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Monday, 17 February 2020

Research: Prenatal exposure to cosmetic ingredients promote childhood overweight

If unborn babies in the womb increasingly come into contact with butylparaben, their risk of later being overweight obviously increases. © Janulla / thinkstock

Consequential stress in the womb: If pregnant women use paraben-containing cosmetics, this could harm their offspring. As a study shows, prenatal exposure to butyl paraben increases the risk of being overweight in childhood. This could be due to epigenetic changes triggered by the environmental hormone. Butyl paraben is often used in skin creams, make-up and the like as a preservative.

Parabens are mainly used as preservatives in numerous everyday products. Recently, however, these connections have come under increasing criticism. Because studies suggest that certain parabens act as so-called endocrine disruptors. This means that they behave like hormones and can therefore intervene in the hormonal balance of humans and animals . As a result, developmental and reproductive disorders or other health problems may occur.

The butyl paraben often found in cosmetic products such as skin creams, make-up and sun milk was considered to be comparatively harmless for a long time. But then studies indicated that this paraben variant also acts more like a hormone than assumed.

Stress in pregnancy

For this reason, Beate Leppert from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig and her colleagues have now devoted more attention to this paraben. You wanted to know: Does prenatal exposure to butyl paraben affect the later risk of being overweight? After all, environmental hormones like bisphenol A are already known to be able to set the course for extra pounds in the womb.

For their study, the scientists first evaluated data from 629 mother-child pairs. The mothers were asked about their cosmetic use during pregnancy and their urine was checked for parabens. After the birth, the focus was on the children: How would their body weight develop over the years?

From the skin to the body

The evaluations showed that many women used at least one cosmetic product that contained parabens during pregnancy. This was also evident in her urine: compared to subjects who only used paraben-free cosmetics, they had increased concentrations of these chemicals in their urine. As the research team explains, parabens can enter the body through the skin and can then also be detected in blood and excretions.

But this also means that if substances such as butyl paraben penetrate the organism, they may strain the unborn child in the event of pregnancy. But with what consequences? In their investigations, Leppert and her colleagues actually found a connection between the concentration of butyl paraben in the mother's urine and the later body weight of the children.

Increased risk of being overweight

Specifically, it became clear that the greater the exposure to butyl paraben during pregnancy, the more the offspring tended to be overweight in the first eight years of life. This relationship was more pronounced in girls than in boys, as the scientists found.

Looking for a possible explanation, the researchers then carried out experiments with mice. It also became apparent in the rodents: exposure to butyl paraben during pregnancy and lactation, especially in the offspring of female mice, led to the animals eating more and getting fatter. However, increased contact with this paraben in adulthood did not appear to affect weight gain.

Changes in appetite regulators

The exciting thing: paraben exposure in the young mice was not only associated with an increased risk of being overweight, but also with a striking epigenetic change in the hypothalamus. For example, the genes for the leptin receptor and prohormone proopiomelanocortin (POMC) were less active than normal, as studies revealed. Leptin is known as a satiety hormone and POMC also plays an important role in regulating appetite - this regulation could therefore be disrupted by paraben exposure.

“Childhood obesity has now reached epidemic-like dimensions worldwide. Endocrine disruptors are an example of environmental factors that can contribute to programming for overweight and obesity - especially in the sensitive phase around childbirth,” stated Leppert and her colleagues. "Our results suggest that prenatal exposure to butyl paraben also promotes the development of obesity in children."

Gender differences in view

As the scientists emphasize, other influencing factors such as nutrition or physical activity are of course also decisive for body weight in childhood. In her view, however, prenatal stress and its consequences play a significant role in the susceptibility to excess pounds. In the future, Leppert and her colleagues want to get to the bottom of the effects of butyl paraben. They also want to find out why girls are apparently more sensitive to this environmental hormone than boys - a possible explanation could be, for example, the different concentrations of sex hormones such as estrogen.

In view of their results to date, the researchers are already making a clear recommendation: "Expectant mothers should definitely use paraben-free products during the sensitive phases of pregnancy and lactation with a view to future health," says co-author Irina Lehmann. "Many cosmetics have already been declared paraben-free, otherwise take a look at the list of ingredients or, for example, using the ToxFox app helps," she concluded.


Maternal paraben exposure triggers childhood overweight development.

Beate Leppert, Sandra Strunz, Bettina Seiwert, Linda Schlittenbauer, Rita Schlichting, Christiane Pfeiffer, Stefan Röder, Mario Bauer, Michael Borte, Gabriele I. Stangl, Torsten Schöneberg, Angela Schulz, Isabell Karkossa, Ulrike E. Rolle-Kampczyk, Loreen Thürmann, Martin von Bergen, Beate I. Escher, Kristin M. Junge, Thorsten Reemtsma, Irina Lehmann, Tobias Polte.

Nature Communications, 2020;

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-14202-1

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