The study, carried out by UK scientists at by Brunel University, the Universities of Exeter and Reading and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, shows for the first time how a group of testosterone-blocking chemicals is finding its way into UK rivers, affecting wildlife and potentially humans.
The study identified a new group of chemicals that act as 'anti-androgens'. This means that they inhibit the function of the male hormone, testosterone, reducing male fertility. Some of these are contained in medicines, including cancer treatments, pharmaceutical treatments, and pesticides used in agriculture. The research suggests that when they get into the water system, these chemicals may play a pivotal role in causing feminizing effects in male fish.
Earlier research by Brunel University and the University of Exeter has shown how female hormones estrogens, and chemicals that mimic estrogens, are leading to 'feminization' of male fish. These hormones are found in some industrial chemicals and the contraceptive pill, they enter rivers via sewage treatment works. This causes reproductive problems by reducing fish breeding capability and in some cases can lead to male fish changing sex.
Senior author Professor Charles Tyler of the University of Exeter said:
"Our research shows that a much wider range of chemicals than we previously thought is leading to hormone disruption in fish. This means that the pollutants causing these problems are likely to be coming from a wide variety of sources. Our findings also strengthen the argument for the cocktail of chemicals in our water leading to hormone disruption in fish, and contributing to the rise in male reproductive problems. There are likely to be many reasons behind the rise in male fertility problems in humans, but these findings could reveal one, previously unknown, factor."
The research took more than three years to complete and the research team is now focusing on identifying the source of anti-androgenic chemicals, as well as continuing to study their impact on reproductive health in wildlife and humans.
The research is published in the journal Environmental health Perspectives, this article was adapted from Science Daily.