Recently, on different days, I have had two visitors, both women, who have commented on the lack of initiative or motivation, not to mention the ability to perceive the relationship between cause and effect, among their young male acquaintances. They mention similar lacks among the older young men they know who are still living (nesting) with their parents, and their teen age acquaintances whose only ambition appears to be to get a higher score or position in an online video game. Everything else is boring to them.
They both commented on the ability of these ungrateful young men to take everything from their parents or spouse and give nothing back: no support, no help with family chores, no responsible behavior. As long as they had their car (gifted by their parents), their computer (also a gift) and their meals provided free, they were content with their lives. They went on and on with example after example from different social levels and ethnic groups. I think their drift is clear to you, and you could probably add to the list.
There is a lot to be said for the accuracy of their observations. American boys today are three times as likely to be born with genital abnormalities as American boys in the 60’s. The young male adults today have lower testosterone levels than their grandfathers. Motivation and ambition seem to have declined among our young men at the same time as male infertility is on the rise and the unmarried single mother working miracles of initiative and energy to keep her partnerless existence going for the sake of the child or children is becoming much more common than the old view of a man, a woman and a family as the norm. The family unit is now the exception and in the minority.
Also this week I was sent an article about sexual abnormalities discovered in frogs and alligators in Florida, obviously due to something in the water that was affecting the endocrine systems of these creatures. The article was written in a breathless fashion as though this was an amazing and very recent discovery. Since the effect of endocrine disruptors (ED’s) was known years before 1991 when the term was invented, my only surprise was once again how long it takes what health writers and non corporate scientists know to get into the public view.
An endocrine disruptor is a chemical substance that alters the timing or the normal response of a hormone in the endocrine system by mimicking it. And such substances are very common in America. Chemical industries produce them by the thousands of pounds. And testosterone and estrogen are two of the hormones affected by ED’s.
So, how could these factors be connected to unmotivated teen age boys, as I believe they are? Let’s look just for a moment at spaceship Earth and how things move around on it, a matter that the geographically challenged is not likely to know. Then the connections can be made more clearly.
Twenty one years ago, in 1988 some Canadian scientists collected samples of a brown snow that fell where they were camped near Hudson Bay. They sent it for analysis and asked the meteorologists to calculate where the air mass came from that dumped it. It came from the Gobi desert, just north of China, half way around the world.
Norwegian scientists discovered huge amounts of the pesticide lindane in the air over a group of islands in Norway’s Arctic Circle. It had accumulated from various Asian desert regions. DDT, toxaphane, lead, mercury and radioactive waste have all been discovered in the uninhabited Arctic.
Toxaphane for example is a pesticide banned in all the circumpolar countries. That doesn’t stop the chemical industry from selling it to countries where it isn’t yet banned. India and Guatemala used it in their cotton fields. It is very volatile and those cotton fields are very hot. The vaporized pesticide floats up into the atmosphere where is stays, sometimes for years, before air currents move it northwards, the air cools and down comes toxaphane in the rain. That cycle repeats until it reaches the Arctic.
When the Romans smelted their lead in Italy in the centuries before Christ the furnace fumes went up. Greenland has deposits of that B.C. lead in the glaciers. And cesium 137 from the Chernobyl atomic reactor disaster is now found all over the Canadian Arctic.
The Earth is a space ship. There isn’t anywhere safe to throw anything unsafe.
I hope that everyone reading this already knows how things at the bottom of the food chain become concentrated as they move up the food chain. To review a simple case. Little fish eat tiny algae and zooplankton. Big fish eat small fish. Seals eat the big fish. The vitamin A in the oil of fish that obtained it by eating tiny algae, phytoplankton, is concentrated in the seal that eats hundreds of fish. Its liver is designed to deal with that amount of vitamin A. Then the polar bear eats the seal or seals and its liver too is designed to deal with what is now hundreds of thousands of units of vitamin A per ounce. This phenomenon is called bioaccumulation and takes place everywhere in nature.
