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Reprod Toxicol. 2009 Jan;27(1):1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2008.10.002. Epub 2008 Oct 21.

Parabens in male infertility-is there a mitochondrial connection?

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  • 1Department of Zoology, Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology of Coimbra, University of Coimbra, 3004-517 Coimbra, Portugal.


Parabens are widely used as preservatives in many foods, cosmetics, toiletries, and pharmaceuticals due to their relatively low toxicity profile and to a long history of safe use. Parabens are alkyl esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid and typically include methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben and benzylparaben. These compounds are known to have a null or very weak estrogenic activity in estrogen receptor assays in vitro. In recent years, an increasing concern has emerged regarding possible adverse effects of chemicals in food and in cosmetics on human reproduction outcomes. In developed countries about 15% of human couples are affected by infertility, almost half of these cases attributed to men, through low sperm motility or/and sperm count. It is known that a significant number of cases of male infertility results from exposure to xenobiotics, and also that testis mitochondria are particularly affected by drug-induced toxicity. The present review discusses evidence that parabens may not be as safe as initially thought, and suggests that the interaction between parabens and mitochondrial function in the testis may be key in explaining the contribution of parabens for a decrease in reproductive potential.

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