Nagel's understanding of these parenting choices is informed, because Assistant Professor Nagel, PhD, spends her days uncovering the science behind them. She is part of the award-winning team of researchers at the University of Missouri called the Endocrine Disruptors Group. Even prior to 1997, when her work with Professor Frederick vom Saal grabbed the scientific community's attention, Nagel had been interested in how chemicals can deceive our bodies into malfunctioning. She and the Missouri group have earned numerous research awards, doing significant studies commissioned by the National Institutes of Health and others. She also did her postdoctoral training at Duke University's Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology.
I asked Nagel how it is that tiny amounts of a substance, like the lining of a food can, or a barely detectible ingredient in a plastic product could possibly harm us. She says the key is understanding first how our bodies' natural systems work. "Hormones like estrogen normally work at very, very low levels," explains Nagel, "so chemicals that interact with natural hormone signaling can also work at very low levels." Endocrine disruptors like Bisphenol-A are substances that seem to mimic natural hormones, potentially giving genes the wrong signal and creating disease.