By Michael Gurian
One of the most hidden and destructive stressors on our boys is the mass of neurotoxins they absorb through food, drink, and other environmental sources—aluminum, artificial sweeteners, sugars and flours that may harm them, junk food, pesticides and other pollutants. I believe this issue is one of the least known yet most destructive to males—and to society as a whole.
Until the Industrial Revolution, our sons ate and drank foods and beverages that were natural to their environment—what was grown around them. These fit, for the most part, their gene expression because its genetic makeup and the boy’s genetic makeup were both natural. While a specific boy could be allergic to a particular food or drink, a boy’s life overall was a nature, nurture, culture collaboration.
Since the Industrial Revolution, and especially in the last fifty years, our children are ingesting artificial chemicals unnatural to their genetic template. These are synthetic toxins that can disrupt male gene expression and brain development. These synthetics can come in a food or drink, lead in paint or pipes (as the beleaguered city of Flint, Michigan has discovered), inhaled air polluted by chemicals, or chemicals in plastics, fertilizer and cologne. Each or all of them can traumatize genetic templates for motivation-pathway development and maturation-activity in the mid and upper brain. This science has come to us over the last twenty years from studies in many of the seventy two industrialized countries.
In one set of studies reported in Scientific American, scientists analyzed 150 billion bits of genomic data from human tissues and cells from brain, heart, bone and blood in multiple countries. “Myriad control switches help to arbitrate how genes get expressed in different cells and tissues,” Dina Fine Maron, who reported the research, wrote in 2015, “and those switches are often triggered by maternal diet, toxic exposures, and many other environmental factors. To begin to understand what drives these complex epigenetic effects, scientists…located the switches by analyzing specific chemical modifications on the DNA and the proteins that it wraps around. Then researchers took data comparing individuals who have specific biological traits with those who do not to see which traits are associated with which switches.” Healthy maturation (physical, reproductive, cognitive, emotional, relational), requires the switching on or off of certain proteins in certain cells and tissues.
Unfortunately, if your son eats or imbibes neurotoxins found in plastics, fertilizer, foods and beverages--often called “industrial toxins--the switches needed for full maturation of cells and brain tissue may either not turn on or get turned off. A new meta-study published in The Lancet Neurology revealed that a primary reason for brain disorders connected to immature male brain development are, indeed, these “under-regulated industrial chemicals and pesticides, in addition to exposure to heavy metals” which directly invade gene expression and have become a “major factor in the dramatic rise of neurodevelopmental disorders in children.”
Dr. Philippe Grandjean is the co-author of both the Lancet study and Only One Chance: How Environmental Pollution Impairs Brain Development – and How to Protect the Brains of the Next Generation. He told the Huffington Post, “The world is facing a ‘silent pandemic’ of ‘chemical brain drain’. We have an ethical duty to protect the next generation, in particular, the next generation’s brains.” Dr. Grandjean and study co-author Dr. Philip Landrigan note that since 2006, when they first published their results, things are getting even worse as the list of “confirmed developmental neurotoxins doubled in ten years. At the top of the list of culprits: pesticides.” Pesticides, though helpful in keeping insects away from crops, are harmful to the brains of children—and they touch nearly everything our children eat and drink.
So does plastic, which includes the estrogen-mimicking endocrine disruptors in potentially dangerous chemicals plychlorinate biphenyla and bisphenol A. While the endocrine disruptors are good for making greater financial profit off cows and crops, unfortunately, the endocrine disruptors also keep many of our boys’ neural switches off when they should be on and on when they should be off. For at least a decade we have known that these neurotoxins were affecting girls toward early puberty and greater obesity (invading girls’ natural menses and endocrinology) but more recently scientists have come to realize their potential effects on American boys.
It’s impossible to say that every single boy’s gene expression will be negatively affected by these chemicals. However, millions of boys will be, and your son may be among them. The interaction of the chemicals in food or fertilizer with his human cells may harm him at a hormonal and, therefore, cellular level. As the endocrine disrupting hormones attach to specific receptors in his body, they initiate a complex chain of events that impede cellular development and function.
Think of each hormone inside each cell as an artist at work—a sculptor who chisels at a blob of rock to create a Rodin statue. Natural gene expression, excited and assisted in a natural environment, is that chiseling, that sculpting, that art. Endocrine disruptors interfere with the artistic process because the disrupter can erase a natural function in some moments and in others, alter an action of cells completely. As the disruptor attaches to its unique receptor, it launches a different set of events in body and brain than what was naturally intended for this boy. We don’t end up with Rodin’s The Thinker—we end up with an unfinished statue without arm, knee, feet, hands, eyes, or other essential parts of the body, i.e. cells that are unfinished.
