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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Could your shampoo make you fat?

Stop using your shampoo if it contains phthalates which could disrupt hormones and cause weight gain
The New Paper - July 21, 2011
By: Chai Hung Yin
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Could your shampoo make you fat?

Is your shampoo making you fat?

Research emerging from separate centres has pointed to phthalates - a chemical found in some shampoos - as a possible culprit for weight gain.

Phthalates, used as a gelling agent in cosmetic products, could disrupt hormonal balance in humans, the studies said.

And it is this balance of hormones in our bodies which acts as a natural weight-control system, said Dr Paula Baillie-Hamilton, an expert on metabolism and environmental toxins at Stirling University in Scotland.

Dr Bailie-Hamilton was among the first to make the link between the obesity epidemic and the increase of chemicals in our lives, said the latest issue of the American Nutrition Association's newsletter.

She calls chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors "chemical calories".

While diethyl phthalate (DEP) isn't banned here, products which contain two other types of phthalates are not permitted to be sold.

Doctors at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York have also found that daily exposure to phthalates could result in childhood obesity and weight problems in adults.

Measuring the exposure to phthalates by analysing the urine of 330 girls living in East Harlem, US, they found that "the heaviest girls have the highest levels of phthalates in their urine".

Professor Philip Landrigan, who is also a paediatrician, was quoted in international news reports as saying: "(The phthalates level) goes up as the children get heavier, but it's most evident in the heaviest kids."

In another study done in 2007, researchers found that phthalates contribute to abdominal obesity and insulin resistance - which results in diabetes - in men.

Researchers at the University of Rochester's school of medicine in New York, in their study of 1,451 men, found that those with the highest amount of phthalates in their urine had more belly fat and insulin resistance.

This suggested that phthalates lowered testosterone levels, which caused their weight gain, the report said.

Another substance called Bisphenol A (BPA) could also provide "chemical calories".

BPA is commonly used to make containers and bottles.

Lowers testosterone levels

Studies on animals have consistently shown that BPA reduces testosterone levels and mimics oestrogen. Both have been linked to weight gain.

So, should you be dumping your shampoos, cosmetics and cleaning detergents?

Not yet, said doctors here whom The New Paper on Sunday spoke to.

They said the studies weren't conclusive and there's no real cause for alarm.

Dr Peter Eng, an endocrinologist at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, said: "There's no universal agreement on the exact risk or danger of these chemicals.

"It's unlikely that they are a big contributor to weight gain in general."

The president of the Singapore Association for the Study of Obesity, Dr Lee Chung Horn, said: "They present a tantalising idea, but it mustn't be taken as scientific fact.

At least not yet, not on the basis of the evidence cited in the studies."

The most important causes of weight gain are still an excessive diet and insufficient exercise, said Dr Eng.

Dr Lee said environmental research "on the whole (was) not easy to perform, as it is very hard to set up proper controls for rigorously conducted experiments".

He said: "The bugbear in environmental research lies in the fact that numerous possible associative or causative factors come into play, and it is hard to say which factor (among many) is the important one."

In an e-mail reply, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) here said it hasn't received any reports of weight gain associated with the use of cosmetic products.

Nevertheless, Dr Eng highlighted that endocrine disruptors have been reported to have various possible effects on reproduction, development, puberty and metabolism for many years.

Thus, there is some cause for concern about excessive exposure, especially in pregnant and breast-feeding women, he said.


HSA says...

COSMETIC products don't have to be approved by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) before they are sold in Singapore. But dealers are required to notify HSA before the sale and supply of any cosmetic product.

HSA's spokesman told The New Paper on Sunday that it does regular compliance checks, product sampling and investigations based on public feedback and environmental scanning.

HSA does not permit two types of phthalates - dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and diethylhexyl phthalates (DEHP) - as cosmetic ingredients.

Since 2009, one lip gloss product has been withdrawn from the local market as it had DBP in it, said the spokesman.

DEP, or diethyl phthalate, which has been identified as a possible source of "chemical calories", is a permitted ingredient, as it has been reviewed to be safe in both US and Europe, she said.

HSA also noted that there is no absolute guarantee that all such products in the market are safe.

The ingredients used in cosmetic products may not be suitable for everyone and may cause undesirable reactions in susceptible individuals, its spokesman said.

She advised consumers to exercise care and discretion in their choice of products.

Some tips for the consumer:

  • Buy products with adequate label information and from reputable and reliable sources.
  • Read the label for specific ingredients you may be allergic to, and note any precautions to be observed.
  • When using the product for the first time, apply it on a small area of skin, usually behind the ear or on the inside of the forearm, and leave it on for 24 hours.
  • Do not use the product if any allergic reaction is seen during this time.
  • If you experience any adverse reactions, seek medical attention immediately.

This article was first published in The New Paper.



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