Research highlight

Health: Maternal paraben exposure associated with weight in childhood

Nature Communications

February 12, 2020

Maternal exposure to butyl paraben (BuP) during pregnancy may contribute to children becoming overweight in the first eight years of their life, reports a study in Nature Communications.

Parabens are chemical compounds with antimicrobial and antifungal properties, which are used in a number of consumer products. It is known that they can enter the body through ingestion or skin absorption and can be detected in urine and blood.

Tobias Polte and colleagues investigated the effect of prenatal paraben exposure on the risk of children becoming overweight. They collected data from a cohort of 629 mother-child pairs between 2006 and 2008 and assessed exposure to parabens using questionnaires undertaken in the 34th week of pregnancy. Following birth, the children’s body weight and height were assessed on an annual basis. The authors found that mothers reporting the use of paraben-containing cosmetics had elevated concentrations of these chemicals in their urine. They also observed a positive association between maternal urinary concentrations of BuP and the risk of their children being overweight in early to mid-childhood, with a stronger trend identified in girls.

Using a mouse model, the authors demonstrated that BuP exposure induced increased food intake and weight gain in female offspring. They suggest that this effect could be mediated by an epigenetic modification that reduces levels of expression of the gene proopiomelanocortin (which is associated with the regulation of food intake), in a region of the brain.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-14202-1

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