Scientists discover physiological changes in young people living in the Aral Sea region

Professor Andrei Pugovkin of the St. Petersburg University of Electrical and Electronics Technology said that the dangerous ecological conditions in the (former) Aral Sea region are leading to stunted physical development and reduced levels of sex hormones.

Scientists from St. Petersburg University of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, working with colleagues from Karakalpak State University, have found long-term effects on the health of young people living around the disappearing Aral Sea. Professor Bogovkin said that the dangerous ecological conditions around the former watershed have led to stunted growth of organisms, poor physical development and reduced levels of sex hormones.

“Research has shown that an environment with a high content of organochlorines, pesticides and heavy metals alters the endocrine state of a growing organism. This is manifested as inhibition of growth and physical development, a decrease in sex hormone levels, especially in men, which leads to a decrease in human body size and weight,” Bogovkin explained.

The professor noted that the ecological catastrophe of the Aral Sea is primarily related to human activities, including unlimited withdrawal of water from rivers by Soviet agricultural enterprises, as well as the active use of mineral fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals. He added that the sands of the Aralkum Desert, which replaced the Aral Sea, contain many toxic substances that are carried by the wind across the region.

People who have been living in the former waters for a long time have many problems with the kidneys, lungs and cardiovascular system. Scientists from the University and their colleagues have set themselves the promising goal of identifying the long-term negative effects that occur in the bodies of developing young people, which will allow them to predict the risk of diseases in advance and intervene at an early stage.

The study involved 609 volunteers aged 18-25 years old from two areas close to the former sea. The study participants underwent physical fitness tests, their average oxygen consumption was measured, and their blood composition was then examined in detail. Special software and data processing algorithms were then used to identify patterns and establish causal links between environmental factors and the development of the young people.

Andrey Bogovkin pointed out the high effectiveness of the research method proposed by the scientists: in the future, this methodology will make it possible not only to study the long-term effects on human health in other environmentally unfavorable territories, but also to regularly monitor their health status and adjust medical and social programs in the region.

Notably, the Aral Sea (Lake Aral) was considered very prosperous for many years and was the fourth largest sea in the world, covering an area of ​​about 68,000 square kilometers, with a length of 426 km, a width of 284 km, a maximum depth of 68 meters, and 34 species of fish, with an annual catch of 60,000 tons at its peak.

The forerunner of future problems was the construction of irrigation canals for cotton cultivation, which began in the 1930s. The area of ​​canals expanded rapidly, as did the amount of water consumed. Water was sourced mainly from the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya River and the Syr Darya River. This option reached its peak in the 1960s. Naturally, the lake quickly became shallow. By the beginning of this century, only 10 percent of the lake’s area remained.

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