History, BPA, DES and the FDA

“Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it again and again.”  And this is just as true in the arena of drugs and medical practices as it is in politics.

Right now, there is a major struggle being waged over BPA and the FDA is approaching stricter regulation very cautiously.  This is an echo of an earlier process concerning the drug DES.

I personally know women who developed uterine cancer as a result of their mothers being prescribed DES. 

Here we have an interview on the radio program Living on Earth (LOE) with  Nancy Langston who has written a book, Toxic Bodies, on the history of DES regulation and the FDA.

YOUNG: Concern about the plastic ingredient, bisphenol A, is shaping new laws around the country. Wisconsin banned use of BPA in children’s products and ten other states could do the same, from New Mexico to New Jersey. BPA is in a class of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors and studies link it to reproductive problems and cancer. But as states, and even some stores take action the federal Food and Drug Administration has not.

Environmental historian Nancy Langston says this all sounds very familiar. Her new book is “Toxic Bodies: Hormone Disruptors and the Legacy of DES.” DES was once prescribed for menopausal and pregnant women, and then widely used on livestock, all with disastrous effect. And professor Langston finds strong parallels between that history and the current controversy over BPA.

LANGSTON: Both BPA and DES, or diethylstilbestrol, were synthetic chemicals that during the 1930’s laboratories discovered were estrogenic. In other words, they could act like artificial estrogens and have profound effects on the body. BPA was actually going to be marketed commercially as the first synthetic estrogen until a laboratory discovered that the similar chemical, DES, was even more powerful as an estrogen.

YOUNG: Now, why did you choose to focus on DES?

LANGSTON: Nearly one tenth of American women who were pregnant during the 1950s and 1960s were treated with DES, often without their knowledge or consent. And it’s turned out to be an enormous public health disaster. DES has become one of the most powerful models for scientists to look at the effects of synthetic chemicals on the developing fetus and on the broader environment. Yet, we don’t really understand why the federal Food and Drug Administration approved the drug and why doctors marketed it so widely. And so looking a bit more clearly at the regulatory debates over DES can help us learn how to address very, very similar problems that we still face today…

much more via Living on Earth: Toxic Bodies.


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