Where did the testosterone go?

Back when I was giving talks on men’s health, I would talk about testosterone and how it goes down with age and that there is also a decline from one generation to the next: the testosterone levels in a 60-year-old in 1988 were higher than a 60-year-old in 1996, which were higher than one in 2003. Understandably, the men were shocked and demanded to know why. At that point, all I could say is that no one knows for sure, but it’s probably some chemical we’ve been adding to the environment and mentioned the feminized male alligators in Florida where PCBs had been dumped in the lake years earlier.
Well, we finally do have a candidate for a cause of the lower hormone levels in men: phthalates, specifically DEHP. The
Journal of Andrology published a study showing that higher levels of the DEHP metabolite MEHP consistently accompanied lower levels of testosterone and estrogen. This also implies that it will cause similar hormone disruption in women (earlier studies have shown an association between phthalates and genital defects in infants), making it a good thing to avoid.
These phthalates are mostly used in making flexible vinyl for flooring, wall coverings, “food contact applications” (food packaging, though this is illegal in Europe), and medical devices. Other, lighter, phthalates (DEP and DBP) are used in lotions, perfumes, cosmetics, lacquers, coating, varnishes, acetate, and in some time release medications.
Interestingly, DEHP is relatively insoluble in water, so little will migrate from the plastic (DEHP doesn’t become a permanent part of the plastic) into a mainly water containing liquid. Because of this, US law permits DEHP in packaging of food that is primarily water. However, since DEHP accumulates in fat over your entire lifespan and persists in the environment it is likely the only safe level of it is none.
One this stuff gets in you, how do you get it out? Well, there’s no good answer for that right now. Sadly, the only sure way to be sure to move it out of a human is to have a baby: some of those phthalates will leave inside the baby. There have been some attempts to do it with Olestra (the non-absorbed fat in Wow chips), but it didn’t work (though it might work if you have just been exposed to the fat-soluable chemicals before they have gotten into your fat).
I had switched to phthalate-free medical supplies (mostly IV tubing) long ago, so applying the precautionary principle in my office has paid off. I wonder when the government will put the health of its citizens over corporate profit. Right now, they hear more from the corporations’ lobbyists (paid for out of the money we pay for their stuff) than from us, so as long as we sit on our hands and keep quiet it won’t change.