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Population

Avoid this Cure for Overpopulation

Stained human sperm

            My wife and I recently watched the dystopic action thriller “Children of Men”, about a future when women cease to give birth because men no longer make sperm. We may be approaching the time when that becomes a reality.

            It has been known for decades that men are producing fewer sperm than they did in the past. What was news to me is that modern men’s penises are getting smaller and are more likely to be malformed. Reading a scientific study on the subject made me very concerned.

            Worldwide, almost all people have tiny traces of “forever chemicals” in their bodies, also called “persistent organic pollutants” (POPs). These chemicals have been tested in animals and found to be safe at much higher levels than we carry. However, animal studies typically look at conventional measures of toxicity, such as death. What animal research may fail to discover is the effects of miniscule amounts on endocrine systems. How small is “miniscule”? Imagine a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool! To make things worse, endocrine disruptors apparently are most damaging before birth.

            POPs are hundreds of manmade substances that have wonderful uses.  Unfortunately, they also have frightening effects on people and other life. One group of POPs has hydrogen atoms replaced by fluorine—PFCs. They are used in firefighting foam and making fabric stain resistant.

            The concerning article focused on young men near Padua, Italy, who grew up in area heavily contaminated with PFCs. Men from a nearby location had not been exposed, and served as normal controls. The men with high levels of PFCs had shorter penises and smaller testicles and the quality of their semen was inferior. 

            What is most interesting is that the scientists looked at the effect of the PFC on testosterone (T) levels in these young men. The higher the PFC, the higher the T. But, you might think, doesn’t T cause men to become more masculine? Shouldn’t the opposite be the case—the higher the T, the bigger a man’s privates? That would make sense, however what happens is a bit more complicated. The shape of the PFC is similar to testosterone, so it blocks the action of the true hormone. The guy’s body tries to compensate by making more T, but its effect is blunted by the blocking action of the PFC. The exposed men had inferior semen, including more abnormal and non-swimming sperm.

            A review of 244 studies found a distinct decrease in the number and quality of sperm over the years. I think that a little skepticism is wise before interpreting those findings, however. Normal men don’t usually get a sperm count done; some of the counts were probably done for couples with fertility problems. The sperm counts were done in different countries in different populations of men so they may not be comparable. Furthermore, the studies don’t point to a cause for the problem, although British observations on dogs may help us understand the cause. The results of 244 human studies are concerning. Overall, between 1973 and 2011 the average sperm count dropped from 93 million per milliliter to just 66 million. 

            A study of guide dogs for the blind in England mirrors what is happening to men. The studs’ sperm quality, motility and number declined from 1988 to 2014. The veterinary scientists tested tissue and semen levels for two POPs— phthalates and polychlorinated biphenyl compounds (PCBs). These chemicals have been shown to affect male fertility, and were found at significant levels. They also tested the dogs’ food, finding harmful levels of these contaminants.

            Atrazine, one of the most widely used agricultural chemicals, is a POP and strong endocrine disruptor. In the USA about 70 million pounds are applied to crops yearly. It has been banned in the European Union, but has been found in many water supplies in the USA. Although it affects reproduction in both males and females, Professor Tyrone Hayes found it can turn male amphibians into females. In fact, Dr. Hayes found that atrazine causes demasculinzation and feminization of male gonads in species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

            Like it or not, we live in a sea of manmade chemicals. They were synthesized to improve our lives, but unfortunately, they are harming us and other living beings. This is not a good way to limit population growth!

Categories
Population

Focus on Kids

“…to bring a child into existence without a fair prospect of being able, not only to provide food for its body, but instruction and training for its mind is a moral crime, both against the unfortunate offspring and against society.”                   John Stuart Mill, 1859

            I took care of an infant with bad burns when I was in general practice. He was not seriously hurt, but I would have missed the backstory if I hadn’t made house calls.

            My three years as a GP were in a small town where I got to know people much better than if I only worked in the clinic. It has been almost half a century ago, so some parts of this story are hazy. The little room where the teen mother and her baby lived still seem clear, however. I was there for a visit to change the bandages and to check on the burns. The 8-month-old baby was fussy from the pain he felt as I removed the bandages, examined and then redressed the wounds.

            Since this was not our first visit together, I was hoping to get some insight how this little boy had scalds on his feet and legs.

            “I didn’t want him, anyway” the young mother answered. “He was fussy so I put him in the tub to calm him down by giving him a bath. He was still crying and standing, holding on to the knobs. I turned on the “hot”—I guess to punish him.”

            Probably having children is the one thing that has the greatest impact on us as individuals and on society. Yet it seems that many people don’t give parenting as much thought as buying a car.  Unfortunately, many children in this country are conceived by accident, as was the case with the young mother with the scalded child. Almost half of pregnancies are unintended. Studies by Dr. Henry David have shown that children suffer if they were unwanted and their unfortunate mothers had to raise them.

            There is an alternative. The purpose of the organization Having Kids (www.havingkids.org) is to increase the intentionality of childbearing and to change reproductive norms. It also hopes to make society more supportive of children and of parenting.

            They call what we have now the “isolation model”. In this model: “… potential parents are seen as individual entities apart from their prospective children and the communities in which they live, whereby the rights of prospective children are not recognized and the voices of communities are not heard.” In our model parents decide how many children to have with little regard to the interests of the child(ren) or of society. Furthermore, it is assumed that women will all become mothers.

The “isolation model” doesn’t take into account environmental deterioration, mass extinction of species, climate chaos or the other litany of problems global society faces. Nor does USA society deal well with the needs of early childhood development. 

            Having Kids presents a new, child-centered model. Their goals include having parents consider the state of the environment when making decisions about childbearing. They want all children to have a fair start in life, with a minimum level of food, love, attention, healthcare, etc. They believe that children should be brought up without violence and kids should have some control over their lives, thus forming the basis for a just and democratic society.           

 A key part of Having Kids is to advocate for small families. They point out the many advantages of single child families, including a smarter, more productive child, less frantic parents and more resources to raise the kid.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2021