Parabens: endocrine disruptors in cosmetics and food?

Paul Whaley posted this eye-opening news at the Health & Environment blog:

Parabens: endocrine disruptors in cosmetics and food?.

“Parabens … are widely used as preservatives in cosmetics…  and have appeared in the news because of concern about their endocrine-disrupting potential, in particular their ability to mimic oestrogen…”

“However, people may be less aware of the use of parabens in foodstuffs, identifiable on labelling as additives E214-219. The most commonly-used parabens in food are methylparaben (food additive E218) and ethylparaben (E214)…”

I had no idea! And I’ve looked into a lot of contamination issues with foods! These are chemicals we wouldn’t normally think we are ingesting orally. Pesticides we now know about, some of us knew about phthalates, but parabens too?

Ok, it turns out some folks already knew, but only so far as those that are listed on labels, (and I haven’t bought much food requiring a label in years) but this new research shows them also appearing in foods that do not require ingredient labels! And these weren’t just the naturally occurring parabens, (as there are some, it turns out) but  synthetic parabens were also found!

phthalates and parabens are found in almost all supermarket foods that were tested

phthalates and parabens are found in almost all supermarket foods that were tested

I recently wrote about other research that confirmed how commonly phthalates are found in supermarket foods, contamination from fragrance and plastic, but it seems we have more reasons to be careful about the foods and drinks we choose:

From the Abstract: “Parabens are esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid and are widely used as preservatives in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, including beverages”


“In spite of wide use, information on the occurrence of parabens in foodstuffs and dietary exposure of humans to these chemicals is not generally available, possibly due to the historical assumption (prior to concerns emerging about endocrine disruption) that these compounds exhibit low toxicity and are therefore of low priority for research as potential environmental toxicants.

As a result, the first study reporting the occurrence of parabens in foodstuffs was only published this year, based on samples of foodstuffs bought in the US (Liao et al. 2013). In this study, 267 US food samples comprising of drinks, dairy products, fats and oils, fish and shellfish, grains, meat, fruits, and vegetables were analysed for five parabens: methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, butyl- and benzylparaben.”

Over 90% of the food samples contained measurable concentrations of parabens.

“There were no significant differences in paraben concentrations among the eight food categories, including the canned foods.”

Complete article with more details about the different types of parabens:

Doing a little more searching, it seems foods in China are also affected, in case anyone thought that might be a viable alternative (as if):

Despite their widespread use, prior to this study, paraben concentrations in foodstuffs from China and human dietary exposure to these chemicals have been unknown. In this study, concentrations of six parabens were determined in 13 categories of food samples (n=282), including cereals and cereal products, meat, fish and seafood, eggs, dairy products, bean products, fruits, vegetables, cookies, beverages, cooking oils, condiments, and others, collected from nine cities in China.

“Almost all (detection rate: 99%) food samples contained at least one of the parabens analyzed”

Does sewage sludge have a role?

One of the commenters at the Health & Environment blog suggested that the use of sewage sludge on farmers fields may be a possible source for some of the synthetic parabens getting into foods. That research might not have been done yet, but there’s a growing body of research about other chemicals found in sludge:

Paul Whaley provided this link to research,  and I used another term for this search (there is some overlap in the results):

Here is a recent article that reports about a study thatinvolved residents from Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina who live near fields where sludge is applied as a soil amendment. More than half of the people interviewed reported acute symptoms such as burning eyes, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea after sludge had been sprayed or spread.”

And then there’s this from 2002:

Researchers found that affected residents lived within approximately one kilometer (0.6 miles) of land application sites and generally complained of irritation after exposure to winds blowing from treated fields. A prevalence of Staphylococcus aureus infections, a condition commonly accompanying diaper rash, was found in the skin and respiratory tracts of some individuals. …

The NAS report entitled “Biosolids Applied to Land: Advancing Standards and Practices” cites growing allegations that exposure to Class B sludge, the most common form, is causing illnesses and sporadic deaths among residents. The report concludes that certain types of exposure, such as inhalation of sludge particles, “were not adequately evaluated” previously and no work has been done on risks from mixtures of pathogens and chemicals found in sludge. In 1989, an EPA study found 25 groups of pathogens in sludge, including bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella; viruses, including hepatitis A; intestinal worms; harmful protozoa; and fungus.

Sludge also includes traces of household chemicals poured down drains, detergents from washing machines, heavy metals from industry, synthetic hormones from birth control pills, pesticides, and dioxins, a group of compounds that have been linked to cancer”


Back to endocrine disruption… For more info, read:

Endocrine Disruption… Huh? Why Should We Care?


UN and WHO say hormone-disrupting chemicals are a ‘global threat’

and back to food:

We are what we eat. It is really important to eat real, healthy food. In this day and age, eating real is also a global act of resistance, resistance to the industries that care more about their profits than our lives.


One response to “Parabens: endocrine disruptors in cosmetics and food?

  1. Pingback: What are parabens and why you should avoid them | Elegantly Eco

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