Study sounds warning about maternal paraben exposure.

A German study has found that pregnant women who use parabens – chemicals widely used as preservatives in cosmetics, foods and drugs – could increase the risk of their children being overweight.

The study, published in Nature Communications, suggests weight gain may be caused by epigenetic changes that limit the ability to feel full after eating.

The team, led by Irina Lehmann from the Berlin Institute of Health, analysed 629 mums and their babies who took part in the LINA study (Lifestyle and Environmental Factors and their Influence on Newborns Allergy) between 2006 and 2008.

LINA tested whether pollutants such as tobacco smoke could affect babies. Crucially, it also measured the mothers’ exposure to parabens.

Parabens are antibacterials used in cosmetics such as moisturisers, shampoos and shaving cream. The agents are also found in baked goods, jams and other foods.

In 1995 parabens were put on the US Food and Drug Administration’s “Generally Recognised as Safe” (GRAS) list but, more recently, questions have been raised about a link to breast cancer.

The chemicals are classed as endocrine disruptors and can mimic the action of the female hormone oestrogen, potentially relevant for hormone-sensitive cancers.

Lehmann’s team found women who used “leave on” (as opposed to “rinse off”) skin products containing parabens had urine levels up to three times higher than women who used paraben-free products.

Then they went on to look at how the children’s weight tracked.

Read the full story in Cosmos magazine here