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Researchers may have solved a vexing mystery as to why parabens contamination in humans has been so pervasive in recent studies: Parabens are increasingly contaminating our food supply.
Researchers from the New York State Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, along with the University of New York at Albany have determined in a study of foods purchased from local markets that much of the U.S. food supply is contaminated with parabens – a group of chemicals thought previously to produce exposure in humans through the skin in cosmetics and lotions containing preservatives.
This likely explains an increasing body of evidence showing that humans have much higher blood and urine concentrations of parabens than could be explained with the use of body lotions and cosmetics.
The researchers tested 267 samples of food collected from stores and markets around Albany New York. These included juices, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, infant formula, dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream, oils, fats, breads, flours, rice, pasta, corn, fruits, baked goods, meats, shellfish and seafoods and many others. Once collected and categorized, the foods were analyzed using liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry – which measure the biochemical content of the food from the molecular level.
Five different types of parabens were tested. These were butyl-parabens, benzyl-parabens, propyl-parabens, methyl- parabens, and ethyl-parabens.
The researchers found that an astounding 90% of the food samples tested contained "measurable" concentrations of parabens. The concentration level averaged 9.7 nanograms per gram – equivalent to about 10 parts per billion.
Of the five parabens tested, the paraben types that made up more than 90% of the concentrations were methyl-, ethyl-, and propyl-parabens.
Of all the foods, pancake syrup had the highest levels of myethyl-parabens. Others that contained high levels included muffins, iced tea, pudding and turkey roast.
The highest levels of propyl-parabens were found in turkey breasts, yogurt, turkey roast and 'good-ole' apple pie. The highest levels of ethyl-parabens were found in red wine.
The researchers found parabens in 98% of grain foods, 91% of fish and shellfish, 87% of dairy products, and 85% of fruit products.
The researchers then utilized these concentrations to estimate what the daily consumption of parabens would occur when eating these foods. They separated the foods into the food types – by age groups – and found that shockingly, infants have the highest intake concentrations of parabens, at 940 nanograms per kilogram of body weight per day. Toddlers followed with 879 ng/kb bw/day, followed by children, teenagers and adults. Adults' average consumption of parabens through foods equated to 307 nanograms per kilogram of body weight per day.
These findings not only surprised many experts, but it was the first study of its kind to confirm parabens in foods. Dr Kurunthachalam Kannan, primary author of the study stated: "This is the first study to report the occurrence of parabens in U.S. foods, and preserved foods are an important source of paraben exposure in people."
Parabens will form as chemical esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid – a preservative increasingly used in a number of consumer products. These include skin lotions, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals – and now we know they include a variety of foods and beverages. And more recent studies have found paraben content among our waterways, soils and even house dust.
This research now explains the pervasive finding of parabens in the urine of children and adults. A recent study from Copenhagen University Hospital two different parabens in the urine of 50% of children tested. Furthermore, the mothers of the children typically had similar concentration of parabens, indicating yet another route of toxicity to the children.