24 February 2003
threats to boys' sex health investigated
advisers urge wide-ranging review of how lifestyles affect fertility
Meikle, health correspondent
science advisers want an expert review of the evidence showing how
chemicals, working environments, and lifestyles may be affecting
the sexual development of boys and their fertility as men.
government is already funding research on trends in male reproductive
health and the possible causes of the reported falls in sperm count
and quality, and the increased incidence of malformed genitals and
advisers to the Department of Health and the food standards agency
want wider-ranging checks made to discover whether the well-documented
findings of changes in the sexual characteristics of animals and
fish caused by exposure to chemicals can properly be considered
significant for humans.
of the committee on toxicity of chemicals in food, consumer products
and the environment (Cot) believe that the international reviews
conducted so far have failed to provide convincing evidence relating
believe that scientists from many disciplines should look further
than the "endocrine disrupters" - which mimic or disrupt
hormones - on which attention has so far concentrated.
include organochlorine pesticides, potentially cancer-causing dioxins
and PCBs, industrial additives in paints, detergents, tin cans and
plastics, and chemicals naturally occurring in food.
is understood that Cot is particularly interested in US research
suggesting that women working night shifts are more likely to develop
theory that, for instance, too much light disrupts hormones and
encourages the growth of tumours, could be relevant to sexual development
of the reported problems in men may result from something happening
well before birth.
British studies, on which the health and environment departments
and the health and safety executive are spending £1.8m, are
expected to report soon.
of them are analysing data on hypospadia, a congenital abnormality
of the penis: the first trying to establish its prevalence in Britain
and Europe, the second seeking clues from identified cases in three
specific English regions.
group is questioning the parents of boys with the condition about
any exposure to chemicals, at home or work, before their sons were
conceived or during pregnancy.
use of oral contraceptives and recreational and medicinal drugs,
and their water consumption, diet, smoking, alcohol consumption
and age and ethnic origin are also being recorded and compared with
information on the families of boys without the condition.
third group is looking at sperm quality in young Scottish-born men,
and the fourth, which has funding from the European chemical industry,
is examining the differences between fertile and infertile men attending
study compares maternal diet, infant feeding methods and job histories,
and the men's later occupations.
health experts and the chemical industry have long disputed whether
endocrine disrupters really do cause reproductive disorders and
other health problems.
say their products are regulated and chemicals are used at "safe"
levels, but there is growing concern about continual low-level exposure
and the manner in which chemicals taken within "safe"
limits might combine to increase the danger.
is also turning to the dangers as well as the benefits of plant-based
diet alternatives to medical treatment of some conditions.