A few years ago, when teaching health professionals in Munich, I scribbled a diagram on the white board. I was trying to explain the role of the main culprits in oestrogen disruption. We had been exploring various health products that claimed to mitigate some of the risks of endocrine imbalances but it was all fairly academic (and boring) until I drew the diagram which seemed to hit the sweet spot.
This is how it went: the aromatase enzyme is responsible for oestrogen output. It is responsible for the irreversible conversion of androgens into oestrogens. In women it is very active, in men not so much. Oestrogen is produced and then detoxified down various pathways: the methylation, glucuronidation and sulphation pathways. Oestrogen should preferentially be channelled down the methylation pathway as en-route it converts to the more protective, anti-proliferative type of oestrogen before heading out.
However, environmental toxins, such as dioxins and PCBs disrupt the pathways; they push oestrogens down pathways where they become dangerous causing local genotoxic damage. So we know about these toxins, and hopefully we’re not using them anymore – well, that’s OK if you’re not buying food from Thailand, Vietnam or other countries where 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T may still be used. We know these chemicals are persistant – but hey, what's done is done.
Let's update. We’ve all heard about feminization of male fish, and male human babies and we know that these culprits include chemicals that either mimic oestrogen, such as the breakdown products of detergents, plastics, polystyrenes and personal care products along with various insecticides and herbicides; or those that inhibit the production of testosterone in male babies, such as the phthalates, used in plastic toys, vinyl, nail polish, and used as a fixative for perfume, deodorants and hair spray.
Are we addressing this - and if so how far have we got? Are we still using personal care products - take a moment to check out Environmental oestrogens, cosmetics and breast cancer and please pass on the link.
Which brings me to the completed diagram – the role of two herbicides Round-up and Atrazine. One, Atrazine, switches on the aromatase enzyme and is now credited with the feminization of frogs and the high incidence of prostate cancer in males working in these chemical plants; and Round-Up which is being flagged as an aromatase inhibitor – could this be a potential candidate for PCOS where there is a deficiency in aromatase activity? Check out this study: Differential Effects of Glyphosate and Roundup on Human Placental Cells and Aromatase
When I look around all I see is the elephant in the room scenario, where no-one wants to seriously talk about the cause, only about the “solution” which generally doesn’t address the cause, but focuses on mitigating disaster after the event.
We have accepted the fallback position where manufacturers set the safety margins for the chemicals they produce (not governments or environmental protection agencies) - and if you’re not looking for toxicity, then you won’t find it, particularly if you have a vested interest in the product you are trying to sell. Check out Reducing environmental cancer risk; what we can do now
In layperson’s terms, this means there is no risk management for the 80,000 chemicals which are currently unleashed into the environment without adequate testing.
However, as I always say, the consumer sets trends and industry follows. So perhaps by voting with our feet through everything we buy we may begin to reverse the trend of 1 in 2.5 set to get cancer and provide a better future for our children and the generations to come.
Please download your free copy of Chemicals in the Food Chain: the burden of proof
President’s Cancer Panel, 2008 – 2009 Annual Report: Reducing environmental cancer risk; what we can do now