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Warning: Avoid ingesting chemicals that mimic hormones

food August 17, 1996
Web posted at: 11:30 p.m. EDT

LONDON (CNN) -- Chemicals that can mimic human hormones are turning up increasingly at the dinner table, and that could mean trouble in the bedroom and the nursery.

The chemicals are thought to be contributing to a fall in sperm count, a rise in testicular tumors and an increase in undescended testicles and malformed genitals, said Dr. Vyvyan Howard, a pathologist at the University of Liverpool.

"These are all thought to be associated with the rising background levels of chemicals which can mimic the female sex hormone estrogen," Howard said. People generally absorb the chemicals through their diet, he said.

The group of chemicals can also affect fetuses even in very low doses, he said.

Among the estrogen mimickers scientists are concerned about are carbon chlorines, used in many pesticides; phthalates, widely used in the plastics industry to soften PVC; and dioxin, a byproduct of paper processing and herbicides.


Recent studies show sperm counts down by as much as half in parts of Europe. The quality of sperm is also declining.

Scientists are calling for more urgent study to determine whether problems are arising from specific chemicals or general contamination, and what role lifestyle plays.


Uncontrolled chemical doses affect more than the human life cycle, with some fish found to have both testes and ovaries, said Gwynne Lyons of the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

Millions of tons of the affecting chemicals are manufactured every year. Whatever controls are enacted now, experts estimate it would take 100 years for them to revert to undetectable levels.

Correspondent Margaret Lowrie contributed to this report.

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