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Endocrine disruptors

Fetal exposure to parabens may reduce reproduction

Infants exposed to parabens in utero show signs of reduced reproduction already at 3 months of age.

By Marianne Lie Becker, , 5/17/2021

Parabens are added to personal care products and cosmetics as antimicrobial preservatives. They are suspected to have endocrine disrupting abilities, and exposure to parabens have been associated with changes in reproduction.

A study from SDU and Odense University Hospital within the Odense Child Cohort suggests that maternal exposure to parabens may affect reproduction in the infant.

425 pregnant women and their infants participated in the study. Parabens were measured in urine samples during pregnancy. Paraben concentrations in urine were generally low, however, 10% of the women were exposed to high concentrations.

Surprising association

At 3 months of age all infants were examined and anogenital distance – the distance between anus and genitals - was measured.

The study found that boys exposed to parabens in utero had shorter distance whereas girls had longer distance compared to unexposed.

Anogenital distance

Anogenital distance (AGD; distance from anus to genitals) is routinely used in animal toxicology studies and is sensitive to anti-androgenic exposure. In rodents AGD has been shown to reflect the amount of androgen to which a male fetus is exposed in early development; males have longer AGD than females, and higher in utero androgen exposure results in longer AGD. Adult male rats exposed to anti-androgens in utero have lower fertility and semen quality.

The long-term implications of these findings need to be determined, but studies among adult men suggest that a shorter anogenital distance is associated with reduced semen quality and lower testosterone levels.

– It is surprising that even in these low exposed Danish pregnant women anogenital distance was affected in their children, says Tina Kold Jensen, professor at Clinical Pharmacology, Pharmacy and Environmental Medicine and Research leader, Odense Child Cohort, Odense University Hospital.

– This suggests that exposure to parabens in vulnerable periods during development may affect the development of the sex organs.

Three months of age is an interesting period of development also known as the mini-puberty, as sex-hormones are peaking during this age period and then are dormant until puberty.

Tina Kold Jensen, Professor

Sex hormones were measured at 3 months of age. Girls exposed to parabens in utero had lower sex hormones, whereas no associations were found in boys.

– Three months of age is an interesting period of development also known as the mini-puberty, as sex-hormones are peaking during this age period and then are dormant until puberty, says Tina Kold Jensen.

– We often find sex differences when we study the adverse effects of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, probably because the endocrine system differs among male and female fetuses.

Long term follow-up

Odense Child Cohort has obtained funding from several funds e.g. Novo Nordisk Fonden, Danish Research Council and the Region of Southern Denmark for the continuous follow-up of the children.

– It is extremely important to follow-up these children to determine the long-term impact of these early suggested findings of changes in the reproductive systems in infancy, Tina Kold Jensen ends.

Parabens

  • Parabens are added to personal care products and cosmetics as antimicrobial preservatives.
  • Parabens are suspected to have endocrine disrupting abilities.
  • The use of some parabens has been banned in cosmetics whereas others may still be used.
  • Parabens have suggested to act on both the estrogenic and anti-androgenic system.
  • The Danish Center for Hormone Distupting Chemicals concluded that butylparaben is an endocrine disrupting chemical whereas methyl-, ethyl- and propylparaben are suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals.
  • The European Chemicals Agency has in June 2020 recognized butylparaben as having endocrine disrupting properties.

How to avoid exposure to parabens

  • By using the app Kemiluppen personal care products including chemicals with suspected endocrine disrupting abilities, including parabens, can be avoided.
  • Choose Svanemærket. These products do not contain parabens or other chemicals with suspected endocrine disrupting abilities.
  • Avoid products with ingrediencies ending with -paraben in declarations. The most important parabens to avoid are propyl- og butylparabens.
  • Avoid food items containing E214, E215, E218 and E219. These can also be indicated as for example ethyl- and methyl-p-hydroxybenzoat. According to The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration parabens may only be added to sweets, snacks e.g. chips and nuts and certain meet products.
Meet the researcher

Tina Kold Jensen is a Professor at Clinical Pharmacology, Pharmacy and Environmental Medicine and Research leader, Odense Child Cohort, Odense University Hospital.

Contact

Odense Child Cohort

The study was performed within the Odense Child Cohort which follows 2.550 families within the Odense municipality from early pregnancy till the child is 18 years of age to determine the impact of exposure to biological, chemical, psychological and social factors on child health.

It is a collaboration between Odense University Hospital, Psychiatric Services in the Region of Southern Denmark, Odense Municipality and The University of Southern Denmark.

Find out more about Odense Child Cohort

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Editing was completed: 17.05.2021