The accompanying picture is that of a natural paraben source that some of us may regularly consume - blueberries.
Originally posted - 3/10/2009
What are parabens and how were they related to cancer?
These are preservatives used in hair products to retard bacterial and fungal growth. The most common are methylparaben, ethylparaben and butyl paraben. A research group reported finding parabens in breast cancer tumours ( J Appl Toxicol, pg 5-13, 2004).
What is the controversy?
1. This paper did not report if parabens can be found in normal non-diseased tissue. Why is this important? If parabens are present in both normal and diseased tissue, then it could be likely that the presence of parabens in diseased tissue is because of normal use of cosmetics rather than a reason for disease.
2. Some people (not the author - Darbre) stated parabens could cause breast cancer. The author of this paper officially refuted this (Reply to Robert Golden and Jay Gandy - Journal of Applied Toxicology, 2004)
'Nowhere in the manuscript (her published paper on parabens found in breast tumours) was any claim made that the presence of parabens had caused the breast cancer, indeed the measurement of a compound in a tissue cannot provide evidence of causality.'
Do Parabens cause cancer?
The direct answer is nobody knows. Scientifically this has not been shown by any group. The long history of safe use of parabens, the fact that many occur naturally and can be consumed without adverse effects also adds reason as to why its use is so widespread.
A study in 2002 specifically stated that methyl paraben is not carcinogenic or mutagenic meaning it does not cause cancer and it does not cause DNA in cells to change ( Food and Chemical Toxicology, pp 1335-1373, 2002).
What about parabens mimicking hormones?
Well if you are on the contraceptive pill, your oestrogen (estrogen) dose is incredibly much higher than you could ever receive by using parabens in cosmetics. Parabens are also known as 'weakly estrogenic'. This means oestrogen is 10,000 to 100,000 times more likely to bind to a tissue compared to paraben.
As a side note, remember that the contraceptive pill carries a small risk of developing certain cancers (such as cervical) but equally protects from other cancers (ovary, uterine, colon).
What are the alternatives to parabens?
The other proven preservative are formaldehyde releasers. Formaldehyde is one of those chemicals with a terrible view with consumers and is a known carcinogen.
Grapeseed extract and Vitamin E oil are proposed as preservatives but not well researched at this point. There is also some controversy about whether grapeseed extracts are contaminated with parabens which then actually have the preservative effect.
Are you currently avoiding parabens, if so why, if not why?