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Placenta shampoos, BPA, and Monsanto's genetic empire

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We are experimental people. By that, I don't mean we like to tinker. Though tinker we certainly do. We're experimental people in the way that white-coated Wistar rats are experimental rats. After hundreds of thousands of years spreading about the planet, settling everywhere from Africa's deepest deserts to the Arctic's most frigid barrens, humans face a new and possibly impenetrable challenge. Suddenly, the terrarium we haunt has been thoroughly, and potentially irrevocably, chemically and genetically altered. Simply put: we live and die exposed to substances that didn't exist on the planet until very recently. It all hits women and children the hardest: babies across the U.S. are born with toxic chemicals in their bloodstreams and Inuit mothers, living as far away from industrial pollution as you can get, have been measured with toxic loads in their breast milk at truly hazardous proportions thanks to the transport of poisons through the marine food web.

While human populations have boomed with concurrent medical advances, there have been strings attached to the agricultural and chemical revolutions. Incidences of a wide range of cancers — particularly breast and prostate — continue to climb. Diabetes has soared. Sperm counts have fallen. And young girls are reaching sexual maturity years earlier.

While working at Brooke Army Medical Center in the 1990s, Dr. Chandra Tiwary started seeing a disturbing trend in San Antonio. Babies and young children between 10 months and seven years old developing pubic hair and breast buds. Strange sightings, indeed, in a city where young girls already reach puberty at earlier ages thanks to elevated obesity levels (weight being one of the measures that trigger hormonal change). Tiwary linked his findings to the use of shampoos and conditioners containing placenta. "These products contain hormones — and sometimes they do say so," Tiwary told the Current. "[Customers] hope their hair will grow healthier or longer, but really estrogen doesn't have this effect." Here was a case where education and avoidance solved matters: after the families he consulted stopped using those products their children's conditions returned to normal.

Less clear is how we are to avoid suddenly ubiquitous chemicals such as bisphenol A, or BPA. The estrogen mimic is a synthetic creation born of blended coal tar extract and acetone that is found in a large variety of goods, including water bottles, baby bottles, tinned food cans, and paper receipts. Although industry has rushed to remove it from drinking water bottles, debates still rage regarding its impact on human health. The inter-agency National Toxicology Program found "some concern" (ranked 3 on a 5-point scale from "negligible" and "serious") that current levels of exposures may be damaging the brains, behaviors, and prostate glands in fetuses, infants, and children. Ranking at "minimal" concern is the potential quickening of puberty among children.

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