One of the ways male maturation and motivation diminishes in this sculpting process hides in the profound effects the disruptors have on male and female reproductive functioning. It is possible that before your child was born, the disruptors may have lowered dad’s sperm motility and already affected reproductive cells in mom’s ovaries. In part because neurotoxins alter parents’ phenotype in both the sperm and the egg, many brain disorders such as autism, anorexia/bulimia, and ADD/ADHD can be linked back to these neurotoxin/sperm and egg issues.
Testosterone, Undermotivation, and Neuro-Toxins
Male depression, too (including undermotivation on the one hand and violence on the other), can be linked to neurotoxins that affect the Y chromosome’s gene expression specifically. We began to see this link about thirty years ago. One of the first studies to focus on the problem came from the New England Research Institute in which Dr. Thomas Travison and colleagues noted a 1 – 2 percent decrease in testosterone levels among men. “Male serum testosterone levels appear to vary by generation, even after age is taken into account,” said Dr. Travison. “This suggests that some factor other than age may be contributing to the observed declines in testosterone over time.”
From this starting point, he continued to conduct research on males and discovered that endocrine disruption in neurotoxins lowered baseline testosterone levels in some males. Over the decades, the 1 – 2 percent annual decrease in male serum testosterone level has grown, by 2016, to what physician and neurologist Leonard Sax has called “a dangerous decline.” Sax has noted that male testosterone baseline levels are now 30 – 40 percent lower than an average male in the 1970s.
Researchers in the U.S., Denmark, and Finland confirm Dr. Sax’s math. They recently published their findings in Physiological Reviews.
“We are at a tipping point," warned Dr. Niels E. Skakkebaek from the Department of Growth and Reproduction (EDMaRC) at Rigshospitalet and the University of Copenhagen. “There is no doubt that environmental factors are playing a role. Many of the male reproductive problems could be due to damage to the testes during embryonic development. While the reproductive problems could arise from genetic changes, recent evidence suggests that most often they are related to environmental exposures.”
Recent studies published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism have corroborated Dr. Travison’s, Sax’s, and the EDMaRC findings. Dr. Shalender Bhasin of the Boston Medical Center revealed: “The data in this study are important because they provide independent support for the concerns raised earlier about the reproductive health of males….It would be unwise to dismiss these reports as mere statistical aberrations because of the potential threat these trends…pose to the survival of the human race and other living residents of our planet."
While our popular culture often condemns high testosterone as dysfunctional, calling it “testosterone poisoning” or “toxic masculinity,” and while high testosterone has indeed been linked to high risk-taking that can end up dangerous for individuals or groups, we’ve missed the fact that chronically low testosterone is equally or more dangerous because it is directly linked to male depression, which is a direct cause of both male violence and male under-motivation and immaturity. With too little testosterone in our cells, male body, biochemical, and neural development is at risk. Artificially low testosterone levels are harming sperm and egg, and killing our sons and daughters. Neurotoxins invade male development at unprecedented rates today, and we must work together to end this unnatural social trend.
How Do I Know If MY Son Has Been Affected?
One way to know if any of this might affect your son is to check the three primary markers for male health--physical health, cognitive health, and social-emotional development. If your son is having trouble in any of these three areas, you may have very good reason to protect his growing body and brain by getting him off of plastics and thus saving him from the BPA; giving him organic food, thus saving him from the fertilizer that carries the endocrine disruptors; taking soft drinks out of his diet thus saving him from the excess sugar, sweeteners, and endocrine disruptors in the chemicals in pop; and teaching him “neurotoxin literacy” so that he can become a citizen scientist on his own behalf throughout the rest of his life.
All these new family habits can also help girls. I am tailoring this research to help you protect your daughters in THE MINDS OF GIRLS, which will be published in January 2018. I will also blog about this issue for girls later in the year. Right now, for your sons, there is much more about this in SAVING OUR SONS, which you can access HERE.
Protecting our children from neurotoxins and helping schools and other social institutions to take neurotoxins seriously is, I believe, one of our most sacred duties today as parents. We live in a new world. It has new toxins in it, and we must be vigilant.