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Parabens: Paradox or Paranoia

By Peter T. Pugliese, MD
Posted: April 10, 2008, from the January 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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       Phytoestrogens are substances from plants that have estrogen-like qualities. Soybeans, clover and strawberries all contain phytoestrogens. It is rare to read about these items when parabens are discussed, yet they are considerably more potent than parabens in terms of estrogenic effect. Most scientific opinions about phytoestrogens are favorable since substantial research indicates that they have great potential for health benefits. Asian diets, which are much higher in phytoestrogens than Western diets, seem to be associated with a lower risk of breast, prostate and colon cancers, and a reduced incidence of heart disease and osteoporosis. These findings suggest that there may be some benefits to the intake of weak estrogenic substances. The lesson here is that you must look well into a subject that has a significant effect on  health before making a decision as to whether something is beneficial or harmful.

       At the present time, the scientific pundits find no evidence to support the claim that parabens in cosmetics—at the approved use level—cause cancer. Not a shred of evidence exists to link parabens as a cause of cancer. No studies have been presented to show that normal use of cosmetics containing parabens is harmful. More than 10,000 cosmetic products contain parabens and millions of people use these products every day. Considering this, a significant increase in many types of cancer should have occurred during the past 20 years, when, in fact, the incidence rates of several cancers have decreased, including those of the breast, stomach, lung, colon, rectum and cervix. 
a. Esters are compounds that result from combining an acid and an alcohol.
b. "Para" is a term applied to a benzene ring when one group is attached to the No. 1 carbon and a second group is attached to the No. 4 carbon.
c. NOEL is the highest dose at which no adverse effects were noted in test animals.
d. This test measures the increase in the weight of the uterus when exposed to estrogen-like material. Rats are usually used in this assay.

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