Then comes the famous case of the ignorant explorers who killed a polar bear and cooked and ate its liver, as if it came from a deer. Their human livers were not designed to deal with hundreds of thousands of units of vitamin A per ounce of bear liver. That concentration is toxic to humans. Some of them died. So the doctors here began to warn people about the dangers of taking vitamin A, though most people are unlikely to take several full bottles of capsules after every meal. The only thing some doctors knew about vitamins when I began as a health writer was the half truth that ‘you can overdose on vitamin A.’ You can if you are an absolute idiot.
One more background dot. In the northern Pacific Ocean, there is a slowly moving, clockwise spiral of currents due to a high-pressure system of air currents. The area is a desert in the ocean, called the North Pacific Gyre. You may remember word gyre from the toy gyroscopes we used to get. Due to its lack of large fish and gentle breezes, fishermen and¬ s¬ailors rarely sail through the gyre. But the area is filled with something besides plankton: trash, thousands of tons of it, mostly plastic. It's the largest landfill in the world, and it floats in the middle of the ocean. It’s in two major blocks, one of them twice the size of Texas.
Capt. Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation skimmed the surface of the North Pacific Gyre using a fine-mesh net over an area of more than 100 kilometers. He found it contained six times more plastic by weight than naturally occurring zooplankton. Other researchers found that those plastic bits absorb and concentrate toxins such as PCB’s up to a million times their levels in ambient seawater. Birds and fish eat the bits of plastic because they mistake it for algae or zooplankton. Because the plastic acts as a PCB “magnet," the animals consuming it are getting massive doses of EDs. Being at the top of the food chain, humans have some of the highest EDs concentrations. Bioaccumulation. Nature has no favorites.
OK, those are enough hooks to hang the material on. Now let’s get closer to home than the Pacific and nearer to now than 1991. You already know that important questions cannot be dealt with in six second sound bites. They just tell you what you should say to seem cool or up to date. Sometimes quite a bit of background data is needed before an “obvious” conclusion makes sense.
This took place on the Potomac River in 2006. Most people probably at least know the name Potomac from the legend that Washington threw a silver dollar across the Potomac. Every country has legends in its history. The dollar was first minted in 1794 about five years before Washington died. There was no dollar for the young man to throw across the mile wide Potomac.
Looking at his childhood homestead, perhaps it was the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg, Virginia. According to the story told by Martha Washington's grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, Washington threw a piece of slate, about the size and shape of a dollar, not a actual silver dollar.. While the story has never been historically verified, the feat is a possibility. At the site of the Washington family homestead, the Rappahannock measures only 250 feet across, an impressive but not impossible throwing distance. I and several of my friends could throw a cricket ball that distance as young men, but I certainly couldn’t have thrown something as light as a dollar sized piece of slate that distance.
Since Washington is the site of so much of this country’s and the world’s grief it seems just that the scientific discovery of what may be the basis of so many teen age and young male problems was verified in the Potomac River.
Scientists collected fish from the congested and polluted parts of the river and for scores of miles up its cleaner tributaries. In seven sites they discovered that at least 80% of the male smallmouth bass that they collected were feminized, they were making eggs instead of sperm. A veterinary pathologist specializing in fish concluded that the Potomac River and its tributaries contained large amounts of ‘endocrine disruptors’ the ED’s before mentioned, that mimic the actions in this case of female hormones. Now the hormones themselves aren’t in the river. We don’t yet know exactly what combination of variables produced those results.
Local officials of course said that the water was safe to drink. Though since they didn’t know what was in the water that did the damage they could hardly be sure that they had removed it.
The Washington Post reported on that matter and also on what seemed at the time a separate issue, that more and more young male college and university students around Washington DC are struggling with issues of impotence and disinterest in sex.
This issue is not confined to the Potomac River. Similar stories of feminized wildlife, including mammals have been reported from Florida, as I mentioned before, from the Great Lakes, from Alaska, in Europe and even in Greenland. Could this have anything to do with the attitude to life that so many young men are evincing?
