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Diaper Data – Searching for Estrogen Begins Early

5000 Diapers are examined to help Emory University researchers to determine estrogen levels in infants

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AnnA Rushton
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People use all kinds of things for divination, but searching a dirty diaper has to be a first.  So commendation and applause is due to those brave Emory University researchers at the University of North Carolina who have developed an accurate, non-invasive method that can help determine estrogen levels in infants.  Because of the ethical and practical difficulties of repeatedly taking blood samples from healthy infants, little data was currently available for charting the developmental pathways of estrogen until now.

Searching through poop is usually something animal researchers do under the more dignified heading of ‘scat searching’ but this method will now allow researchers to learn more about the association between estrogen levels in human infants and their long-term reproductive development.  This method will also allow researchers to look at how early disruption of the endocrine system affects long-term maturation, a growing concern among researchers and physicians.   Impressive enough, but surprisingly they also believe it will help them to monitor the development of sex-specific behaviors, such as toy preference or cognitive differences..

You would think that there was little to learn about human development, but surprisingly little is known about hormone levels during infancy. Previous research has focused on the measurement of hormones in blood, urine and saliva but the new data from the diapers allowed the researchers to successfully measure the fecal levels of estradiol, a type of estrogen.

Estradiol’s role in postnatal development of the body, brain and behavior has in recent years raised specific concerns about how exogenous estrogens, or environmental estrogens, such as those found in soy, fruits and vegetables, plastics and common household items, affect lifelong health.  The recent publicity about products containing bisphenol A and its adverse effects on health have been well documented and it has been known since the 1930’s that it is an estrogenic substance

Sara Berga, MD, James Robert McCord professor and chairman, Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Emory University School of Medicine said: “We understand very little about the hormonal dynamics that occur during early development precisely because we lack a reliable way to track hormones in neonates and very young children. Having a way to track this critical hormone that influences behavior and the development of many important tissues, including the brain, will allow us to understand normal. This really is a great leap forward, and the investigators should be congratulated on this advance.”

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