Sunday, May 6, 2012

Modern Society Is Changing Us Physically

And not for the better. Nicholas Kristoff at the New York Times:
Philip Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, says that a congenital defect called hypospadias — a misplacement of the urethra — is now twice as common among newborn boys as it used to be. He suspects endocrine disruptors, so called because they can wreak havoc with the endocrine system that governs hormones.

Endocrine disruptors are everywhere. They’re in thermal receipts that come out of gas pumps and A.T.M.’s. They’re in canned foods, cosmetics, plastics and food packaging. Test your blood or urine, and you’ll surely find them there, as well as in human breast milk and in cord blood of newborn babies.

In this campaign year, we are bound to hear endless complaints about excessive government regulation. But here’s an area where scientists are increasingly critical of our government for its failure to tackle Big Chem and regulate endocrine disruptors adequately.

Last month, the Endocrine Society, the leading association of hormone experts, scolded the Food and Drug Administration for its failure to ban bisphenol-A, a common endocrine disruptor known as BPA, from food packaging. Last year, eight medical organizations representing genetics, gynecology, urology and other fields made a joint call in Science magazine for tighter regulation of endocrine disruptors.

Researchers warn that endocrine disruptors can trigger hormonal changes in the body that may not show up for decades. One called DES, a synthetic form of estrogen, was once routinely given to pregnant women to prevent miscarriage or morning sickness, and it did little harm to the women themselves. But it turned out to cause vaginal cancer and breast cancer decades later in their daughters, so it is now banned.

Scientists have long known the tiniest variations in hormone levels influence fetal development. For example, a female twin is very slightly masculinized if the other twin is a male, because she is exposed to some of his hormones. Studies have found that these female twins, on average, end up slightly more aggressive and sensation-seeking as adults but have lower rates of eating disorders.

Now experts worry that endocrine disruptors have similar effects, acting as hormones and swamping the delicate balance for fetuses in particular. The latest initiative by scholars is a landmark 78-page analysis to be published next month in Endocrine Reviews, the leading publication in the field.

“Fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health,” the analysis declares. Linda S. Birnbaum, the nation’s chief environmental scientist and toxicologist, endorsed the findings.

The article was written by a 12-member panel that spent three years reviewing the evidence. It concluded that the nation’s safety system for endocrine disruptors is broken.

“For several well-studied endocrine disruptors, I think it is fair to say that we have enough data to conclude that these chemicals are not safe for human populations,” said Laura Vandenberg, a Tufts University developmental biologist who was the lead writer for the panel.

Shouldn’t our government be as vigilant about threats in our grocery stores as in the mountains of Afghanistan?
How Chemicals Affect Us (NYT)

I'm forced to wonder how bad these are going to get in the Libertarian Brave New World of zero corporate regulations the authorities have in store for us? Well, we can always get redress through the courts, right? I'm sure they're on our side.
Up to 90% of school leavers in major Asian cities are suffering from myopia - short-sightedness - a study suggests.

Researchers say the "extraordinary rise" in the problem is being caused by students working very hard in school and missing out on outdoor light.

The scientists told the Lancet that up to one in five of these students could experience severe visual impairment and even blindness.

In the UK, the average level of myopia is between 20% and 30%.

According to Professor Ian Morgan, who led this study and is from the Australian National University, 20-30% was once the average among people in South East Asia as well.

"What we've done is written a review of all the evidence which suggests that something extraordinary has happened in east Asia in the last two generations," he told BBC News.

"They've gone from something like 20% myopia in the population to well over 80%, heading for 90% in young adults, and as they get adult it will just spread through the population. It certainly poses a major health problem."

Eye experts say that you are myopic if your vision is blurred beyond 2m (6.6ft). It is often caused by an elongation of the eyeball that happens when people are young.

According to the research, the problem is being caused by a combination of factors - a commitment to education and lack of outdoor light.

Professor Morgan argues that many children in South East Asia spend long hours studying at school and doing their homework. This in itself puts pressure on the eyes, but exposure to between two and three hours of daylight acts as a counterbalance and helps maintain healthy eye.
Massive Rise In Asian Eye Damage (BBC)

This will assuredly lead to "economic growth" of eyeglass stores and optometrists, so what's the problem? Maybe we'll just invent robot eyes for everyone.

ADDENDUM:
Williams, 45, was inspired to write the book when she agreed to participate in a study of her breast milk when she was nursing her daughter. The results were startling -- her milk was full of chemicals, from pesticides to flame retardants.

"There were reports about toxic and chemical contaminants showing up in breast milk -- it was a great way to tell the story first-person," she told ABCNews.com. "I realized there was so much about breasts people don't know." 

Today Williams' daughter is 8, and she worries about research that shows girls are beginning puberty and developing breasts younger, perhaps because of exposure to pollutants. 

"There are hundreds of chemicals coursing through our blood," she said.
Female Breasts Are Bigger Than Ever, But Under Threat (Yahoo News)

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