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AM Andersson and NE Skakkebaek

There has been increasing concern about the impact of environmental compounds with hormone-like action on human development and reproductive health over the past decades. An alternative but neglected source of hormone action that may be considered in this connection is hormone residues in meat from husbandry animals treated with sex steroid hormones for growth promotion. Treatment of cattle with naturally occurring or synthetic sex hormones may enhance lean muscle growth and improve feed efficiency and is therefore a very cost effective procedure for cattle producers who have used it for decades in some Western countries, including the USA and Canada. The Joint Food and Agricultural Organisation/World Health Organisation (FAO/WHO) expert committee on food additives (JECFA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considered, in 1988, that the residues found in meat from treated animals were safe for the consumers. We have re-evaluated the JECFA conclusions regarding the safety of estradiol residues in meat in the light of recent scientific data, with special emphasis on estradiol levels in prepubertal children. These levels are needed for estimates of the normal daily production rates of estradiol in children, who may be particularly sensitive to low levels of estradiol. In our opinion, the conclusions by JECFA concerning the safety of hormone residues in meat seem to be based on uncertain assumptions and inadequate scientific data. Our concerns can be summarized as follows. 1) The data on residue levels in meat were based on studies performed in the 1970's and 1980's using radioimmunoassay (RIA) methods available at the time. The sensitivity of the methods was generally inadequate to measure precisely the low levels found in animal tissues, and considerable variation between different RIA methods for measuring steroids exists. Therefore the reported residue levels may be subject to considerable uncertainty. 2) Only limited information on the levels of the various metabolites of the steroids was given despite the fact that metabolites also may have biological activity. 3) Reliable data on daily production rates of steroid hormones were and are still lacking in healthy prepubertal children. This lack is crucial as previous guidelines regarding acceptable levels of steroid residues in edible animal tissues have been based on very questionable estimates of production rates in children. Thus, even today the US FDA bases its guidelines on the presumably highly overestimated production rates in prepubertal children given in the JECFA 1988 report. 4) The possible biological significance of very low levels of estradiol is neglected. In conclusion, based on our current knowledge possible adverse effects on human health by consumption of meat from hormone-treated animals cannot be excluded.

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P Christiansen, AM Andersson, NE Skakkebaek and A Juul

BACKGROUND: Several studies have indicated that cryptorchidism is associated with degenerative changes in both Sertoli cells and germ cells. The gonadal peptide hormone inhibin B reflects Sertoli cell function. Low inhibin B levels are found in a large portion of formerly cryptorchid men who show compromised seminiferous tubule function. It is not known if inhibin B can be used to demonstrate early damage of seminiferous tubules in prepubertal boys with cryptorchidism. METHODS: We investigated the relationship between serum levels of inhibin B, testosterone, FSH and LH in 62 prepubertal boys with uni- and bilateral cryptorchidism. Furthermore, we investigated the changes in serum levels of inhibin B and the corresponding changes in serum levels of FSH, LH and testosterone during a short course (3 weeks) of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) injections in 18 of these cryptorchid boys. RESULTS: In the 62 prepubertal boys with uni- or bilateral cryptorchidism there were no significant differences in baseline levels (median and range) of inhibin B (88 (20-195) pg/ml vs 78 (35-182) pg/ml; not significant), LH (0.08 (<0.05-0.99) IU/l vs 0.06 (<0.05-1.61) IU/l; not significant) and FSH (0.60 (0.08-3.73) IU/l vs 0.85 (0.25-2.55); not significant) compared with 156 healthy prepubertal boys, and there were no differences in hormonal levels between boys with uni- or bilateral cryptorchidism. There was no correlation between baseline levels of inhibin B and FSH. In boys younger than 9 years, we found no correlation between baseline levels of inhibin B and LH whereas, in boys older than 9 years, baseline levels of inhibin B were positively correlated to baseline LH (Spearman rank correlation coefficient ((R(s))=0.58, P=0.03). Treatment with hCG (1500 IU intramuscularly twice weekly for 3 weeks) resulted in descensus of testes in 9 out of 18 patients. In all boys but one, irrespective of age, hCG induced a marked increase in testosterone into the adult range (from undetectable to 21.8 (7.0-35.4) nmol/l; P<0.001) and completely suppressed FSH and LH levels. Serum levels of inhibin B increased significantly from 116 (50-195) pg/ml to 147 (94-248) pg/ml (P<0.05), but not uniformly. The increase in serum levels of inhibin B was inversely correlated to baseline inhibin B (Rs=-0.52, P=0.03) and baseline FSH (R(s)=-0.59, P<0.01). CONCLUSIONS: We therefore suggest that, in the prepubertal testes, inhibin B is secreted from the prepubertal Sertoli cells following hCG, whereas early pubertal testes with more differentiated Sertoli cells are not able to secrete inhibin B in response to hCG stimulation, perhaps due to lack of germ cell-derived betaB-subunits. We found (a) normal inhibin B levels in prepubertal boys with uni- or bilateral cryptorchidism, (b) that hCG stimulated testosterone markedly and suppressed FSH and LH levels and (c) that hCG treatment stimulated inhibin B levels in the youngest cryptorchid boys. In the oldest prepubertal boys no hCG-induced changes in inhibin B were shown.

