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Research questions health risk associated with lipids in cosmetics

By Simon Pitman+

11-Apr-2014
Last updated the 14-Apr-2014 at 16:23 GMT

Scientists at York University, Toronto, Canada, have released research pointing to potential health risks associated with prenatal brain development.

Although the study has not proven any direct link with lipids that are often used in skin care products, particularly in the anti-aging category, the research did find that abnormal levels of lipid molecules in the brain can affect foetal brain development.

Specifically, the research team found that the presence of high levels of lipid moleculdes can affect the interaction between two key neural pathways in early prenatal brain development, which can trigger autism.

The researchers state that environmental causes such as exposure to chemicals in some cosmetics can affect the levels of lipids that were tracked in the study.

Can the link between lipids in cosmetics be proven?

A number of types of lipids - including cholesterol, palmitic acid and ceramides - are included in cosmetics formulations with the intention of rebuilding the skin’s lipid barrier, in turn helping to regenerate the skin with the ultimate aim of a more youthful appearance.

However, the medical team at York University believes that such lipid-containing formulations may be having a detrimental effect on the developing foetus in pregnant women, according to the study, published in the peer reviewed journal Cell Communication and Signaling.

"We have found that the abnormal level of a lipid molecule called Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) in the brain can affect the function of Wnt proteins. It is important because this can change the course of early embryonic development," said Professor Dorota Crawford in the Faculty of Health and a member of the York Autism Alliance Research Group.

Impact on neuronal stem cells

The study also points out that this is the first time evidence of cross-talk between PGE2 and Wnt signaling in neuronal stem cells has been singled out.

"Using real-time imaging microscopy, we determined that higher levels of PGE2 can change Wnt-dependent behaviour of neural stem cells by increasing cell migration or proliferation. As a result, this could affect how the brain is organized and wired.” said lead researcher Christina Wong.

The research also discovered that elevated levels of PGE2 can increase expression of Wnt-regulated genes that have been previously implicated in a number of autism studies.

The study comes off the back of mounting evidence that autism is becoming more prevalent in the US population, with current statistics suggesting that 1 in 68 children now have autism, pointing to a 30% hike on previous estimates.

“Perhaps we can no longer attribute this rise in autism incidence to better diagnostic tools or awareness of autism," said Crawford.

"It's even more apparent from the recent literature that the environment might have a greater impact on vulnerable genes, particularly in pregnancy. Our study provides some molecular evidence that the environment likely disrupts certain events occurring in early brain development and contributes to autism."

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