Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fertility—Infertility & the Environment


The 2006 motion picture “Children of Men” compellingly expressed a silent worldwide consternation: the growing infertility in humans. Sperm counts worldwide are falling. Britain is concerned enough about this issue, according to Environment Minister Michael Meacher, that they are planning to launch a government research program to “investigate whether falling sperm counts are endangering the nation's reproductive capacity”. Testicle abnormalities have occurred with greater frequency over the past 50 years, reflected in increases in testicular cancer and the medical conditions hypospadias (testicles fail to descend) and cryptorchidism (opening to penis appears on the underside of penis), as well as the declining sperm count among the overall male population.
According to researchers at the Statistical Research Unit at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, cancer of the male testicles has increased over 3 fold from 1940 to 1980. The frequency of hypospadias has doubled in England, Sweden and Hungary recently. In their 1993 study researchers at the University of Copenhagen asserted that “…semen quality has markedly decreased during the period 1938-1990.” (American Journal of Industrial Medicine 24: 587-592, 1993).

The past several decades have witnessed an increase in studies linking weak or defective sperm to employment in occupations with exposure to chemicals and pesticides (American Journal of Industrial Medicine 24: 587-592, 1993). Sarbjit Kaur, in a 1988 study at the Punjab Agricultural University found that men who live in industrial cities had six times more abnormal sperm than men living in a relatively clean rural town (Bulletin of Environmental Contamination Toxicology 40:102-104). Certain industrial chemicals and environmental pollutants, as well as radiation, are known to contribute to or cause infertility. Lead poisoning, for example, has long been associated with infertility in men and women. Chemotherapy and x-ray therapy for cancer can be extremely toxic to sperm and eggs and can render the patient indefinitely infertile. Drs. M. Omura, M. Hirata and M. Ahao in a 1995 study at the Faculty of Medicine of Kyushu University demonstrated that certain pesticides reduced sperm count. Chlordane, a pesticide used in nearly all U.S. homes built before 1988 as a wood treatment against termites, was proven to damage sperm production and was subsequently banned. However, due to its ubiquitous use and widespread contamination, persistent contamination is suspected in many areas. Two toxic pesticides, dibromochloropropane and kepone, were also found to cause infertility in men and they are no longer produced. Pesticides, dioxins, and some petroleum by-products are endocrine disrupters, creating serious problems for the reproductive system in both men and woman.

Leisure activities, jobs, and the use of drugs & medications may all have an adverse impact on a couple's ability to achieve pregnancy. Research has demonstrated that consumption and/or exposure to many common constituents of urban living (e.g., car exhaust, pesticides, common detergents, hair dyes, cleaning solvents, oil based paints, adhesives, gasoline; and consumption of MSG, coffee, alcohol) can decrease fertility, increase miscarriage, spontaneous abortion, and lower auto-immune systems (linked to infertility). A 1960 study by Drs. Patricia P. Scott, J.P. Greaves and M.G. Scott demonstrated that “reproductive performance was a sensitive indicator of differences between diets” and that testicles in mice fed chemically grown foods were significantly smaller and less viable than those fed organically grown food.

Dr. Marilyn F. Vine at the University of North Carolina demonstrated that smoking men had lower sperm counts by 13-17%. Smokers also had more abnormal sperm. Likewise, women who smoked experienced more spontaneous abortions, early menopause and abnormal oocytes. Follicular fluid also contained high levels of cadmium, a heavy metal present in cigarettes, and cotininie, a metabolite of nicotine. With world coffee consumption increasing, the proven teratogenic effect of caffeine in rodents and the risk of congenital abnormalities in individuals who consume caffeine are worth noting. Researchers at Carleton University, Ottawa, proved in 1985 that “a daily caffeine intake of 300 mg or more during the last trimester of pregnancy can interfere with normal fetal growth.” Excessive use of "recreational" drugs or more than one drink of alcohol a day can also harm fertility in both men and women. Some medications, such as cimetidine, nitrofurantoin, sulfasalazine, spironolactine and nifedipine are also known to harm sperm quality as do anabolic steroids including testosterone.

In 2002 the National Centre for Health Statistics stated that about one in eight women in the United States had difficulty getting pregnant and carrying a baby to term. Scientists suggest a combination of causes including environmental and genetic factors. Stress was also shown to be a major hurtle in becoming pregnant in a 1996 University of Washington study.

