Researchers found that DEA -- a chemical used as a wetting or thickening agent in shampoos, soaps, hairsprays and sunscreens -- seems to block absorption of the nutrient choline, which is essential to brain development. While pregnant, women require extra choline so that they may pass it on to the fetus.
"You need choline to build a baby," said Dr. Steven Zeisel, associate dean for research at the UNC School of Public Health. Zeisel added that further study is required and the results should not cause too much alarm. "At this point it is a caution," he said, "but it would probably be prudent to look at labels and try to limit exposure until we know more."
The study, published in the August issue of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology's FASEB Journal, is the first to look at DEA's affect on the brain. Prior studies had focused on its potential as a cancer-causing agent.
Over the last several years, numerous chemicals in personal care products that were once thought to be harmless are now being shown to be dangerous to human health. No research has yet been conducted by anyone on the potential for synergistic toxicities, where several different chemicals combine to multiply their toxic effects.
The body of the average American contains more than 300 synthetic chemicals acquired from foods, drugs and personal care products. The combined effect of these chemicals is entirely unknown.