A World Awash In Hormones
by Lynn Landes
July 31, 2002
The HRT (Hormone
Replacement Therapy) scandal is bigger than most think. It's not
just about menopausal women, like me, getting bad information from
their physicians and the pharmaceutical industry for over 40 years,
while the federal government stood by and did nothing. The scandal
is much bigger than that.
in a world awash in hormones. Last March the USGS (United States
Geological Survey) reported that " pharmaceuticals, hormones, and
other organic wastewater-related chemicals have been detected at
very low concentrations in streams across the nation. Many of the
chemicals examined (81 of 95) do not have drinking-water standards
or health advisories." Ironically, hormones do more damage at low
levels of exposure than at high levels.
news came from Great Britain. According to British scientists, synthetic
hormones from contraceptives and HRT are affecting the reproductive
organs of male fish. Male fish are developing female characteristics,
including reproductive organs. The five-year study of ten rivers
in England by the Environment Agency reported that 50 percent of
male fish had developed eggs in their testes or female reproductive
ducts, 10 percent of the fish were sterile, and 25 percent were
producing damaged sperm.
For the last
50 years researchers around the world have documented the growing
and insidious impact of hormones on people and the environment.
Excessive exposure to hormones, both synthetic and natural, are
affecting every living thing -- humans, animals, fish, and even
plants. Physicians are prescribing hormones to millions of men,
women, and children. Farmers are giving hormones to their livestock,
including farmed fish, which we then consume. Hormones are in our
food and many of the products we use everyday. Synthetic hormones,
which interfere with our natural hormones, can leach out of an endless
variety of products: plastics, beauty and personal care products,
household cleaners, lawn and garden chemicals, dental sealants ...
almost anything involving petrochemicals.
Yet, few hormones
have ever been thoroughly or independently tested for their impact
on public health and the environment. And the cumulative impact
of many different hormones -- male and female, natural and synthetic
-- is not even being considered for study by industry or government.
Executive Director of the National Women's Health Network, isn't
surprised. She says, "Pharmaceutical companies control what studies
get funded, who gets paid for doing them, where (and whether or
not) those studies are published, and how the studies are interpreted."
The HRT study
got launched mainly through the determined efforts of Dr. Bernadine
Healy, the National Institute of Health's first female director.
But insiders say that, due to the hard ball lobbying tactics of
the pharmaceutical industry, the study was limited to only two hormones,
estrogen and progestin. Already, the industry is pushing alternative
drug therapies that most assuredly have not gone through the somewhat
rigorous testing of the HRT study.
to media reports that blame women for the widespread use of HRT,
that accuse women of flocking to their doctors, clamoring to remain
young forever, demanding hormones ... that was neither my experience
nor the experience of women I've talked with. Instead, it seems
that most doctors made their female patients feel like tree-hugging
nut cases if they didn't go on HRT.
Now I, like
many other menopausal mavens, am learning to minimize my symptoms
through simple changes in my diet -- no thanks to our doctors (see
The Natural Diet
Primer). The mainstream medical community is totally unprepared
to do anything in concert with nature. They are held hostage by
the pharmaceutical industry. Under their current myopic approach
to treatment, the medical profession systemically violates its own
ethic, first "do no harm." It is now clear that "harm" is
just what they've been doing through the widespread use of hormones.
And what is
the extent of the "harm" done? Dr. Theo Colborn and her co-authors
Stolen Future" say that the known risks of over-exposure to
synthetic hormones are: lower sperm count, prostate problems, reproductive
problems in women (including miscarriages, tubal pregnancies, endometriosis,
and breast cancer), and effects on intelligence, behavior, development,
and disease resistance. Some health experts believe that human exposure
to the Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) present in meat and dairy products
could be at the heart of the current epidemic in obesity. ("...women
who consume dairy products on a regular basis, have triple the risk
of ovarian cancer than other women." The Lancet 1989; 2. For more
info on the links between dairy products and cancer in women click
As for which
institution is most responsible for a world awash in hormones, I
blame the federal government for failure to do its duty - to protect
public health and the environment. Instead, they routinely give
the green light to, if not pave the way for, those in business who
want to make the big bucks, no matter who or what gets hurt. The
HRT study was an exception to the rule. Now that menopausal
women know that we were lied to for at least 40 years, all I can
say is: hell hath no fury ...
is a freelance journalist specializing in environmental issues.
She is the founder of Zero
Waste America, a Web-based environmental organization, and posts
her work on EcoTalk.org.
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