One in five women who experience infertility problems never learn the cause, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. That a growing concern for infertility has entered our general mindset is reflected in the theme of infertility in literature and motion pictures (e.g., The Children of Men, Aeon Flux, Raising Arizona) and growing number of blogs and websites devoted to this subject. Although we are certainly nowhere near to experiencing the global infertility pandemic portrayed in the barren 2027 world of The Children of Men, this cautionary tale of a world gone mad with grief should linger like the whispered truth of a fairy tale.

20 comments:

Erik said...

Nature has a way of getting getback that is a real mofo.

There's no better way of saying it as far as I'm concerned, either.

sfgirl said...

WOW...Erik, that's saying a lot. Yes...it may be coming to that. In my current book "Darwin's Paradox" (out this November) I explore this and its consequences. Quite frightening, actually. And definitely a call to attention.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

It's interesting, but 'Children Of Men' was written by crime writer PD James.

sfgirl said...

You're right, Jean-Luc. I'd forgotten that. I found the terrorist elements in the movie quite disturbing--they were so realistically portrayed and Clive Owen played his part so impeccably as the suffering sacrificial hero (Jesus figure). Hmmm...I should do a review of this film...

Erik said...

Oh, Nina, you just ruined the movie for me! I will probably never see it now.

I'm so sick of Christ figures in so many twisted ways ... Harry Potter, Neo, even ET ... it's as if Western Culture has nothing left to do but constantly ref back on itself.

I dunno, I expect a lot more from SF/Fantasy than that. "Cowboy BeBop" is more my speed - it is inspired by human nature, not an icon, allowing the contrived setting to explore what stuff people are made from.

Oh well, that's just me, I guess.

sfgirl said...

Well, there are definitely some parallels between Owen's characer and those guys you mentioned (Neo, particularly) but please don't let that "ruin" the movie for you. I think you will find it a rather refreshing version of that trope...very realistic. I'd hate to think that I stopped you from watching this excellent film. Give it a try, Erik, then we can really argue

Jim's Words Music and Science said...

We could stop the problem of Christ and self-reflection by Western culture if we outlawed all pictures of Christ with bond hair and blue eyes. This is a self-
congratulatory fulfillment of the Scopes trial quote, "God created man in is own image, and man, being a gentlemen, returned the compliment." Unfortunately, it fuels the rampant feelings in the US and other Western countries that middle-eastern peoples are less human than Westerners and it conveniently forgets the ethnic origins (and religious origins) of JC. I propose a Constitutional amendment in the US that makes displaying such racist propaganda (Blue-eyed JC) a crime punishable by three days in a mosque and three in a synagogue. I'm blond-haired and blue-eyed, BTW, I just like a little truth in advertising now and then and also like a lot more respect than the norm for human beings, no matter where they come from.

But then, Western culture is doomed to be solely self-reflexive, one way or another, until it takes other cultures seriously. Not that I don't enjoy contemplating my Western navel, but there is a lot more out here, as you allude to, erik. Imagine how long it has taken to admit that women are part of Western culture in a creative and independent way (we're still awaitin' on some parts of Texas and the South).

Jim
http://nearlynothingbutnovels.blogspot.com/

Erik said...

Thanks, Jim! That's what I mean, well put. I have the feeling that Western Culture is at a dead-end, and isn't going to go anywhere until it can retrace its steps. And, as you put it, somewhere along the way there are all these other non-Western people that ... well, they have to be shaking their heads (when they feel charitable enough not to be angry).

I'm not a big SciFi/Fantasy guy by nature. What I do like is when difficult subjects can be tackled by allegory - I find fiction is often more illuminating than "fact". SciFi, like the movie described here, can bring up very important topics and explore them with the right perspective. It's a great way to provide that "strong half-step back" I often advocate - close enough to touch it, far enough back to see it all.

That's why I get all curmudgeonly about too much Westernness in what otherwise sounds great. It's that I expect a LOT from SciFi. Unfair? Perhaps. But don't we all know that SciFi can save the world? :-)

piropos said...

