Dr. Shanna Swan has been studying the effects of phthalates and plastics for over 20 years, writing over 200 papers trying to get word out about how badly plastics have been damaging our hormonal and reproductive health. The pitch of her new book, “Count Down”, follows:
“In 2017, Shanna Swan and her team of researchers completed a major study. They found that over the previous four decades, sperm levels among men in Western countries had plummeted by more than 50 percent. The results sent shockwaves around the globe—but that was just the beginning. It turns out that sexual development is also changing broadly, for both men and women, and that the modern world is on pace to become an infertile one.
How and why could this happen? What is hijacking our fertility and our health? Count Down reveals what Swan and other researchers have learned about how chemical exposures are affecting our fertility, sexual development—even, perhaps, gender identity—and general health. Not just an illuminating overview of a grave threat but a helpful guide to protecting against it, Count Down is an urgent wake-up call, an enjoyable read, and a vital tool for understanding our future.”
Before her 2017 study was published, I was seeing a hormonal specialist in Hong Kong. He told me, with the caveat that the research hadn’t completely confirmed it (yet), that he would bet his life that chemicals in our environment — particularly from plastics — were responsible for lowered testosterone and sperm count in men and earlier puberty for women. I am not surprised to find out how correct he was.
But why is Dr. Swan on Joe Rogan? Because nobody outside of her group of research specialists seemed to have been following her research over nearly two decades. When I was teaching at HKUST, I co-wrote a capstone course on communicating science to the public. The rationale for the development of the course was that media has extremely little space for covering science, and when it does so, it misrepresents it. The changing media landscape now demands that scientists find ways to publicize important findings to the public on their own. It’s somewhat unfortunate, but I think this is actually a very beneficial skill for scientists to learn for themselves — the ability to contextualize and communicate without misinterpretation by the lay public.
As an aside, Dr. Swan’s research focuses on plastic and pesticide-related hormonal issues in the West, noting that Europe has much stronger protections against plastics, Phthalates and Phenols, and pesticides. However, much of the world, particularly Southeast Asian countries, such as the Philippines and Thailand, have extremely high usage of plastics and fertilizers — even those banned in the US. I suspect that the global impact of these chemicals on hormone levels and fertility issues is even more serious than Dr. Swan’s research suggests it is in the US.
It’s a great podcast, and well worth the 90 minutes of your time. All hope is not lost, either: Swan believes that the damage may be reversible in just three generations if we take sufficient action.