Let’s use the Macrobiotic proverb ‘Every front has a back, and the bigger the front the bigger the back,’ to explore this incursion into male sexuality and motivation by checking on females first.
The first cast iron scientific evidence occurred in Puerto Rico. You must have noticed recently how some ninth grade girls could easily pass as freshmen in college. When I was a boy the girls reached puberty around age thirteen and the boys around age fourteen. The secondary sexual characteristics went along with that schedule. But in the 80’s in Puerto Rico physicians began noticing that girls were going into puberty at about the age of seven or eight. They had the breasts that you would expect to see on thirteen and fourteen year olds.
When it became clear that there were thousands of these girls sprouting up in the San Juan region the endocrinologists joined together to figure out the cause of an undeniable phenomenon.
One of the first things they checked on was the amount of hormones in the meat eaten by the children. Since the 70’s Americans have eaten meat from cattle fed with anabolic steroids, basically sex hormones, to make the animal meatier. Some of these are the same steroids that athletes are told not to take because of he health risks incurred.
There wasn’t a correlation. And the anabolic steroids are usually male hormones anyway.
So the next thing tested was the ethnicity factor. They tested Puerto Rican girls living in the Eastern States and those in Puerto Rico. The Eastern State girls didn’t have the precocity. And it wasn’t anything racial or ethnic in Puerto Rico. All the girls in the San Juan area, whatever their race or ethnicity were developing years ahead of Nature’s schedule. So it had to be something very common in San Juan.
Then the scientists picked up on the story of the feminization of the alligators in Florida. The scientists in Florida had already found the cause of the problem there as far as wildlife was concerned, it was the chemical family known as phthalates.
That Scrabble word is short for polyethylene terephthalate, PET for short. You have probably tasted it if you left a plastic bottle of water in the car for a while on a hot day. The tangy taste was some of the phthalate leaching into the water. If you had something like Coke in the bottle with its phosphoric acid content you would have had a stronger taste of the phthalate.
Phthalates mimic the action of female hormones. How did the alligators in Lake Apopka in Florida encounter them. Well Orlando is in the same watershed as Apopka and Disneyland supplies enough plastic bottles for hundreds of them to end up in the Lake. And the hot water leaches out the phthalates and the testicles of the alligators shrivel up.
So the San Juan physicians tested the phthalate blood levels of girls with precocious breast development and those with normal breast development to see if there was any difference there. Pay dirt immediately. The ‘normal’ girls had an average of about 85 parts per billion of phthalate in their blood. The precocious girls had an average of over 500 parts per billion. Note that the ‘normal’ girls had 85 parts per billion of something totally unnatural and in no way a natural part of the human life path.
So an extreme case solved the mystery of why so many girls are now developing at an accelerated rate. Think of the ways in which plastic bottles connect with the lives of American children. From plastic feeding bottles for babies through every kind of beverage sold to the public. The average child is continuously being exposed to modern chemicals that mimic the action of female hormones. Very few mimic the action of male hormones. They obviously accelerate the development of puberty in girls, and the evidence also favors the common sense conclusion that they delay or interfere with the development of puberty in boys.
So nowadays girls have completed their puberty process by age twelve, just about when most boys are getting started.
We aren’t considering just bottled beverages either. Synthetic chemicals delay or slow puberty in boys, and usually only boys. For instance endosulfan is a pesticide used all over. In this country about 750 tons of the stuff is used on food crops every year. In December 2003 scientists discovered that endosulfan blocks the action of testosterone and other androgens in boys, thereby delaying or disrupting their process of puberty. But money is God here. No change in the use of this pesticide and other chemicals that affect only boys has come about.
Well, that’s the gonads, what about the brain? Let’s start with the first drinks. Formula or mother’s milk in a feeding bottle made of rigid plastic. These bottles, used everywhere, leach bisphenol A into the milk or the formula. The bottles are made of polycarbonate and any liquid you put into them will leach bisphenol A into the liquid from the bottle.