Hi Nina,
What a coincidence. I rented this movie together with RV. (I have a post about this movie on my blog). The scenes reminded of a PS2 game, "Black" which I never got to finish. Unfortunately, I didn't finish watching the movie either. I'll have to search moviespoiler to get the whole story...have a nice day!

sfgirl said...

I firmly believe that SF is the very best platform in literature for examining ourselves, our humanity and our destiny. And, yes, Jim, I also believe SF will save the world! As for Christ figures and such, Clive is hardly blonde and blue-eyed and the "Madonna" figure is not caucasian, nor is there a shmaltzy romance in "Children of Men". This is not your ordinary Hollywood film.

Jim's Words Music and Science said...

Good to hear! I wasn't really referring to the movie anyway, but that may not have been clear from my middle-of-the-night writing. I was responding more about society in general.

The movie is officially "on the list".

Best wishes, Jim
http://nearlynothingbutnovels.blogspot.com/

sfgirl said...

Erik and Jim...now you've got me thinking so hard my ears are ringing. While I agree with you on the smaltzy and parochial Jesus clones in most movies today, I'd argue that in these times of war, violence, oppression and fear, the traits embodied by Jesus Christ (humility, unconditional love, altruism, and grace) are much needed as acting symbols in our cultural media and can be AND ARE BEING enacted by ordinary human beings daily. This is something worth celebrating in our culture (and any other culture) no matter how ineptly done.

Erik said...

First of all, if we’re going to threadjack this into a theological discussion, we should at least post a warning. Or an alibi.

NINA STARTED IT!
NINA STARTED IT!
(and it’s her blog)

With that out of the way:

The Jesus of the Beatitudes (quoted heavily in my book) who talked about humility, grace, and egalitarianism is a very different Jesus than the Redeemer in the most commonly represented form of North American Protestantism. A lot of people will tell you that these cannot be separated, but in reality they have been. The concept of Redemption is constantly stressed, the rest of it isn’t.

The figures in popular culture that I refer to are, generally, Redeemer figures. They suffer for the sins of everyone else. Many of them, like Neo, actually carry weapons and fight – furthering the separation from the Jesus of the Beatitudes.

If you want to tell me that these “two Christs” cannot be separated, I would agree with you. But our popular culture does in constantly, in ways that utterly baffle me. We take the dessert without the vegetables, we eat our cake and then want more for later.

Me? I stressed the other part of it deliberately. Our culture doesn’t even know where it got its ideas from, but it repeats them like a 4 year old learning to talk. It’s not cute, not at all. We have to grow up, and I write for the kids that are starting to grow up. Jesus help us all, I don’t want them to be like their parents.

Jesus loves the little children ...

sfgirl said...

Oh, God...that's beautiful, Erik. And i do so agree that the former is not stressed enough. The words humility, grace, gentleness, kindness...these all resonate in ways that our culture seems to have forgotten. This is reflected in our vocabulary and in how we portray our heroes on film and in books (btw, you will like my Friday Feature). Unfortunately, in most movies these are construed as not compelling enough for the multiplex crowd looking for thrills alongside their main meal of substance. I commend what you are doing: bringing back these values for our children. You are my hero for that, Erik. Oh...and for the record, yes, I DID START IT!

Erik said...

Thanks, Nina. I have two topics in mind for Friday - one a rant on schools and one the long (and more polished) version of that last post. I can't see which will come out of my keyboard at about 9:00. :-)

sfgirl said...

Looking forward to whatever you come up with, Erik...then it'll be YOUR blog this time... :)

Myth said...

Children of men was an excelent movie. And being in a relationship where we are infertile; one or both, it is an interesting post you have here. I heard in Canada that our population is declining due to people have only one child later in life or no children by choice. That combined with growing infertility would mean we will have some problems filling in the gaps of people retiring.

Erik said...

Sorry, Nina, the mysterious separation between "Jesus the Teacher" and "Christ the Redeemer" will have to wait until Monday. My partner in life liked the school piece better. Besides, I found some wonderful reflections on the concept of "redemption", this one involving Modest Mussorgsky. :-) They need to be fleshed out a bit to make this a good piece.

sfgirl said...

It'll be interesting to see where we go as a nation, myth. I don't know the demographics in Canada that well, but I do believe we are already facing that problem in some sectors...

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