Urinary paraben concentrations and ovarian aging among women from a fertility center

Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Nov-Dec;121(11-12):1299-305. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1205350. Epub 2013 Aug 2.


Background: Parabens are preservatives commonly used in personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and foods. There is documented widespread human exposure to parabens, and some experimental data suggest that they act as estrogenic endocrine disruptors. As far as we are aware, no epidemiologic studies have assessed female reproductive health effects in relation to paraben exposure.

Objective: We examined the association of urinary paraben concentrations with markers of ovarian reserve in a prospective cohort study of women seeking fertility treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.

Methods: Measures of ovarian reserve were day-3 follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), antral follicle count (AFC), and ovarian volume. Paraben concentrations [methylparaben (MP), propylparaben (PP), and butylparaben (BP)] were measured in spot urine samples collected prior to the assessment of outcome measures. We used linear and Poisson regression models to estimate associations of urinary paraben concentrations (in tertiles) with ovarian reserve measures.

Results: Of the women enrolled in 2004-2010, 192 had at least one ovarian reserve outcome measured (mean age ± SD, 36.1 ± 4.5 years; range, 21.0-46.7 years). MP and PP were detected in > 99% of urine samples and BP in > 75%. We found a suggestive trend of lower AFC with increasing urinary PP tertiles [mean percent change (95% CI) for tertiles 2 and 3 compared with tertile 1, respectively, were -5.0% (-23.7, 18.4) and -16.3% (-30.8, 1.3); trend p-value (ptrend) = 0.07] as well as higher day-3 FSH with higher urinary PP tertiles [mean change (95% CI) for tertiles 2 and 3 compared with tertile 1 were 1.16 IU/L (-0.26, 2.57) and 1.02 IU/L (-0.40, 2.43); ptrend = 0.16]. We found no consistent evidence of associations between urinary MP or BP and day-3 FSH or AFC, or between urinary MP, PP, or BP and ovarian volume.

Conclusions: PP may be associated with diminished ovarian reserve. However, our results require confirmation in further studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Boston
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Female
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone / blood
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Female / metabolism*
  • Linear Models
  • Ovary / cytology
  • Ovary / drug effects*
  • Ovary / growth & development
  • Ovary / physiology
  • Parabens / adverse effects
  • Parabens / analysis*
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / adverse effects
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / analysis*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Urine / chemistry*


  • Parabens
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical
  • butylparaben
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone