” Intersex people are born with a mix of anatomical sex traits (chromosomes, reproductive organs, or genitals). Sometimes they are apparent at birth, sometimes they’re discovered later in life. I have Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS).
AIS manifests in different ways, yet the key factor is that during gestation, the unborn child develops a resistance to androgens (male hormones), which help build both males and females in the womb. AIS women are born with XY chromosomes, a female appearance, and internal gonads (they can be called testes). AIS variations go from being completely undetectable on the outside at birth, to visible variations on the genitals when the androgen insensitivity is partial. This means that on the outside, a body can look completely like a regular female on one side of the spectrum, to having noticeable traits of both on the other.
My mother was a nurse and when I was born, there were indications of my variation. So my family knew almost right away that something was up. At first it was attributed to a fertility medication that my mom took, called diethylstilbestrol (DES), which caused a lot of issues in babies and mothers until it was taken off the market in the late ’70s. ”
Dalea spoke with Cosmopolitan reporter Kira Peikoff about growing up different, struggling with her body image, and eventually learning how to embrace herself exactly as she is.
Read What It’s Really Like to Be Intersex, Cosmopolitan, APR 16, 2015.
Reproductive health indicators of fishes from Pennsylvania watersheds: association with chemicals of emerging concern
Intersex fish have now been found in three Pennsylvania river basins, indicating that the effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals are even more widespread than previously known. It is a problem that extends everywhere – as reported below in 2009 – and scientists have yet to identify a single chemical responsible for causing male fish to become part female. Multiple chemical stressors that are not solely associated with agriculture or wastewater treatment plant effluent may be responsible.
Widespread Occurrence of Intersex Bass Found in U.S. Rivers
Intersex in smallmouth and largemouth basses is widespread in numerous river basins throughout the United States is the major finding of the most comprehensive and large-scale evaluation of the condition, according to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research published online in Aquatic Toxicology.
Of the 16 fish species researchers examined from 1995 to 2004, the condition was most common by far in smallmouth and largemouth bass: a third of all male smallmouth bass and a fifth of all male largemouth bass were intersex. This condition is primarily revealed in male fish that have immature female egg cells in their testes, but occasionally female fish will have male characteristics as well.
Scientists found intersex fish in about a third of all sites examined from the Apalachicola, Colorado, Columbia, Mobile, Mississippi, Pee Dee, Rio Grande, Savannah, and Yukon River basins. The Yukon River basin was the only one where researchers did not find at least one intersex fish.
Although intersex occurrence differed among species and basin, it was more prevalent in largemouth bass in southeastern U.S., where it occurred at all sites in the Apalachicola, Savannah, and Pee Dee river basins, said Jo Ellen Hinck, the lead author of the paper and a biologist at the USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center. The researchers also documented intersex in channel catfish for the first time.
“Although the USGS has already documented the severity of intersex in individual basins such as the Potomac, this study reveals the prevalence of intersex is more widespread than anyone anticipated”, said Sue Haseltine, associate director for biology at the U.S. Geological Survey. “This research sends the clear message that we need to learn more about the hormonal and environmental factors that cause this condition in fish, as well as the number of fish afflicted with this condition.”
The study, said Hinck, presents the observed occurrence of intersex in a variety of freshwater fish species, but not potential causes. “This study adds a lot to our knowledge of this phenomena, but we still don’t know why certain species seem more prone to this condition or exactly what is causing it. In fact, the causes for intersex may vary by location, and we suspect it will be unlikely that a single human activity or kind of contaminant will explain intersex in all species or regions,” she said.
For example, said Hinck, at least one of their sites with a high prevalence of intersex—the Yampa River at Lay, Colo.—did not have obvious sources of endocrine-active compounds, which have been associated with intersex in fish. Such compounds are chemical stressors that have the ability to affect the endocrine system and include pesticides, PCBs, heavy metals, household compounds such as laundry detergent and shampoo, and many pharmaceuticals. Yet other study sites with high occurrence of intersex were on rivers with dense human populations or industrial and agricultural activities, which are more generally associated with endocrine-active compounds.
