Dr. Shanna Swan shared with Joe Rogan her “disturbing” research into the effect plastics and chemicals are having on humans, including her fears that lower sperm counts in men could lead to a fertility crisis. Swan, who is a professor of environmental science and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, was a guest on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast on April 21, 2021.
Rogan wrote on Instagram, “This one should scare the s*** out of people. @drshannaswan is a researcher and an environmental and reproductive epidemiologist. What her work is showing is that exposure to plastics and chemicals are radically affecting sperm levels and the developmental cycles of children and it’s been going down steadily since the 1950’s and the widespread use of petrochemical products.”
One major danger is phthalates, Swan said, which, according to the CDC, are, “a group of chemicals used to make plastics more durable. They are often called plasticizers.”
Swan, who recently published a book on the subject with reporter Stacey Colino, Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race, told The Guardian in March 2021, “If you follow the curve from the 2017 sperm-decline meta-analysis, it predicts that by 2045 we will have a median sperm count of zero. It is speculative to extrapolate, but there is also no evidence that it is tapering off. This means that most couples may have to use assisted reproduction.”
According to Men’s Health, Swan wrote in her book, “Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc.” She said there is a “global existential crisis,” that is causing shrinking penis size and decreasing the volume of the testes. She wrote, “The current state of reproductive affairs can’t continue much longer without threatening human survival. Of five possible criteria for what makes a species endangered, only one needs to be met; the current state of affairs for humans meets at least three.”
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Swan Said Researchers First Learned About the Issue by Feeding Rats Food Containing Phthalates & Found Some Male Pups Had Smaller Penises & Other Issues
Swan told Rogan researchers first began to learn about the dangers of chemicals and plastics in food with animals. “That’s the way science works. First, you do animal studies and then you try to replicate them in humans,” she said. “And so, in around 2000 they did some experiments where they fed a rat food contaminated with phthalates. And then they looked to see how the offspring developed. And what they saw was that the males were born different than the females and different from unexposed males.”
Swan said they saw in rats, “If his mother was exposed to phthalates, everything can go south. What happens, is the penis smaller and the (anogenital distance) is smaller and the scrotum is smaller. And the testes are maybe not descended.” Swan said, “in other words it didn’t finish the process. It was arrested, if you will. So we say that pup is incompletely masculinized.”
Swan told Rogan:
When I heard this story, I was flying on a plane to fly to Japan for a conference. I was with a friend who was a chemist, for the Centers for Disease Control. And he said, ‘Shanna, you should study phthalates.’ And I’m going, ‘Why?’ I’ve never heard of them. … He said, ‘We have been measuring them at the CDC and they are in everybody, they’re in pregnant women and this group of scientists in the National Toxicology Program have shown they have altered the development of the male newborn.’ And they called that the phthalate syndrome. … So I thought, ‘Well does that happen to humans?’
Phthalates have the property that they dissolve in water. They’re water-soluble. So they go into the urine. For this class of chemicals, if you want to know how much is in your body, my body, we’ve got to measure the urine. Other chemicals, like flame-retardants, we would look in the blood. … Then, rather than looking at kids with problems, I just took a whole population of pregnant women and I got their urine, measured their phthalates, got their kids, measured their kids. So then I have the problem of what to measure in the kids, because nobody had made this translation from an animal genital developmental system to a human. And so that was kind of a challenge. Figuring out how to do that. But we did that.
Swan said they developed an exam for measuring the same things they did in a rat in the children. “And then we showed, and this was big news when it came out, that the mother’s phthalates did alter the genitals of the boys. That was the first evidence. That was 2005 and then we published some more in 2008.”
She told Rogan, “I don’t think anyone questions that, at least this class of chemicals, which we know lower testosterone, alter the development of these boys.”
Rogan asked her, “When did this stuff start getting into our food supply?” She responded, “The growth of these chemicals tracks with the growth of the petrochemical industry. Because they’re made from petrochemical byproducts. It starts around 1950. Back in 1950, you have people loving science, jumping on the science bandwagon. There’s this, ‘Better living through chemistry’ that everyone is talking about. And everybody is just wanting everything made of plastic. It’s the new craze and it just took off. It went faster than a straight line exponentially up. And somewhere in there it started having an effect. But where, we’re not sure.”
She said, “I did look at the decline in sperm count over time. So we can look at that as an indication.” She said phthalates aren’t the only thing affecting sperm counts. “That’s one where I feel I can see it with confidence because I measured those babies and I did the science and I did it again and other people have done. I believe it’s solid. That’s just one example of the many chemicals that can affect our hormone system,” Swan said.
Rogan Said About Swan’s Research, ‘It’s Disturbing as F***’
Rogan added on Instagram, “This is some information that they’re just sorting out over the last couple decades, and frankly, it’s disturbing as f***. I really hope this podcast gets the word out.”
Swan, when asked by The Guardian what has to happen to prevent the fertility crisis, said, “The chemical industry must start producing chemicals that can be used in everyday products that are non-hormonally active. Regrettable substitution – where one harmful chemical is replaced by another untested one, which then turns out to have the same risks – must also stop.
She added, “It has happened with different phthalates, BPA and flame retardants and it is unacceptable. And we need to test the chemicals we are currently using – and not just at high doses and not just one at a time, because we are being exposed to a large number.”