Two years to the month after the endosulfan discovery scientists in Cincinnati showed that ANY amount of bisphenol A irreversibly changes brain development in lab animals. And the effects of bisphenol A are not limited to the gonads. Brain areas concerned with memory and motivation are affected, and boys and girls are affected in different ways. Oxford researchers found that the effects are much more pronounced on new born males than females.
Italian researchers discovered that male lab animals exposed to bisphenol A are far less curious about their environment than other animals. They lack curiosity in other words. The young male animals become feminized and not only that, these chemicals damage the nucleus accumbens in the brain, the part definitely associated with motivation that changes emotion into purposive action.
Very young female animals exposed to these chemicals grow up to be more curious and active than very young females not exposed to them. Very young males grow up to be less curious and active when exposed to them. The exposed females often learn some tasks better and faster than the unexposed females and the exposed males learn these tasks less well and more slowly than the unexposed males.
It is now suspected that the soaring rates of ADHD among North American boys in the last twenty years is linked to these chemicals. Scientists have discovered how phthalates and bisphenol A can damage a brain system to cause lab animals to become hyperactive, and unable to slow down, just like the ADHD child.
Do the Dr. Williams thing and find a country that doesn’t have the disease you are trying to cure…China and India have almost no cases of ADHD compared with the US. And water sold in plastic bottles is usually only sold to tourists in those countries.
Boys and girls differ too in their competitive aspects. Successful, high achievers among boys have more testosterone than the boys who don’t care about winning. Boys rely on their hormones for their drive. Girls do not. High achievers among girls don’t have more testosterone than low achievers. The estrogenic chemicals that both sexes are flooded with do not impair the motivation of the girls, but they do make the boys unresponsive and lazy. And more recent discoveries are indicating that these chemicals affect the ability of children to learn.
I’ll just mention that estrogens regulate the size of fat cells. This has been known for dozens of years. Young children of either sex don’t make estrogens. Exposure to estrogens when young increases the chance of obesity. The ‘discovery’ of a totally fictitious obesity gene will be plugged so that Big Pharma can patent a very expensive life long treatment for it.
Look at what we’ve touched on. Delayed puberty, obesity and ADHD occur together much more often than could be expected, but only in boys. One in five boys who had delayed puberty also had ADHD compared with one in thirty girls in the same Harvard study.
And there’s more. By their 15th birthday now some 63.7% of boys have at least one broken bone, compared with 39.1% of girls. The risk of fractures for boys has doubled between the 60’s and the 90’s. Coincidence again? Not likely. Environmental estrogens may strengthen bones in girls but whatever lowers testosterone levels in boys affects the mineralization of their bones.
Maybe you are better off being a boy in the country. Sorry, farmers living in modern agribusiness conditions are heavily exposed to pesticides and fertilizers. They have lower sperm count than men in the big cities, and the big city boys are having lower counts every year.
And those hard to figure out teen age boys have problems ahead of them that their grandfathers didn’t have. They are more likely to have abnormal genitals at birth and are more liable to testicular cancer later on. Today for example, the risk of testicular cancer in Denmark, a very civilized country with LOTS of plastics is about ten times higher than the risk in the less developed Lithuania.
Now we’ve come a long way towards answering some of the reasons that the young male teen will not be the bright and shining citizen you expect. But there are four other major factors too. And for these I refer you to a great book dedicated to this very subject. It’s called Boys Adrift, subtitled, The five factors driving the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men. By Leonard Sax M.D., Ph.D. I bought mine, used, from Abebooks.com my favourite bookstore, for $1.
I have taught over 10,000 students in all boys’ schools, the kind I was educated in, and coed schools, hospital schools, one of which I founded, coed boarding schools and colleges. I find myself in almost 100% agreement with the author who is a physician and has a PhD in psychology. My two visitors inspired this article and the author gave me some of the recent data I used for one of the factors, the ED’s. And he has some answers to these severe problems too, but listening passively to corporate experts, medical tyrants and educational bureaucrats aren’t among them.