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Rev Reprod. 1997 May;2(2):69-73.

Environmental oestrogens--present understanding.

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MRC Reproductive Biology Unit, Centre for Reproductive Biology, Edinburgh, UK.


Three years ago it was hypothesized that the reported adverse changes in male reproductive health could be explained by exposure to compounds with oestrogenic (or other hormone disruptive) activity. Although this issue has been highly publicized, there has been little progress towards a realistic assessment of whether environmental oestrogens pose a health risk to humans. This article attempts to give a brief overview of the current status of knowledge concerning environmental oestrogens and highlights some of the difficulties associated with risk assessment. Compounds within several major groups of chemicals, including organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, phenolic compounds and phthalate esters, have been identified as being weakly oestrogenic by in vitro and in vivo screening methods. Many of these compounds are widespread and persistent in the environment. They are likely to be present in the food chain, drinking water, plastics, household products and food packaging, although which is the most important route of human exposure is unclear. In addition to exposure to man-made chemicals, the consumption of plant-derived oestrogens in foodstuffs poses a potential risk to human health as phytoestrogens are more potent oestrogens and their intake by some infants is likely to be considerable.

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