“We know that endocrine-active compounds have been associated with intersex in fish, but we lack information on which fish species are most sensitive to such compounds, the way that these compounds interact to cause intersex, and the importance of environmental factors,” Hinck said. “Proper diagnosis of this condition in wild fish is essential because if the primary causes are compounds that disrupt the endocrine system, then the widespread occurrence of intersex in fish would be a critical environmental concern.”
Specific river basin results include:
Intersex smallmouth bass were found in a third of male bass at almost half of the sites examined in the Columbia, Colorado, and Mississippi River basins. The percentage of intersex smallmouth bass ranged from 14 to 73 percent at different sites. It was highest (73 percent) in the Mississippi River at Lake City, Minn., Yampa River at Lay, Colo. (70 percent), Salmon River at Riggins, Idaho (43 percent), and the Columbia River at Warrendale, Oreg. (67 percent).
Intersex largemouth bass were found in nearly a fifth of the fish examined from the Colorado, Rio Grande, Mississippi, Mobile, Apalachicola, Savannah, and Pee Dee River basins; intersex was not observed in male largemouth bass from the Columbia River Basin. The percentage of intersex largemouth bass per site ranged from 8 to 91 percent and was most prevalent in the southeastern United States. The Pee Dee River at Bucksport, S.C., contained the highest percentage of intersex fish (91 percent), with high percentages occurring elsewhere on the Pee Dee too. Sixty percent of male bass examined at the Apalachicola River at Blountstown, Fla., were intersex, 50 percent in the Savannah River at Port Wentworth and Sylvania, Ga, 43 percent in the Savannah River at Augusta, Ga., and 30 percent in the Chattahoochee River at Omaha, Ga., and the Flint River at Albany, Ga. Lower percent intersex (10-25 percent) were found in bass from sites in the Mobile River in Alabama.
In addition, relatively high proportions of intersex largemouth bass were observed at three sites in the lower Rio Grande Basin including Rio Grande at Brownsville, Texas (50 percent), Rio Grande at Falcon Dam, Texas (44 percent), and Rio Grande at Mission, Texas (20 percent). In addition, 40 percent of male largemouth bass from the Colorado River at Imperial Dam, Ariz. and at the Gila River at Hayden, Ariz., in the Colorado River Basin were intersex.
Sources and More Information:
As more male bass switch sex, a strange fish story expands, WashingtonPost, Health & Science, August 3 2014.
Reproductive health indicators of fishes from Pennsylvania watersheds: association with chemicals of emerging concern, Springer, 10.1007/s10661-014-3868-5, 17 June 2014.
Intersex fish Endocrine disruption in smallmouth bass, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, PDF, 2014.
Widespread Occurrence of Intersex Bass Found in U.S. Rivers, USGS, NewsRoom, 9/14/2009.
Reproductive health indicators of fishes from Pennsylvania watersheds: association with endocrine-disrupting chemicals of emerging concern
Intersex fish have been found in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna, Delaware and Ohio river basins, indicating that the effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals are more widespread than previously known. Previously sampling within the Chesapeake Bay drainage indicated signs of reproductive endocrine disruption in the Potomac river basin.
New U.S. Geological Survey-led research published in Environmental Monitoring and Assessment found two fish species, smallmouth bass and white sucker, exhibiting the effects of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Intersex characteristics caused by hormones and hormone-mimicking compounds include immature eggs in male fish.
Male smallmouth bass from all sites sampled had immature eggs in their testes; prevalence was lowest in the Ohio drainage, intermediate in the Delaware and highest in the Susquehanna. Neither the white sucker nor the redhorse sucker had intersex characteristics in any basin, though white suckers sampled at some sites in the Delaware and Susquehanna basin did have a yolk precursor in their blood.
In aquatic environments, the presence of these intersex characteristics is widely used as a biomarker for assessing exposure to estrogenic chemicals, as well as anti-androgenic chemicals which inhibit development of male characteristics. Bass in general, appear to be sensitive to estrogenic chemical exposure, particularly in regard to development of intersex.
