Parabens in Perspective: Part V

I thought long and hard before deciding to include this following study in my series because, as far as I can see, it has never been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and after reading my comments, you will hopefully understand why!

The reason I decided to go ahead is because there are some people who are spreading the results of this study around the internet, and I believe that this, as much as any of the previous studies I have covered, needs to be put firmly into perspective. If you have not already done so, please read my article, Parabens in Perspective: Part II.

I have taken the text below as a direct quote from the blog of the person who I believe asked the researcher to carry out the work. The blog owner is virulently anti-parabens, and so it was natural for her to choose the most prolific researcher of studies into the effects of parabens relating to breast cancer:

“I would like to share with you the results of an in vitro test performed recently by Dr Philippa Darbre at Reading University. The test is very simple: breast cancer cells incubated for 4 days with and without 0.00019% isobutylparaben. See below the breast cancer cells before the incubation (1) and after the incubation without (2) and with isobutylparaben (3)

I am aware that this is an vitro test, so all the complexity of the human body is taken out of the equation, however I believe they are still valid in showing there is reason to be concerned about this compound. You can clearly see that after 4 days the breast cancer cells do grow more than the ones without. I believe that the major cancer trigger is emotional stress, however environmental factors like this can promote the cancer cells growth making it bigger.”

You will note that the researcher is the very same Dr. Philippa Darbre, lead author of the notorious study that claimed to have detected intact parabens in human breast cancer tissue – a study I have previously examined in this series of articles. There may be several reasons why this work has not been formally published, but it is likely that the journal that published the “intact parabens” study would be very wary of attracting a similar level of criticism, especially given the number of flaws in the work shown above.

As the blogger has correctly observed, this IS an in vitro test, but there is more to this than simply taking the “complexity of the human body” out of the equation. Even if one accepts that Darbre genuinely detected parabens that had migrated to the breast tissue in her 2004 study, there are several major issues with the methodology of this subsequent study:

1)      The concentration of butylparaben employed in this study was  1.9ppm, compared with the mean concentration of 0.9 nanograms/gram claimed in the earlier study. 0.9 ng/g = 0.0009 parts per million – in other words, Darbre used a concentration of isobutylparaben 2,000 times greater than she claims to have detected previously!

2)      There was only one concentration of isobutylparaben tested. More data points should have been included to enable the possible determination of a dose-related response.

3)      The free-flowing nature of the liquid used for the study ensures far more interaction between the cancer cells and isobutylparaben than would ever be observed within the breast. This greatly exaggerates any effect.

4)      There was only one sample tested – statistically meaningless.

5)      From the pictures provided, it can be seen that the cells are not evenly dispersed in the liquid – some are single, some are in clusters of varying sizes. The samples were not homogenised before these pictures were taken.

6)      Cancer cells react differently to normal cells, and this study gives no indication of what may happen when isobutylparaben is in contact with normal cells

So, what are the implications of these issues for the results and conclusions of this study?

Using such a high concentration in a free-flowing liquid will massively exaggerate any potential effects, adverse or otherwise. This bears absolutely no relation to reality.

The lack of multiple samples and absence of homogeneity in the pictured samples means that the portion of the test sample photograph may not be representative of the bulk of the sample. It is too easy to manipulate the area photographed to make it appear as though there are more cells in the treated sample.

The combination of the massive overdose of isobutylparaben and the lack of homogeneity within the samples render this study meaningless. It has no value whatsoever, and is more akin to a cheap publicity stunt than anything remotely resembling good science. Sadly, however, this will not stop the chemophobes from spreading this information around the internet, and extrapolating the “results” to all parabens.

  • Anonymous

    Cancer cells in culture tend to grow in clumps like this on the bottom of the dish. Because of this growth habit there is really no way to tell if there really are more cells in the paraben treated dish or not. And different microscopic views can shoe completely different things so its interesting that they show only one view. What they should have done is treated the cells to separate them from each other and from the bottom of the dish and counted them (or done radioisotopic growth studies). Only with actual counts could you get any information about growth. Its obvious the study was set up with one interpretation in mind. This is not how scientists work.

    • Dene62

      Thanks for your supportive comments, Cindy. I didn’t want to be too scathing in the article itself but, frankly, this “experiment” would be a disgrace if designed in a science class by 13-year olds! It is quite shameful!

  • Kayla Fioravanti

    Great info Dene. From what I understand chemotherapy is preserved with parabens…I haven’t had a chance to thoroughly investigate if that is true today or in the past. It just seems an interesting contrast since it is the medicine that cures cancer.

    I’m sure topical application of parabens versus this in vitro test also would change the results.

    Thanks for all your great information.

  • @fit2bmama

    LIke you said, this has no bearing on reality. Even if I drank parabens straight up out of a bottle, my body would filter, digest, change that substance before it made it to my boobs. Hello!

    • Dene Godfrey

      Absolutely right, but I must point out that a different metabolic process takes effect when parabens are ingested, because the stomach acids break down the parabens (to p-hydroxybenzoic acid) more rapidly and completely than the esterases in the skin and bloodstream, but your boobs are definitely safe!

  • Dene Godfrey

    There is one further point that I didn’t include in the article that, with hindsight, perhaps was a mistake, and that it is the distinct difference in the light contrast for Picture 3 compared with the “untreated” pictures. This may, of course, just have been sloppy photography but, on the other hand . . . . .

  • Fatin Khawarizmi

    There is no perfect science, everything is relative but looking forward to the finest can help more.