In the JournalsPerspective

Chemicals in cosmetics increase obesity risk for children exposed in utero

Irina Lehmann

Children may be more likely to develop overweight or obesity if their mothers are exposed to high levels of paraben while pregnant, according to findings published in Nature Communications.

“We are convinced that knowledge of potential health risks for the child related to the usage of specific consumer products can contribute to an altered behavior of pregnant woman — avoidance of harmful exposures — and finally will contribute to disease prevention,” Irina Lehmann, PhD, head of the molecular epidemiology unit at Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and Charité – Berlin University Hospital in Germany, told Healio. “[There are] no clinical implications but a recommendation for expectant mothers to avoid paraben-containing cosmetic products during the sensitive periods of pregnancy and breastfeeding.”

Lehmann and colleagues used urine samples to determine levels of paraben exposure among 622 women from the LINA study at 34 weeks of pregnancy. Participants self-reported the cosmetic products they used, and the researchers used an online database to identify which products had paraben. The researchers also determined BMI from age 2 to 8 years as well as birth weight for the 629 children born to these women using data collected at 1-year intervals.

Cosmetic products that had paraben were used by 26% of the women. The average methyl paraben level was 68.8 µg/L for women who used the products; those who did not use cosmetics containing paraben had an average level of 28.05 µg/L. Levels of ethyl paraben (2.9 vs. 1.89 µg/L; P = .0466) were also greater among women who used cosmetic products with paraben than they were in those who did not, as were levels of n-propylparaben (7.4 vs. 3.2 µg/L; P = .0025) and n-butylparaben (1.24 vs. 0.41 µg/L; P = .0004).

Pregnant women in hospital 
Children may be more likely to develop overweight or obesity if their mothers are exposed to high levels of paraben while pregnant.
Source: Adobe Stock

The researchers found that it was more than twice as likely that a child would become overweight or reach a BMI of at least 25 kg/m2 if they were exposed to i-butylparaben (OR = 2.4; 95% CI, 1.16-4.98) or n-butylparaben (OR = 2.17; 95% CI, 1.06-4.47) vs. not exposed.

“Our study results strongly suggest that prenatal exposure to n-butylparaben increases overweight development in the offspring,” the researchers wrote. “Our findings do not implicate to disregard the importance of a balanced diet or sufficient exercise for weight management, but call attention to the great significance of environmental exposures during pregnancy for the disease susceptibility in later life.”

The researchers further noted that based on evidence from mice “this effect seems to be stronger in girls compared to boys” and that “prenatal exposure to n-butylparaben induced an increase food intake and weight gain in female offspring.”

“Our data provide evidence that a neuronal dysregulation of satiety could contribute to the observed gain in body weight mediated by an epigenetic silencing and reduced hypothalamic expression of the gene proopiomelanocortin (POMC), well known to be involved regulation in appetite,” the researchers wrote. – by Phil Neuffer

For more information:

Irina Lehmann, PhD, can be reached at irina.lehmann@charite.de.

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.

Irina Lehmann

Children may be more likely to develop overweight or obesity if their mothers are exposed to high levels of paraben while pregnant, according to findings published in Nature Communications.

“We are convinced that knowledge of potential health risks for the child related to the usage of specific consumer products can contribute to an altered behavior of pregnant woman — avoidance of harmful exposures — and finally will contribute to disease prevention,” Irina Lehmann, PhD, head of the molecular epidemiology unit at Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and Charité – Berlin University Hospital in Germany, told Healio. “[There are] no clinical implications but a recommendation for expectant mothers to avoid paraben-containing cosmetic products during the sensitive periods of pregnancy and breastfeeding.”

Lehmann and colleagues used urine samples to determine levels of paraben exposure among 622 women from the LINA study at 34 weeks of pregnancy. Participants self-reported the cosmetic products they used, and the researchers used an online database to identify which products had paraben. The researchers also determined BMI from age 2 to 8 years as well as birth weight for the 629 children born to these women using data collected at 1-year intervals.

Cosmetic products that had paraben were used by 26% of the women. The average methyl paraben level was 68.8 µg/L for women who used the products; those who did not use cosmetics containing paraben had an average level of 28.05 µg/L. Levels of ethyl paraben (2.9 vs. 1.89 µg/L; P = .0466) were also greater among women who used cosmetic products with paraben than they were in those who did not, as were levels of n-propylparaben (7.4 vs. 3.2 µg/L; P = .0025) and n-butylparaben (1.24 vs. 0.41 µg/L; P = .0004).

Pregnant women in hospital 
Children may be more likely to develop overweight or obesity if their mothers are exposed to high levels of paraben while pregnant.
Source: Adobe Stock

The researchers found that it was more than twice as likely that a child would become overweight or reach a BMI of at least 25 kg/m2 if they were exposed to i-butylparaben (OR = 2.4; 95% CI, 1.16-4.98) or n-butylparaben (OR = 2.17; 95% CI, 1.06-4.47) vs. not exposed.

“Our study results strongly suggest that prenatal exposure to n-butylparaben increases overweight development in the offspring,” the researchers wrote. “Our findings do not implicate to disregard the importance of a balanced diet or sufficient exercise for weight management, but call attention to the great significance of environmental exposures during pregnancy for the disease susceptibility in later life.”

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The researchers further noted that based on evidence from mice “this effect seems to be stronger in girls compared to boys” and that “prenatal exposure to n-butylparaben induced an increase food intake and weight gain in female offspring.”

“Our data provide evidence that a neuronal dysregulation of satiety could contribute to the observed gain in body weight mediated by an epigenetic silencing and reduced hypothalamic expression of the gene proopiomelanocortin (POMC), well known to be involved regulation in appetite,” the researchers wrote. – by Phil Neuffer

For more information:

Irina Lehmann, PhD, can be reached at irina.lehmann@charite.de.

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.

    Perspective
    R. Thomas Zoeller

    R. Thomas Zoeller

    This study, performed by a large group of scientists across Germany, showed that the children of women who had higher exposures to some parabens were twice as likely to have overweight or obesity compared with children of women who had lower paraben exposures. Parabens are chemicals used in various foods, cosmetics and other personal care products and in some beverages. This is why all the women participating in the study had some level of paraben exposure, though women who used paraben-containing personal care products had high exposures.

    There are two important take-home lessons from this important study. First, the use of personal care products containing parabens by pregnant women increased the incidence of overweight or obesity in their children. Obesity is now considered a disease by the American Medical Association, and this is largely because of the medical challenges associated with overweight and obesity in adults. There are many choices for parents to make in raising children to give them the best chance of a healthy, productive life. Avoiding foods, beverages and personal care products that contain chemicals like parabens seems like an easy choice.

    Second, this study went further to determine whether parabens associated with childhood weight could affect the release of a hormone produced by fat cells. This hormone — leptin — is known to act in the brain to help control our food intake. Different hormones that act in the brain control our hunger and satiety. We tend to think of body weight control as an issue of discipline, but parabens in our food and personal care products appear to be making this challenge much greater than it would be otherwise. Therefore, this study should make it clear to those planning a family that you may help reduce the risk of your child having overweight or obesity by reducing your exposure to parabens. Even though this is just one chemical class, and the degree to which it contributes to unhealthy weight is not fully known, it is a relatively easy choice to make. 

    • R. Thomas Zoeller, PhD
    • Emeritus professor
      Biology Department
      University of Massachusetts Amherst
      Amherst, Massachusetts
      Visiting Drofessor
      School of science and technology
      Örebro University
      Örebro, Sweden

    Disclosures: Zoeller reports no relevant financial disclosures.