We know environmental pollutants can lead to cancer, heart disease, and brain damage, but now a scientist is linking them to shrinking penises.
Yes, you read that right. In her new book Count Down, reproductive epidemiologist Shanna Swan, Ph.D. argues that the shrinking of a particular male organ may be linked to everyday chemicals. If that's not sobering enough for you, the book's subtitle is: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Count, Changing Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Endangering the Future of Humanity.
If Swan's name sounds familiar, it may be because of the 2017 study she conducted, which found that in western countries, men's sperm counts have fallen by more than half in nearly 40 years.
What is to blame for shrinking penises?
In the case of penises that are getting smaller, Count Down blames a group of chemicals known as phthalates.
Phthalates are found in plastics, vinyl, floor and wall coverings, medical devices, and toys. They are also part of hairsprays, soaps and shampoos. You may have used a product with phthalates in the shower this morning.
Research has shown that maternal exposure to high phthalate concentrates can alter male reproductive development in infants. Early data suggests that men whose mothers were exposed to high levels of phthalates have decreased testicular volume, which is linked to lower testicular function.
"It's an unfortunate accumulation of effects from different perspectives," writes Swan in the book.
In addition, young men with high levels of metabolized phthalates have poorer mobility and sperm shape. You are also at risk for sperm apoptosis, which is another way of saying sperm suicide.
Writes Swan, "It's safe to assume no one wants to hear their sperm self-destruct," could at least be one of the understatements of the decade.
Phthalates aren't just bad for men, as high exposure is just as harmful for women. Premature ovarian failure, hormonal imbalances, and early menopause are just a few of the effects it has on women.
What happens next
Swan says she wrote the book to illustrate the harmful effects of chemical exposure. Currently, some companies have voluntarily stopped using phthalates, while the European Union plans to do so in the future. The US currently has no plans to regulate the chemicals.
While Count Down came out recently, some are suggesting that it could turn more people, especially men, into action. The climate activist Greta Thunberg linked to an article in the book and tweeted: "See you all on the next climate strike :)"
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