Crossposted from Huffington Post
In Ruth Ozeki’s heartbreakingly funny novel My Year of Meats, narrator Jane Takagi-Little reflects on her journey through fertility challenges and miscarriage while producing a documentary series for Japanese television on behalf of the American corporate meat exporter Beef-Ex. About midway through the novel, Jane realizes that a synthetic hormone once used in livestock production, diethylstilbestrol (DES), was also for decades widely prescribed to millions of pregnant women. Confronting her mother, Jane asks,
“Mom, when you were pregnant, did your doctor tell you to take any medicine? Any pills?”"I don’t remember … It was a bad time. Doctor say I am so delicate.”
… Doc must have subscribed to the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, seen the [DES] ads. So he gave her a prescription, probably about 125 milligrams of diethylstilbestrol, otherwise known as DES, to take once a day for the first trimester of me. To keep me in place, floating between her delicate hips.
Sadly for Jane and millions of real-life women, DES didn’t prevent miscarriages — in fact, just the opposite was true. In a chapter on DES for a 2002 report by the European Environment Agency, the authors note the higher rates of pregnancy problems among women who took the drug and further reproductive health problems among their offspring. Incredibly, the ineffectiveness of DESwas known by the early 1950s, and early warning signs about health problems were also overlooked. The authors state, “Had the data [about DES] been properly analyzed in 1953, nearly 20 years of unnecessary exposure to DES might have been avoided. The fact that this drug was prescribed for two decades after its lack of efficacy was clearly demonstrated illustrates a massive failure of the system.”
I’ve recently written about synthetic chemicals that can mimic and alter our bodies’ natural hormones, chemicals like DES that can lead to harmful effects at even very tiny doses. Two decades ago, when researchers first documented these kinds of chemicals it seemed almost like science fiction. But 20 years later the evidence is stronger than ever, and now a team of 16 scientists from ten nations has released a decade-long research report on the global evidence of health hazards from these hormone-mimicking substances. Unlike DES, we are not exposed to these chemicals as prescription drugs, but through hundreds of everyday products, like food packaging, plastics, cosmetics, baby products, furniture and other products containing flame-retardant chemicals, and many other common products. Our risk of diseases related to exposures to these chemicals may be significantly underestimated, especially since there has been little attention to the exposure our children and families typically receive to the mixtures of the many hormone-altering chemicals in our homes, schools, and workplaces. more »