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J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2015 Nov-Dec;25(6):604-7. doi: 10.1038/jes.2015.27. Epub 2015 May 6.

Transplacental passage of antimicrobial paraben preservatives.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Division of Maternal-Fetal, Medicine, University of Tennessee Medical Center, Knoxville, TN, USA.
Department of Surgery, University of Tennessee Medical Center, Knoxville, TN, USA.
Department of Public Health, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, USA.
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL, USA.
Center for Environmental Biotechnology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, USA.


Parabens are widely used preservatives suspected of being endocrine disruptors, with implications for human growth and development. The most common paraben found in consumer products is methylparaben. To date, no study has examined whether these substances cross the human placenta. A total of 100 study subjects (50 mother-child pairs) were enrolled at two medical institutions, serving primarily African-American and Caucasian women, respectively. A maternal blood sample was drawn on admission and a paired cord blood sample was obtained at delivery. Of the 50 mothers, 47 (94%) showed methylparaben in their blood (mean level 20.41 ng/l), and 47 in cords bloods (mean level 36.54 ng/l). There were 45 mother-child pairs where methylparaben was found in both samples. Of these, the fetal level was higher than the maternal level in 23 (51%). For butylparaben, only 4 mothers (8%) showed detectable levels (mean 40.54 ng/l), whereas 8 cord blood samples (16%) were positive (mean 32.5 ng/l). African-American mothers and infants showed higher prevalence of detectable levels (P=0.017). Methylparaben and butylparaben demonstrate transplacental passage. Additional studies are needed to examine potential differences in exposure by geography and demographics, what products are used by pregnant women that contain these preservatives, as well as any potential long-term effects in the growth and development of exposed children.

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