How it Works
Males need testosterone to develop functioning reproductive organs. Guys also need testosterone to maintain a healthy physique and sex drive – hence, all the low T advertising. When the balance between testosterone and the estrogens is altered during critical periods of fetal development (weeks 8-14 in utero, possibly later), reproductive abnormalities arise in both males and females. In males, because their reproductive organs are outwardly exposed, the abnormalities are visibly obvious. Too much estrogen in utero from environmental exposure can lead to reduced penis size, malformed genito-urinary tracts, undescended or malformed testicles and even testicular germ cell cancer. Guys, I’m sure this isn’t what you want for your sons.
I recently stumbled on an older study (way back in 2009) that showed the combination of maternal dexamethasone (DEX) and dibutyl phthalate caused all sorts of male reproductive abnormalities in rodents (females weren’t tested). The study found male offspring of pregnant rats exposed to high levels of dibutyl phthalate had disrupted reproductive tract development – 53% of the animals were born with undescended testicles and 31% were born with malformed genito-urinary tracts. When DEX was added to the mix, 86% of the animals had undescended testicles and 45% had malformed genito-urinary tracts. This is compared to 0 cases in the unexposed control group. Similarly, reductions in penis size and testicle size and weight were observed with the phthalates alone and then amplified when given in combination with DEX.
I found this research particularly interesting because DEX is the new drug de jour to prevent miscarriage and phthalates are so pervasive they have been found in the blood, urine and placenta’s of pregnant women. The combination of the two warrants much caution.
DEX is a synthetic gluccocorticoid that mimics cortisol. It is used as anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant in number of conditions from arthritis to cancer. There no evidence supporting its efficacy in preventing miscarriage – none. It was not approved for this use. It crosses the placental barrier and yet, DEX is being used to prevent miscarriage in women who undergo IVF. Dex is also used to speed fetal lung development in women at risk of miscarriage (though common practice, the evidence here is sketchy at best).
Phthalates, are the endocrine disruptors used as plasticizers and solvents in an array of products from nail polish (though banned in Europe) to foods (due to leaching from plastic storage containers, can liners and pesticides) and even medication coatings. Phthalates can significantly disrupt fetal reproductive development on their own, but when combined with other endocrine disruptors, the effects are significantly worse.
Failing the recognize the environmental toxins to which all women are now exposed is bad enough. Giving pregnant women a powerful steroid such as DEX, without evidence of efficacy or safety, is just downright negligent. It seems physicians have forgotten their role in the disastrous consequences of the other unproven, anti-miscarriage and anti-nausea drugs given to pregnant women – DES and thalidomide.
Hormones matter. Too many critical functions depend upon proper hormone regulation. For too long, we have ignored hormones as just one of those ‘woman things’. Well guys, if you care about the health of your sons, if you’d like them to have every opportunity to experience sexual pleasure and reproductive success, you might want to start paying attention to hormones.