Monday, May 4, 2009

Biology, bioaccumulation and estrogen mimics

On Earth Day I kicked of a series. I apologize for placing it on hold while I completed my Master’s Degree (I passed!), but now I am back and ready to explore women’s role in the environmental stewardship. For those wondering, this is not the topic of my Master’s Degree, but I did write a research paper for Feminist Jurisprudence my last semester at TU.
Before we jump in to the work of women in the environment, I thought it would be prudent to explore why women bear more of an environmental burden than men. This requires a little biology and chemical knowledge, but I am going to do my best to boil it down in to simple terms and concepts. If this topic is of interest, I encourage you to do some research on your own.
As women, our physical bodies impact our level of risk. Women naturally have a higher (on average) body fat percentage than men. Because of this difference, women bioaccumulate certain chemicals differently than men, and many of the chemicals out there are stored in fatty deposits.
Women are especially at risk for health effects when exposed to chemicals, because many chemicals mimic or block the action of natural estrogen in the body and disrupt the endocrine system that regulates sexual and reproductive development in women. Women exposed to these chemicals, in turn, pass them on to children through the woman’s blood supply (to the fetus) or breast milk (babies/toddlers).
Theo Colborn and colleagues list approximately forty-five chemicals/chemical classes that have been reported to disrupt the reproductive system or hormone system. [i] Researchers suspect and are beginning to prove that these chemicals are tied to many different health related issues, such as ectopic pregnancies (400% increase from 1970 to 1987) and increase in female breast cancer (between 1969 and 1986). [ii]
It is true that certain populations have a higher risk of developing certain illnesses. However, many of the risk factors that are included in the studies to determine the rate of occurrence are linked to lifetime exposure to reproductive hormones, such as estrogen mimics. [iii] However risk factors do not tell the whole story. For example, while “all known risk factors for breast cancer account for no more than thirty percent of cases,” only five percent are “the inherited familial form.” [iii]
Stop and think about that. Five percent of cases are inherited. Ninety-five percent of women with breast cancer were born with normal genes, but still develop breast cancer.
Women’s bodies are amazing, but we are also susceptible to risks unique to our sex. A big part of this series is focused on raising awareness.
Coming up next… Socio-economic considerations and exposure rates for women.
Edited to add this resource:

[i] Colborn, Theo, Frederick VomSaal, and Ana Soto, “Developmental Effects of Endocrine-disrupting Chemicals in Wildlife and Humans,” Environmental Health Perspectives 101 (1993): 378-84.

[ii] Colborn, Theo, Frederick VomSaal, and Ana Soto, “Developmental Effects of Endocrine-disrupting Chemicals in Wildlife and Humans,” Environmental Health Perspectives 101 (1993): 378-84
[iii] Silver, Cheryl Simon & Dale. S. Rothman. Toxics and Health: The Potential Long-Term Effects of Industrial Activity. World Resources Institute, 1995.


Amy said...

Were there any specific lifestyle changes or toxins to be weary of mentioned in your research? Interesting. -AMY BIGBIE

Maria said...

Amy-- This handout has a short list as well as a more specific description of the role of estrogen mimics in health.

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