Are You Eating a Hormone Disruptor? Propyl Paraben Found in Nearly 50 Name-Brand Foods

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A new analysis finds that the endocrine-disrupting preservative used in cosmetics – and not allowed in food sold in the European Union – lurks in dozens of American name-brand snacks.

After much pressure from consumers and health advocates, companies like Johnson & Johnson and Revlon have removed propyl paraben – which is used as a preservative – from their cosmetics and personal care products.

Meanwhile, the FDA has listed its use in food as “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) for decades. Yet in 2006, the European Food Safety Authority declared that propyl paraben could no longer be used in food. The decision was based on research that showed the preservative affected sex hormones and sperm counts in young rats, according to Environmental Working Group (EWG), the health watchdog organization that recently conducted an analysis of the additive.

What they found was the presence of propyl paraben in nearly 50 American snack foods, including Sara Lee cinnamon rolls, Weight Watchers cakes, Cafe Valley muffins, and La Banderita corn tortillas.

Often times ingredients are used in a number of different application, but these findings are noteworthy because a review of scientific research shows that propyl paraben acts as a weak synthetic estrogen and can alter hormone signaling, notes EWG. A recent study by Harvard School of Public Health suggested that exposure to the chemical might be associated with diminished fertility, while another study found that it led to decreased sperm counts in rats.

“It is of great concern to us that the use of an endocrine-disrupting chemical in our food is considered safe by our own government,” said Johanna Congleton, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., a senior scientist at EWG. “Studies show that chemicals that disrupt hormone signaling can lead to developmental and reproductive problems.” EWG has called on the FDA to reassess the safety status of propyl paraben in light of the new science that links it to hormone disruption.

“The U.S. regulatory process is failing to protect us and our food supply,” Congleton said. “European Union regulators do not permit propyl paraben in food. So why do we?”

EWG recommends avoiding products that contain parabens, especially the long-chained varieties – propyl paraben, isopropyl paraben, butyl paraben and isobutyl paraben. To see the full list of foods they found the additive in, visit EWG.