My sister has just delivered a baby girl and what a joy this little 2 point something has brought to our lives! She is three weeks old now, and has probably started developing evening colic. My sister called me to ask, if she could give her a very popular brand of gripe water (W*******s). This particular brand is doted on by Indian media for its ability to calm down even the fussiest of babies, since many generations. I had never used this product personally or in my practice, as I am little wary about the safety of these products. I requested her to read me the contents or composition of this gripe water. Starting with the extracts of few herbs that are indeed good for relieving colic, she completed the list with two preservatives- Methyl and Propyl Paraben. I was shocked to find these dangerous chemicals lurking in a product that is blindly trusted by so many parents. I told her to return the bottle or to dispose it and warned her not to even bring it near her daughter; leave alone feeding it to her.
Parabens are petroleum by products and one of the most widely used preservatives. Their extensive use in cosmetics, medicines and processed foods, has made them omnipresent in every aspect of our life. Parabens are cheap and they make cosmetic and pharma products more affordable. They increase the shelf life of the products by preventing the growth of bacteria.
Parabens are known Xenoestrogens. That is, these chemicals get absorbed in our body and start behaving like the hormone estrogen. Due to this, they cause imbalance of our natural hormones giving rise to various health issues. Due to their estrogen like effects, Parabens are ‘carcinogens’ i.e. they can increase the risk of cancers –breast cancer in particular. Also, Parabens and other commonly used chemicals that act like estrogens are the possible suspects behind the decrease in the reproductive health of both men and women in the recent years.
Food products and medicines that contain parabens get digested and processed by the liver. Liver and the digestive enzymes may process and excrete them, thereby giving us some protection. But, the Parabens contained in skin products are a matter of great concern. Anything we slather on our skin gets absorbed into the body and by-passes the digestion. They get easily absorbed into the bloodstream and can get lodged in any of our vital organs. Considering the number of synthetic skin products that we are using today, one can only picture the amount of chemicals that we are dunking into our system every day.
Despite of knowing the long term toxic effects of these chemicals on our health, nothing is being done to ban their use. Lame excuses are given when questions are raised about banning these chemicals. They call chemicals like Parabens safe, because according to them in small doses they will not kill us. Just because they don’t kill does not mean they are safe. Their long term hazards to our health are just not being taken into consideration. As a result of this pathetic shortsighted attitude, millions of people- men, women and children alike are a paying the price and suffering from poor health.
Government agencies are not doing enough to protect us from harmful chemicals. Despite of all this pharma, cosmetic and food industry continues to use these chemicals in scores of products. Till the time comes when some sense gets knocked into the head of the law makers to ban such chemicals, all of us need to be responsible for our own safety. Look out for methyl, ethyl, propyl, butyl Paraben and sodium benzoate and benzoic acid in every product that is in your home and the ones that you buy. Not just these, every time you shop take time to read the fine print on the product label especially its ingredients- both active and inactive. Any tongue twisting names on the product label that you cannot pronounce and any product that has a whole paragraph full of ingredients should be crossed from your shopping list. Shifting to natural and organic products which do not use chemicals will do you and your family a whole lot of good.
As Dr Samuel Epstein (Professor of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the School of Public Health, University of Illinois Medical Center Chicago) says it, “ the only safe synthetic chemicals are the ones you are not exposed to!”