Exposure to parabens and prevalence of obesity and metabolic syndrome: An analysis of the Canadian Health Measures Survey

Sci Total Environ. 2020 Apr 15;713:135116. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.135116. Epub 2019 Nov 21.


Background: Parabens are group of widely used preservative agents in the cosmetic, food, and pharmaceutical industries. They are estrogenic and anti-androgenic, and thus have the potential to alter the hormonal regulation of energy metabolism, and in turn affect obesity and metabolic health. Compared to obesity alone, having metabolic syndrome (a cluster of cardiometabolic risk factors) further increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. We examined whether exposure to parabens was associated with obesity, metabolic syndrome or its components among Canadians.

Methods: Methyl, ethyl, propyl, and butyl paraben concentrations were measured in the urine of 2,564 individuals participating in Cycle 4 (2014-2015) of the Canadian Health Measures Survey, a national biomonitoring survey. We assessed associations between specific gravity-corrected log10-transformed paraben concentrations and obesity, metabolic syndrome and its components (waist circumference, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting blood glucose and blood pressure) via Poisson regression with robust variance estimators for binary outcomes and via linear regression for outcomes expressed continuously. We stratified analyses by age (children aged 3 to 17 years vs. adults aged 18 years and older) and investigated the presence of effect modification by sex.

Results: A 10-fold increase in propyl paraben concentration was associated with a 40% (95% CI: 3, 90) higher prevalence of metabolic syndrome among men, while ethyl paraben was associated with a 63% (95% CI: 2, 86) lower prevalence among women. Among women, methyl paraben was inversely associated with obesity, and methyl, propyl and ethyl parabens were associated with higher high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. No associations were observed among children.

Conclusions: This is the first study to report a positive association between parabens and metabolic syndrome in men. Protective associations among women previously reported for obesity were also observed for metabolic syndrome and HDL cholesterol. These results should be confirmed in longitudinal studies.

Keywords: Biomonitoring; Endocrine disruption; Environmental exposure; Metabolic syndrome; Obesity; Parabens.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Canada
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolic Syndrome*
  • Obesity
  • Parabens
  • Prevalence


  • Parabens