Environmental toxins

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Hormone related and degenerative diseases have escalated dramatically since the 2nd World War. Men, women, children and all other vertebrates are affected by but, significantly, these diseases occur predominantly in Western cultures. There is evidence that the problem is now spreading to the rest of the world as industrialization spreads the environmental toxins which are an ineviatable bye-product. 

Researchers are linking the rise in hormone related diseases to environmental toxins such as synthetic chemicals, especially pesticides which mimic the female hormone estrogen. In particular these include DDT, dioxin and PCB's (polychlorinated biphenyls). Over 100 chemicals have now been identified as hormone disrupters, at least half of which resist the natural processes of decay, some persisting for decades, some for centuries. Approximately 2 billion tons of pesticides and countless billions of tonnes of industrial chemicals are used annually the world over.

Progesterone suppresses oestrogen if sufficient is used. It's use could in some way alleviate the adverse symptoms associated with excess oestrogen. Be it from oestrogen mimics, normally called endocrine disrupting chemicals or EDCs for short, endogenous oestrogen or phytoestrogens from plants.

The incidence of Cancer has risen alarmingly in the last fifty years. Cambridge University's East Anglian Cancer Intelligence Unit has predicted that by the year 2018 there will be a 50% chance of a person getting cancer. This is in fact already the case in the heavily industrialized areas where environmental toxins tend to concentrate. Progesterone is protective against cancer.

Prostate cancer has doubled over the same period. It is estimated that in 20 years 1 in 4 men will have it, making it a bigger problem than breast cancer in women. It is now the most common cancer in American men. The National Cancer Institute in the USA reported a 127% rise in prostate cancer from 1973 to 1991, a yearly increase of 3.9%. 400,000 men in the USA are operated on each year for prostate problems, over 40,000 men die from them.

A study carried out in the USA discovered that male mice exposed to the natural female hormone estradiol (one of the estrogens) or to a synthetic estrogen whilst still a foetus, caused the prostate gland to become hypersensitive to male sex hormones for the rest of the animal's lives. This led researchers to find that when the mice reached puberty they had all the symptoms of prostate disease found in men: enlargement, smaller urethras, inflammation, increased frequency of urination, and cellular changes similar to cancer in humans.

Another study found a high fat and meat diet linked to a greater increase in the disease, due to the estrogenic steroids given to livestock for fattening.

Studies carried out in Denmark by Prof. Skakkebaek provide further evidence of the effect of environmental toxins. These studies found a tripling of testicular cancer since the 2nd World War, with rates increasing at 2-4% per year, and a 5% increase in Germany and Poland. It is the most common cancer found in young men. This is caused by the rapid increase in testosterone (which occurs during puberty) acting on previously damaged cells. The occurrence of undescended testes has doubled since the 1940's and now affects 2-3% of all baby boys. There has also been a 2-3% increase in abnormalities of the penis, resulting in mild to severe variations in sex characteristics.

Sperm counts in men have declined over the past 60 years. Researchers have found that the average sperm count has dropped 45%, from 113 million per milliliter of semen in 1940 to less than 66 million per milliliter by 2000. They also found that the volume of semen ejaculated had dropped 25%, making a total sperm count decline of 50%. The number of men with ultra low sperm counts of about 20 million has tripled over the same period, from 6% to 18%.

A similar study by the Medical Research Council's Reproductive Biology Unit in Edinburgh found that men born in 1940 had a sperm count of 128 million, whereas those born in 1969 had only 75 million. A French study found similar results. Researchers have also found an alarming rise in unhealthy sperm. Several studies in Europe and the USA are linking male reproductive abnormalities to exposure of the foetus to hormone mimicking pesticides, these being amongst the most abundant environmental toxins.

Breast cancer has tripled in the last 60 years. In 1940, 1 in 20 women ran the risk of getting it. This incidence has now risen by 1% per year to 1 in 8. It is currently the leading cause of death amongst women between the ages of 40 and 45. From 1980 to 1987 the number of cases reported in the USA jumped by 32%. It has been known for years that the longer a woman is exposed to her own natural estrogen, the greater the risk of getting breast cancer. This risk is increased still further by taking Contraceptives or HRT. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology as far back as 1993 stated that not only long term, but short term users of HRT carry a 40% risk of getting breast cancer.

There is now rising concern that estrogen mimicking chemicals are causing cancers in tissue sensitive to hormones especially when un-opposed by progesterone. Profs. Ana Soto and Carlos Sonnenschein in their work on how estrogens can make breast cancer cells multiply, found that nonylphenol had the same affect. This chemical environmental toxin is widely used in industrial detergents, lubricating oils, paints, plastics, toiletries, and agriculture.

Approximately 6% of cancers are cervical, which has been increasing at a rate of 3% per year since 1986 in woman under the age of fifty. The only known cause of endometrial cancer is estrogen un-opposed by progesterone or synthetic progestogens (as found in HRT).

Endometriosis now affects 12 million women in the USA, 30-40% of whom are infertile. Prior to 1921 only 20 cases had been reported worldwide. It is most common in women between the ages of 25 and 40. There is strong evidence linking it to a weakened immune system caused by one of the most virulent of environmental toxins... dioxin. This also has an estrogenic effect on vertebrates. Oestrogen is an excitatory, inflammatory hormone which increases endometrial tissues, progesterone suppresses excess oestrogen. It's also a calming, anti-inflammatory hormone.

Dioxin is a by-product of the manufacture of chemicals using chlorine, such as disinfectants, dry cleaning fluid, drugs, pesticides and plastic. German researchers have recently reported that women with endometriosis also have a higher level of PCB's in their blood than those without the disease.

PCB's also increase the risk of miscarriage by causing a reduction in progesterone by accelerating its breakdown in the liver. First introduced in 1929 PCBs were used in the electrical industry, lubricants, plastics, paints, varnishes, inks and pesticides. They were banned in 1976, but only after over 1.5 million tons had been made! They do not break down and remain everywhere, in air, soil, water, animals, birds, fish and humans.

Ectopic pregnancies are on the increase. A study conducted in Wisconsin (USA) found that they had increased by 400% between 1970 and 1987.

Reproductive and behavioural problems in animals are being discovered worldwide. Theo Colborn in her book and web site Our Stolen Future, points to the scientific evidence that hormone disruptors are altering brain development and behaviour in animals. She speculates it may be the reason why there has been an increase in learning difficulties, hyperactivity and aggression in children. Five per cent of babies in the USA are exposed to sufficient quantities of PCB's in breast milk to affect their neurological development.

Anxiety and depression is increasing in the UK with a 210% rise in spending on anti-depressants in the years 1993 to 1998 and accelerating since. Environmental toxins are strongly implicated. Six million adults are now estimated to have mental health problems in the UK. According to researchers the incidence in children is doubling every 5 years, together with that of hyperactivity. Almost 50,000 prescriptions were made out in 1998 for Ritalin, a leading medication prescribed for the control of hyperactivity in children. This increased to 661,463 prescriptions in 2010.

Auto immune diseases are also on the increase, these being more common in women than men. Again, a lack of progesterone and environmental toxins are strongly implicated. A leading USA authority on progesterone therapy, Dr. John Lee (who sadly died recently), asked the question whether they are possibly a symptom of estrogen toxicity. Many of his patients on progesterone therapy have found their adverse auto immune symptoms gradually abating.

Women are exposed to more estrogen throughout their lives than men. There is now an increased risk of exposure as women now have approximately 450 menstruations in a lifetime. The average age of puberty is now between 9 and 10 and menopause averages at age 51. In the pre-industrial past puberty averaged at 17.5 years and menopause at 35, which meant that women had less than half the current average number of menstruations. They also had multiple pregnancies. The almost continuous state of pregnancy was highly protective, as a woman makes up to 40 times the amount of progesterone when pregnant than during her monthly cycle. After menopause some women make less progesterone than men of the same age. Studies done by Harvard University show that estrogen levels in Western women are abnormally high, when compared to those of other cultures.

Dr Katharina Dalton, who, until recently, had been practicing progesterone therapy in the UK since 1948, established that there are no contraindications for its use. She pointed out that although we only think of it as a menstrual and pregnancy hormone, progesterone is in fact found in all vertebrates and we tend to forget the other important functions which it performs in both men and women. As such it plays a vital role in protecting us against the effects of environmental toxins. Progesterone is a potent anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic and antioxidant.

Dr. Ray Peat in his book "Progesterone in Orthomolecular Medicine" mentions some of the following adverse effects estrogen can have on the body :

Salt and water retentionIncreases body and blood fat, blood clotting, embolismsLowers blood sugarOpposes actions of thyroxinCauses copper retention and zinc lossPromotes development of fibroids, histamine releasePromotes gall bladder diseaseAccelerates aging of collagen (connective tissue)Increases risk of endometrial cancer and endometriosisIncreases risk of fibrocystic breast disease and breast cancerRestrains osteoclast functionDecreases libidoReduces oxygen levels in all cells

Progesterone opposes all of these effects, but above all it counters stress.

The endocrinologist Hans Selye, who wrote the first definitive study on stress, said "When endocrinology is fully understood there will be no place for psychiatrists."

In the 1960's Dr Linus Pauling (a Nobel prize winner) coined the term 'orthomolecular medicine' and defined it as...

"the preservation of good health and the treatment of disease by varying the concentration in the human body of substances that are normally present in the body and are required for health."

Progesterone is one such substance. His statement is very different from the 'toximolecular' practice of modern medicine, which introduces into the body extremely toxic substances in the belief that health will be the end result. The very reverse has been true, with 38% of men and 47% of women on constantly prescribed drugs.

Environmental toxins are strongly implicated in the fact that over 68% of the people in the west are now dying from degenerative diseases, whereas 100 years ago it was only 15%. Since 1980 there has been a 58% increase in deaths in the USA from infectious diseases... in spite of antibiotics.

Western medicine has been based on the Cartersian "reductionist" view, which regards the body as a machine that can be broken down into its various parts. These "parts" are then treated by different specialists, often more than one at a time, with little thought to the whole person.

Western society is coming to realise that this reductionist view can be damaging to both physical and mental health and that Western medicine's approach must change towards the increasingly more commonly accepted scientific view that all life is interrelated.

The hormone progesterone is fundamental to all vertebrate life.

The future of medicine will lie in this direction. Functional medicine is another example of looking at the 'whole' body and not the 'hole' in the body, as one wit put it.

To find out more about progesterone therapy in general and how it benefits health issues other than those connected by environmental toxins please click here.

Do you have a question or story about environmental toxins?

We'd love to hear it. Sharing it will help us all get a better understanding of just how deeply we are all affected by this scourge of modern living.

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Research papers on Endocrine Disruptors

"An endocrine disruptor is an exogenous substance that causes adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, consequent to changes in endocrine function."

Pure Appl.Chem., 2003, Vol.75, No.5, pp.631, 681, 2003


Environ Health Perspect 119:a34-a34 January 2011
Estrogens from the Outside In: Alkylphenols, BPA Disrupt ERK Signaling in Vitro

Environ Health Perspect 119:104-112 September 2010
Combinations of Physiologic Estrogens with Xenoestrogens Alter ERK Phosphorylation Profiles in Rat Pituitary Cells

Reuters Science Watch August 2009
Ana Soto Bisphenol A (BPA)

Environ Health Perspect. 2006 Jan;114(1):106-12
The estrogenic effect of bisphenol A disrupts pancreatic beta-cell function in vivo and induces insulin resistance

Huffington Post June 26, 2009
Yale Scientists Discover How Exposure to BPA Causes Infertility

Environmental Working Group April 2008
Timeline: BPA from Invention to Phase-Out

Organic Consumers Association March 5, 2007
Chemical Linked to Birth Defects - Bisphenol A - Found at Unsafe Levels in Canned Food

Los Angeles Times Friday, August 3, 2007
Chemical in plastic prompts scientists' warning

Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 115, Number 4, April 2007
Perinatal Bisphenol A Exposure Increases Estrogen Sensitivity of the Mammary Gland in Diverse Mouse Strains

Cancer Research 65, 54-65, January 1, 2005
Xenoestrogen Action in Prostate Cancer: Pleiotropic Effects Dependent on Androgen Receptor Status

Human Reproduction 2005 20(8):2325-2329
Exposure to bisphenol A is associated with recurrent miscarriage

Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Aug;113(8):926-33
An extensive new literature concerning low-dose effects of bisphenol A shows the need for a new risk assessment.


Cancer Res November 15, 2008 68; 9116
The Role of Parental and Grandparental Epigenetic Alterations in Familial Cancer Risk

Int J Androl. 2007 Aug;30(4):198-204
Testicular cancer trends as 'whistle blowers' of testicular developmental problems in populations


Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 116, Number 1, January 2008
Dioxin Exposure, from Infancy through Puberty, Produces Endocrine Disruption and Affects Human Semen Quality

Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation Vol. 48, Suppl. 1, 1999
The Potential Role of Environmental Toxins in the Pathophysiology of Endometriosis

Government of Ontario July 1997
Dioxins and Furans

The falling age of puberty

Environmental Health Perspectives March 2010
Investigation of Relationships between Urinary Biomarkers of Phytoestrogens, Phthalates, and Phenols and Pubertal Stages in Girls

The Breast Cancer Fund AUGUST 2007
The Falling Age of Puberty in U.S. Girls

Clinical Pediatrics, Vol. 37, No. 12, 733-739 (1998)
Premature Sexual Development in Children Following the Use of Estrogen-or Placenta-Containing Hair Products


Int J Biol Sci 2009; 5:438-443
How Subchronic and Chronic Health Effects can be Neglected for GMOs, Pesticides or Chemicals


Int J Androl. 2010 Apr;33(2):298-303
Testicular dysgenesis syndrome comprises some but not all cases of hypospadias and impaired spermatogenesis

Environ Health Perspect 2008, 117:303-307.
Endocrine Disruptors in the Workplace, Hair Spray, Folate Supplementation, and Risk of Hypospadias: Case, Control Study

Hum. Reprod. (2007) 22 (6): 1497-1502
Semen quality of fertile US males in relation to their mothers' beef consumption during pregnancy

Environ Health Perspect. 1995 October; 103(Suppl 7): 137139
Declining semen quality and increasing incidence of testicular cancer: is there a common cause?

BMJ. 1992 Sep 12;305(6854):609-13
Evidence for decreasing quality of semen during past 50 years

Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 115, Number 6, June 2007
Declines in Sex Ratio at Birth and Fetal Deaths in Japan, and in U.S. Whites but Not African Americans

Science Blog July 2002
First direct evidence that environmental oestrogens affect sperm fertility

NEJM Volume 332:281-285 February 2, 1995 Number 5
Decline in Semen Quality among Fertile Men in Paris during the Past 20 Years


Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 115, Number 12, December 2007
Uranium in Drinking Water Low Dose Acts as Endocrine Mimic


Environmental Pollution Volume 158, Issue 11, November 2010, Pages 3372-3377
Abiotic transformation of estrogens in synthetic municipal wastewater: An alternative for treatment?

Endocrinology 2008, Vol. 149, No. 9 4267-4268
Environmental Estrogens and Endocrine Disruption: Importance of Comparative Endocrinology

Toxicol. Sci. (2000) 54 (1): 138-153
The Estrogen Receptor Relative Binding Affinities of 188 Natural and Xenochemicals: Structural Diversity of Ligands

Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 101, Number 5, October 1993
Developmental Effects of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals in Wildlife and Humans

PCB's and PFC's

The Norwegian School of Veterinary Science 21st June 2010
Environmental Toxins Affect the Body's Hormone Systems

Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 116, Number 5, May 2008
Organochlorines May Alter Infant Attention Skills

New Scientist Print Edition 12 April 2007
Obesity's helper in triggering diabetes


Environmental Health Perspectives 10 February 2011
Widely Used Pesticides with Previously Unknown Endocrine Activity Revealed as in Vitro Antiandrogens

The Lancet, Volume 310, Issue 8051, Pages 1259 - 1261, 17 December 1977

ScienceDaily May 8, 2008
Common Herbicide Disrupts Human Hormone Activity In Cell Studies

Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 116, Number 7, July 2008
Early-Onset Endocrine Disruptors Induced Prostatitis in the Rat

Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 116, Number 4, April 2008
Impaired Reproductive Development in Sons of Women Occupationally Exposed to Pesticides during Pregnancy

The Associated Press July 8, 2007
LA court to hear pesticide lawsuit

Annals of Neurology 2006 Volume 60 Issue 2, Pages 197 - 203
Pesticide exposure and risk for Parkinson's disease

The Medical News September 2006
100 percent of pregnant women have at least one kind of pesticide in their placenta

BMJ 2004;328:447-451 (21 February)
How strong is the evidence of a link between environmental chemicals and adverse effects on human reproductive health?

Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 108, Number 10, October 2000
Environmentally Relevant Xenoestrogen Tissue Concentrations Correlated to Biological Responses in Mice

BMJ 1994;309:1662 (17 December)
Pollutants and pesticides may be important

Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 85, No. 8, 648-652, April 21, 1993
Blood Levels of Organochlorine Residues and Risk of Breast Cancer

Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology Volume 3, Number 4 / December, 1975: 479-490
Prolonged ingestion of commercial DDT and PCB; effects on progesterone levels and reproduction in the mature female rat


Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2006 Mar;20(1):91-110
Pathways of endocrine disruption during male sexual differentiation and masculinization

Environmental Health Perspectives March 2010
Relationship between Environmental Phthalate Exposure and the Intelligence of School-Age Children

Environmental Health Perspectives April 2010
Dietary Intake Is Associated with Phthalate Body Burden in a Nationally Representative Sample

Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 115, Number 6, June 2007
Concentrations of Urinary Phthalate Metabolites Are Associated with Increased Waist Circumference and Insulin Resistance in Adult U.S. Males


Pure Appl. Chem., Vol. 70, No. 9, pp. 1855-1862, 1998
Clover phytoestrogens in sheep in Western Australia

J Anim Sci 1995. 73:1509-1515
Detection of the effects of phytoestrogens on sheep and cattle

Australian Veterinary Journal Volume 22, Issue 1, pages 212, February 1946

Hum. Reprod. July 23, 2008
Soy food and isoflavone intake in relation to semen quality parameters among men from an infertility clinic

Endocr Pract. 2008 May-Jun;14(4):415-8.
An Unusual Case of Gynecomastia Associated with Soy Product Consumption

Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 115, Number 12, December 2007
Dietary Dose Rodent Feed Affects ED Screening Results

Epigenetic effect

Reproduction (2008) 135 713-721
Transgenerational epigenetic effects of the endocrine disruptor vinclozolin on pregnancies and female adult onset disease

Genomics. 2008 Jan;91(1):30-40
Transgenerational epigenetic programming of the embryonic testis transcriptome

PLoS One. 2008;3(11):e3745
Transgenerational epigenetic programming of the brain transcriptome and anxiety behavior

PNAS February 27, 2007 vol. 104 no. 9 3615-3620
Male fetal germ cells are targets for androgens that physiologically inhibit their proliferation

PNAS April 3, 2007 vol. 104 no. 14 5942-5946
Transgenerational epigenetic imprints on mate preference

Toxicol. Sci. (2007) 96 (2): 218-226
Perspectives: The Possible Influence of Assisted Reproductive Technologies on Transgenerational Reproductive Effects of Environmental Endocrine Disruptor

Endocrinology September 14, 2006
Endocrine Disruptor Vinclozolin Induced Epigenetic Transgenerational Adult Onset Disease

Endocrinology Vol. 147, No. 12 5513-5514
Endocrine Disruptors: Do Family Lines Carry an Epigenetic Record of Previous Generation's Exposures?

Endocrinology August 30, 2006
Transgenerational Epigenetic Imprinting of the Male Germ-Line by Endocrine Disruptor Exposure During Gonadal Sex Determination

Endocrinology 2006, Vol. 147, No. 6 s43-s49
Epigenetic Transgenerational Actions of Endocrine Disruptors


Environ Health Perspect. 2001 March; 109 (3) : 239, 244
In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV screens.

Synthetic Estrogen

Yale University March 28, 2008
Study Shows Why Synthetic Estrogens Wreak Havoc on Reproductive System

Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 116, Number 2, February 2008
Testicular Dysgenesis Syndrome and the Estrogen Hypothesis: A Quantitative Meta-Analysis


Environmental Health Perspectives May 2010
Drugs in the Environment: Do Pharmaceutical Take-Back Programs Make a Difference?

Environmental Health Perspectives March 2010
Meeting Report: Pharmaceuticals in Water, An Interdisciplinary Approach to a Public Health Challenge

Web references

Our Stolen Future
Widespread Pollutants with Endocrine-disrupting Effects

Our Stolen Future
Shortcuts to recent important studies

Pesticide Action Network UK
Providing an overview of research on some pesticides of particular concern

Environmental Working Group
EWG's 2010 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides

Non toxic sunscreens
A guide to toxins and endocrine disruptors in sunscreens

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