“The prevalence and severity of the immature eggs in smallmouth bass corresponded with the percent of agricultural land use in the watershed above the collection sites,” said Vicki Blazer, a research fish biologist and lead author of the study. “Chemical compounds associated with estrogenic endocrine disruption, in particular estrone, a natural estrogen, were also associated with the extent and severity of these effects in bass.”
Sites in the Susquehanna drainage had a higher prevalence and severity of these effects than sites in the Ohio drainage. In general, the percentage of agricultural land use was highest throughout the Susquehanna drainage and the Schuylkill River, and lowest throughout the Ohio drainage.
Sites upstream and downstream of waste water treatment plant sites were also sampled, and the watersheds varied greatly in the number of waste water treatment plant and sewage discharges. There was no significant relationship between the number of waste water treatment plants and the prevalence of immature eggs in male fish, though results did indicate that the severity of intersex characteristics of male small mouth bass generally increased at downstream sites from waste water treatment plants.
“The sources of estrogenic chemicals are most likely complex mixtures from both agricultural sources, such as animal wastes, pesticides and herbicides, and human sources from waste water treatment plant effluent and other sewage discharges,” said Blazer. Further research is underway to better characterize the sources and timing of exposure to these complex mixtures in relation to fish health.
Intersex Fish Now in Three Pennsylvania River Basins, USGS Newsroom, article.asp?ID=3921, 6/27/2014
Full Study – Reproductive health indicators of fishes from Pennsylvania watersheds: association with chemicals of emerging concern, Springer, s10661-014-3868-5, 17 June 2014
Intersex Fish Showing Up in Pennsylvania Rivers, LiveScience, 46603, July 01, 2014
This petition is to ask the FDA to acknowledge that, when a pregnant woman is given medical treatment with synthetic hormones, these substances can cross the placenta and cause abnormalities of sexual development in her unborn child, including both physical intersex conditions and transgender.
There are a variety of situations in which medical treatments involving high doses of synthetic hormones are given to pregnant women. Many of these treatments would, if given in the same dose to an adult man, suppress his testosterone production and have other feminising effects on him. Based on my own experiences and what I’ve seen of the effects of an artificial estrogen called DES, they can do the same thing to a male foetus, the main difference being that the effects are permanent. Due to the way foetal development takes place and the fact that most medical use of these drugs tends to be during the second half of the pregnancy, brain development is more likely to be affected than physical development.
My own opinion is that DES caused intersexed development in the DES sons by blocking testicular testosterone production. DES is a potent chemical castration agent that for many years the treatment of choice for hormone-sensitive prostate cancer. Just 3mg of DES per day is enough to fully chemically castrate an adult man; the starting dose as a miscarriage treatment was 5mg per day (and often went much higher during the later stages of the pregnancy). It’s a not widely appreciated fact, but male development isn’t driven directly by genes, but instead by hormones (primarily testosterone) produced in the testicles of a male fetus. Given the ability DES has to block testosterone production, it’s no surprise that many DES sons are physically and/or psychologically intersexed. The surprising thing is that there’s so little public awareness of it!
If the problem is just one of testosterone production being suppressed during the critical time sexual development was taking place, then I don’t see any reason for there to be any long term genetic effect or 3rd generation effects. However, one thought that’s occured to me is that DES daughters often have a great deal of difficulty getting pregnant and carrying the pregnancy to term, which puts them at vastly increased risk of medical intervention – and potentially being given hormonal medication during the pregnancy. If one of these hormonal treatments for miscarriage (DES) can cause problems with intersexed development, then the likelihood is that others can too. There’s one drug in particular called hydroxyprogesterone caproate, which is in widespread current use to prevent miscarriages and premature births, and is being given in doses which I’m sure would have some serious gender-bending effects if you were to give the same dose to an adult man.
In short, although DES was phased out 40 years ago, there’s plenty of other sex hormone derivatives still finding their way inside pregnant women and potentially causing many of the same problems. That’s why I’ve been trying so hard to get people to take me seriously, and see whether there’s a link between exposure to these drugs before birth and endocrine and intersex-related problems later in life!