vs. coed, but geez, ya can’t experiment of condemned prisoners the way you can on school kids.

    Billy Pilgrim

    *Note To: WCG
    Shouldn’t that be “Boy’s With Boob’s” ?

    1. Shouldn’t that be “Boy’s With Boob’s” ?

      I know you’re not really that clueless, Billy, so why act like it? OK, you made a mistake in your previous post. But it’s not such a big deal. Everyone does it, occasionally. Why keep dwelling on it like that? Did you think we were looking down on you for misspelling “atheist”?

      Frankly, all you’ll get from posts like this is people not taking you seriously enough to even bother reading your comments.

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