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Do anti-aging creams cause autism?

Researchers at York University have published a study linking the lipids used in skin creams with increased rates of autism. Is there any real reason for concern? Let’s break it down.

Here is the key information as reported in this research study:
  • Earlier studies have shown the “Wnt protein” has an impact on embryonic development which is associated with autism.
  • New research shows that a hormone, Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), can increase the level of this protein.
  • Researchers speculate that lipids used in cosmetic creams can increase the level of PGE2.

Is there really danger?

I’m certainly not a neuroscientist so I’m not about to critique the research basic research on autism. Let’s assume for the moment that there is a cause and effect relationship between increased PGE2 levels and autism. The question, then, is whether or not antiaging creams increase levels of PGE2.
PGE2 is created in the body by the metabolism of phospholipids to arachidonic acid and then to some form of  PG or to another material called leukotriene, depending on the activity of certain enzymes. Phospholipids are SOMETIMES used in anti-aging creams (and in certain drugs). Do topical phospholipids even penetrate skin?
I don’t know if there is any evidence that phospholipids penetrate into the bloodstream. Although they are used to enhance skin penetration of drugs but I haven’t seen data that the phospholipids themselves penetrate. Still, here’s what would have to occur for anti-aging creams to influence autism:
  • Your skin cream would have to contain high levels of phospholipids…
  • Those phospholipids would have to penetrate through the skin into the blood at a high percentage…
  • The metabolic pathway would have to shift such that enzymes convert the phospholipids to more PGE2…
  • The PGE2 would have to affect the Wnt protein as described by the study authors…
At this time there appears to be data only for the last point.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Like I said, I’m not a toxicologist or a neuroscientist but there just doesn’t seem to be much cause for concern. Still, even though it seems like a tenuous link, it’s a good thing that the experts in the field are assessing the actual risks.

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • eastvillagesiren April 18, 2014, 8:13 am

    Thanks for picking up this story, which I first read last week. And yes, it’s good the actual risks are being assessed.

    Being a complete non-scientist, however, my first thought was: did anyone investigate lipids that are ingested; e.g., sunflower or another oil in food, or in processed food products? It seems to me that if there is a connection between lipids and autism, it would be a faster, more “successful” from oils we ingest. What do you think?

    Thanks for being a blog of reason!

    • Randy Schueller April 18, 2014, 8:16 am

      That’s an excellent point! The study didn’t mention anything about dietary sources of phospholipids.

  • Stacy April 18, 2014, 5:34 pm

    Sounds like more feared based “science” trying to prove everything “chemical” is killing us.

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