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One of the most universal environmental contaminants in modern life, the "plasticizing" agent Bisphenol-A (also known as BPA), has been conclusively linked to rising testosterone levels in men.

Bisphenol-A linked to rising testosterone levels in men

Testosterone, as you probably know, is the hormone that endows men with their masculine characteristics. Estrogen, as you probably also know, is the hormone that endows women with their feminine characteristics.

Women's ovaries make small amounts of the male sex hormone testosterone, and men also contain minute traces of natural estrogen in their bodies, mostly as a byproduct of the production and degradation of the male sex hormone testosterone in fat cells.

A study of 715 Italian men reported in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives reveals that constant exposure to BPA from plastic water bottles, and plastic soda bottles, as well as the plastics used in microwavable meal containers, furnishings, paint, and automobiles seems to rev up the production of testosterone in a man's body. That would seem to be a good thing, except that BPA also changes the activity of other hormones so that men gain weight.

And when men gain weight, their fat cells convert the masculinizing hormone testosterone into the feminizing hormone estrogen. The result of the added testosterone converted to estrogen, ironically, can be growth of breast tissue, loss of sex drive, erectile dysfunction, memory problems, attention deficit, and even shrinkage of the penis.

The conditions are usually reversible when a man's estrogen levels go down, but... 

The conditions are usually reversible when a man's estrogen levels go down. The problem lies in the fact that when men are overweight, estrogen levels can't go down if testosterone levels are going up. The combination of overweight and BPA-induced changes in hormones causes men to lose much of their masculine potency by midlife.

Unfortunately, BPA exposure also makes weight loss more difficult. This chemical disrupts the way the body uses thyroid hormone. It locks itself into the receptor sites cells use to receive thyroid hormone, keeping them from being stimulated to burn sugar and fat.

BPA also reduces the sensitivity of cells throughout the body to insulin, the hormone that transports sugar out of the bloodstream and inside the cells that need it. When cells don't respond to insulin, the pancreas makes more insulin to send them a message to that they must take in sugar to keep blood sugar levels right. Insulin, however, transports both sugar and fatty acids. It's about 300 times more efficient for moving fatty acids out of the bloodstream that it is for moving sugar out of the bloodstream.

The environmental toxin BPA changes insulin sensitivity so that the pancreas makes more and more insulin. More and more insulin moves less and less sugar, but more and more fat. As fat cells grow and grow, they turn into tiny estrogen factories. They work overtime to convert the male hormone testosterone into the female hormone estrogen--and BPA also makes sure the fat cells have more testosterone to work with.

What can men do to stop this vicious cycle? The single most important thing for any man to do to avoid BPA toxicity is never to eat any food or drink any liquid that has come in contact with heated plastic. This means taking food out of a microwaveable plastic container and putting it into a glass or ceramic container before placing in the microwave. It also means not drinking water or soft drinks from a plastic bottle that, for instance, has been sitting in the trunk of a car all summer. It's better to buy milk, juice, and carbonated beverages that have been stored in glass containers, whenever possible.

More and more countries, states, and cities are beginning to control the use of plastics containing BPA. Until this toxin is taken out of the tens of thousands of plastics we use in daily life, however, avoiding food and drink heated in plastic containers--and losing weight--are the best options for men seeking to maintain their masculinity.

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