Suzanne was absolutely flabbergasted by an item in the news recently. We
had tuned in to an AM station to hear the weather forecast, but first,
there was an important announcement from the scientific world. Doctors had
just proved that premenstrual syndrome, commonly known as PMS, has a
biological, rather than a psychological, cause. It's not all in her mind.
Researchers found that hormones produced during a woman's menstrual cycle
trigger physical and mental changes.
Many women (and many men who've been paying attention) have understood for
a long time that there's a connection between the phases of the female
cycle and various changes in body and spirit. Scientists, however, are
just "getting it"- and just barely, at that!
Hormones are chemical substances produced in minute amounts by living
things. In humans, they act as control signals for vital functions like
blood-sugar and insulin levels, the menstrual cycle and growth. There is
increasing evidence that connections exist between hormone levels and a
variety of diseases, including diabetes and cancer.
The endocrine system which produces hormones, is exceedingly complex and
can be affected not only by the body's cycles, but also by the mind and by
the environment. Diet, exercise, stress, happiness, anger and a host of
environmental pollutants can all produce holistic health effects by acting
through our hormones. Because they exist in such small quantities, act at
a distance, and often work by switching another process on or off,
scientific correlations between hormones and their effects are difficult to
That radio news story was the final "straw" needed to solidify Suzanne's
opinion of mainstream science's ignorance and misogyny. And, this is just
one of the most recent and blatant examples. Scientific denial of the
obvious is consistent with a history that extends back to a time when the
male medical establishment spurned suggestions from midwives that doctors
wash their hands before delivering babies. That was far too radical for
the entrenched male-dominated tradition which now applies narrow,
reductionist scientific methods to the study of PMS.
And where our hormones are concerned, western scientific tradition's
blindness to the big picture is likely to cause widespread disease.
Current research shows that we are swimming in a sea of serious
hormone-disrupting technologies. We've known for decades that synthetic
chemicals affect endocrine-system function. DDT, PCBs and dioxins are some
of the most infamous endocrine-disrupters. More recent studies show that
some of the chemicals commonly found in glued wood, carpets, plastics,
clothes, pesticides, water bottles and food packaging behave like hormones
in the body. Many scientists believe that these chemicals are connected to
a wide range of reproductive abnormalities in animals, and to the
widespread drop in human sperm count.
Then, just last week, Science News reported evidence from a number of
researchers that electromagnetic fields (often called EMFs) affect our
hormones, too. EMFs are created by appliances, power lines and house
wiring whenever electric current flows. Hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, copy
machines and faulty wiring generate rather large fields. The strength of
EMFs falls off sharply with increasing distance from the source. For
example, the relatively small field from a bedside electrical clock can be
dangerous because of extended exposure and proximity.
Electromagnetic fields were found to affect levels of melatonin, estrogen
and testosterone - human hormones whose changing levels are implicated in
several increasingly prevalent kinds of cancers. EMFs depress or shut down
melatonin production which apparently encourages breast cancer. In another
study, overnight exposure to EMFs raised estrogen levels in women (which
can also lead to breast cancer) and decreased testosterone levels in men,
(which are linked to testicular and prostate cancers). In addition, EMFs
reduce the effectiveness of some anti-cancer drugs.
What can we do? Reduce our intake of fats and oils, because many
endocrine-disrupters are fat-soluble. Avoid plastics for cooking, storing
or microwaving food. Don't use pesticides. Eat organically-grown food.
Spend more time outside surrounded by living things. These are more good
reasons to plan for your organic garden this spring.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1998, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "The Politics of
Food" and "Living on the Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays
Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future
is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from
Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing
and those since November 1995 are available there.
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