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Science AMA Series: I’m Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist and author of five books, most recently “The Poisoner’s Handbook.” I’m also publisher of the magazine Undark, where I’ve just started a monthly column. AMA!
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My most recent column (https://undark.org/article/soy-formula-babies-endocrine-disruptor/) looked at soy formula (and other soy products) which contain a remarkably high level of hormonally active compounds called phytoestrogens. I was interested in the idea that by feeding soy to babies - a constant diet at an age critical in human development - we might be running an inadvertent experiment on those children, perhaps alerting their reproduction systems. The scientists I talked to agreed that that’s a real possibility. There are studies showing that soy diets can affect gene expression in the vaginal cells of female girls, for instance, that there are other longer term studies showing changes in menstruation and other effects. It’s an issue I’d like to follow further. Part of the reason I was interested in that aspect of soy exposure is that I’m a toxicology writer. I’ve been researching and writing about toxic substances for a decade, as the author of The Poisoner’s Handbook, but also as a blogger for Wired and for The New York Times, where I wrote an online column called Poison Pen. I started out being very focused on acute toxicity but I’ve more recently become interested in low-dose toxicology - the question of what chronic exposure to a very low dose of a compound (say arsenic in rice or drinking water) means in terms of public health. The question of every day exposures and how we navigate them really fascinates me and is part of my current book project, which follows the story of America’s first great food safety chemist at the turn of the 20th century. I’m here today from 1 pm-3:00 pm EST to answer questions about chemical exposures in our everyday life, questions of natural versus synthetic compounds, and when it’s worth paying attention. Looking forward to hearing from you!