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Can Environment Affect Your Health?

Life, as we know it, is changing on this planet. As a matter of fact, our lifestyles, diets and environment have changed more in the past 50 years than they had in the previous 1000 years. But how does this affect us?  As in all scientific studies, we look to the animal kingdom for answers. Since environmental changes affect the smallest creatures first, we start with them. Note the following research.


The Water Supply

The herbicide, atrazine, is the most common weed-killer in America and is also used in 80 other countries around the world. It shows up in practically every major waterway in the U.S. A recent study from the University of California, Berkeley found that atrazine is mutating and eliminating amphibian populations in the U.S. and probably the world.

The U.S. Geological Survey recently tested 139 streams in 30 different states. It found organic wastewater contaminants (OWCs) in 80% of the streams. The most common contaminants were plant and animal steroids, insect repellents, stimulants such as caffeine, household disinfectants, fire retardants, and detergents. There was an average of seven contaminants in each stream, and some had as many as 38. [Environ Sci Technol 02;36(6):1202-11]

Herbicide and pesticide runoff obviously contributes to this contamination, but other sources are birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy drugs, and other medications that are released by human urine and fecal material.

Mutations and Sex Organ Changes

The above study didn't get too much publicity, in part because most of the levels of these contaminants were allowed by current drinking water guidelines. Unfortunately, studies have shown that mutations and sex organ changes in animals still occur even at levels far below what we allow in our drinking water supplies.

For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows atrazine levels of 3 parts per billion (ppb) in our drinking water. Tyrone Hayes of the University of California, Berkeley found that when tadpoles were exposed to atrazine levels of only 0.1 ppb they developed extra testes, or even ovaries. Atrazine promotes the conversion of testosterone to estrogen, which explains why male frogs often developed both male and female sexual organs. Also, when adult frogs were exposed to these low levels they developed smaller larynxes and had only one-tenth the testosterone level of unexposed frogs. [Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 02;99(8):5476-80]

In other studies, researchers found that reproduction was disrupted in female birds that were exposed to estrogen at levels now commonly found in the wild. Finches exposed to estrogen produced fewer eggs and had more fragile shells. Numbers of hatchlings fell dramatically and the newborns had malformed oviducts. [Horm Behav 02;41(2):236-41]

When you begin to read the details of these studies and talk with the researchers, the picture that emerges is like something out of a horror movie: hermaphrodite frogs, alligators born with shrunken penises, frogs with extra legs and duplicate sets of sex organs, male fish producing the yolk protein normally produced only by females, female birds with brain formations that cause them to sing like male birds--and the list goes on and on.

Most of this information is not new. We first began to notice environmental hormone exposure in the animal population about 15 years ago.  Even then it was scary.

Children are Small Creatures Too

As we move up the food chain, we have discovered that the changes in our environment are also affecting our children. Due to our ever increasing use of estrogen and estrogen-like compounds, puberty is occurring earlier and earlier. The effect on girls has been known for some time, now a new study is showing similar results for boys.

The last analysis found that the average age of boys developing pubic hair was 12 years of age in Caucasians, 12.3 years of age in Mexican-Americans, and 11.2 years in African-Americans. These ages are roughly 1/2 year earlier than what previous studies had shown.

While these figures represent the "average" ages, a recent study, from the University of North Carolina, found that 21% of black individuals had developed pubic hair between the ages of nine and 10, compared to only 4.3% of the white boys and only 3.3% of the Mexican-American boys. [Arch Pediatr Adolese Med 01;155(9):988- 9]

We are Not Immune

Among human adults, no one has really looked at the situation that closely. However, we do know that miscarriages are becoming more common, fertility levels are dropping, increasing testosterone levels in the elderly have become commonplace, and studies have shown that our increased exposure to estrogen and estrogen-like compounds has increased the incidence of both breast and testicular cancers.

It may be just a matter of time before these contaminants are linked to increased childhood cancers, deformities, depression, obesity, and perhaps a long list of other heath problems.

Also not many studies have taken into account the cumulative effect of one's exposure to mixtures of these compounds. Like the atrazine study mentioned earlier, most studies focus on a single contaminant. In real-life, your exposure is more than likely to dozens of estrogen-like compounds from various sources. In the water survey mentioned earlier, some waterways had as many as 38 different contaminants, yet all fell within the safe drinking limits set by the EPA. What about exposure from other sources?

If you are: drinking tap water, on birth control or hormone-replacement-therapy, microwaving any of your food in plastic containers, using pesticides or herbicides, having your house routinely sprayed for insects, using plastic food wrap, consuming soy supplements or unfermented soy foods, or using sunscreen, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to know your true estrogen exposure.

Surprisingly, while the FDA seems obsessed with keeping every trace of hormones out of natural products (for instance, glandular products used for restoring endocrine function), it doesn't seem concerned about abuse, overuse, or overexposure from other sources.

Hormones via Hair Care

In the mid-1990s, Dr. Chandra Tiwary at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas contacted the FDA with concerns about various hair products that contain estrogen. The FDA wasn't interested. A few years later Dr. Tiwary published his findings, which again received very little publicity.

Dr. Tiwary reported on the results of four African-American girls age 1 to 8 years that developed breasts or pubic hair 2 to 24 months after starting to use estrogen or placenta-containing hair products. When the use of these products was stopped, the development of breasts and pubic hair also ceased. [Clin Pediatr 98;37(12):733-9]

To determine the scope of the problem, Dr. Tiwary later surveyed different racial groups that used the pediatric clinics at military medical facilities. He was the chief of pediatric endocrinology at Brooke Army Medical Center at the time.

Among the 521 individuals who responded to his survey, he discovered that 64% of the African-Americans and 6.9% of the whites used hair products containing hormone and/or placenta. Additionally, 55.5% of the parents who used these products also used them on their children, and another 5.5% of the children had these products used on them by their barber or hairstylist. [Mil Med 97;162(4):252-6]

Although these findings were reported several years ago, placenta- and hormone-containing hair and facial products are still on the market today and still being used on children. There's no question that these products contain varying levels of estrogen and no question that these hormones can be absorbed easily through the skin. They become even more bio-available after the skin has been exposed to hot or warm water and the pores are open -- exactly what happens during a shampoo.

If This Concerns You

Make sure your water supply is as clean and pure as possible. Also check the labels of your shampoos, hair conditioners, and skin and facial creams to see if they contain placenta, a common source of estrogen in these products. Some may list estrogen, estriol, estradiol, or natural hormones as an ingredient. If you are uncertain about a product's ingredients, contact the manufacturer for specifics.

Placenta has been touted for years as a rejuvenator and wrinkle remover. Raw placentas are generally obtained from slaughtered cattle or sheep and then added to various beauty products. There are dozens of these products on the market. Most of them are marketed to African-Americans.

What's in Store for Humanity?

After researching this topic one can't help but to wonder what is in store for humanity. Have we been so seduced by the latest and greatest medical/hi-tech promises that we have abandoned all common sense? Or are we uninformed participants in some bizarre medical experiment? Can we not see changes that are so dramatic, they are literally transforming our bodies right before our eyes? The more research I do, the more convinced I become that future generations will look back at this time in history with shock and amazement.

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