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NM Mol, N Sorensen, P Weihe, AM Andersson, N Jorgensen, NE Skakkebaek, N Keiding and P Grandjean

OBJECTIVE: To determine whether prenatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) with possible hormone-disrupting effects is capable of affecting sexual differentiation in boys at the age of puberty. DESIGN: Following analysis for PCB in their umbilical cords, 196 boys from a Faroese birth cohort were examined for the development of puberty at 14 years of age. METHODS: Physical examination included determination of Tanner stages and testicular size. A morning urine sample was centrifuged and examined for the presence of sperm. Serum was analyzed for sex hormones. RESULTS: twenty boys (10.2%) had abnormalities in testicular development, mainly cryptorchidism. only three of them had a positive spermaturia test, but the level of exposure to pcbs in this group had not been increased. occurrence of spermaturia in 58 of the remaining 176 boys was also not associated with pcb exposure but showed highly significant associations with tanner stages and testicular size. serum concentrations of testosterone, fsh and lh were higher in boys with spermaturia, while sex hormone-binding globulin was lower and no difference occurred in inhibin b. serum hormone parameters showed only weak associations with the level of prenatal pcb exposure. CONCLUSIONS: These findings support the validity of spermaturia as a useful indicator of puberty, although a substantial rate of false negatives must be taken into account. Despite the wide range of exposure to PCB, the findings did not reveal any definite associations with the development of puberty. However, because of the limited size of the cohort, small effects cannot be excluded.

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A Perheentupa, J Mäkinen, T Laatikainen, M Vierula, N E Skakkebaek, A-M Andersson and J Toppari

Objective

To investigate whether a population-level decline in serum testosterone exists in Finnish men. In comparison with other European populations, Finnish men have compared well in the studies of reproductive health (i.e. semen quality, incidence of cryptorchidism and testicular cancer); thus, we expected no significant cohort-dependent decrease in serum testosterone.

Methods

We analysed serum levels of testosterone, gonadotrophin and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) in 3271 men representing different ages (25–74 years) and birth cohorts within three large Finnish population surveys conducted in 1972, 1977 and 2002.

Results

Serum testosterone levels decreased (from 25.3 nmol/l in 25- to 29-year-old men gradually to 16.9 nmol/l in 70- to 74-year-old men), whereas SHBG and gonadotrophin levels increased with increasing age. In addition, a significant secular trend in testosterone (total and free), SHBG and gonadotrophin levels was observed with lower levels in more recently born age-matched men. Serum testosterone level decreased in men aged 60–69 years from 21.9 nmol/l (men born 1913–1922) to 13.8 nmol/l (men born 1942–1951). These decreases remained significant following adjustment for BMI. An age-independent birth cohort effect existed on reproductive hormones measured in the Finnish men. In concert with the lower free testosterone levels, we observed lower gonadotrophin levels, suggesting that while there may be detrimental changes at the gonad level, the hypothalamus–pituitary–axis is not responding appropriately to this change.

Conclusions

The more recently born Finnish men have lower testosterone levels than their earlier born peers. This study offers no explanation for this substantial recent adverse development.