Women's health * Healthy living

Hair dye "linked to liver disease"

haid dye linked to liver disease Smoking also increases risk

Women who regularly use hair dye may be increasing their risk of developing a form of liver disease known as Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), according to a new study.

PBC has been linked to the presence of toxins, including chemicals found in cosmetics, and the study found that use of hair dye by women was linked to a 37% increase in the occurrence of the disease.

PBC is a slow, chronic liver disease which can cause progressive destruction of the bile ducts in the liver. Although many people with PBC may never develop liver cirrhosis, if it does happen it can prove fatal.

Women are more likely to suffer from PBC than men by a factor of 9, and it is predominant in Scandinavia and the north of Britain. The cause of PBC is not known, but it has been linked to both genetic and environmental factors, such as the presence of certain toxins.

The new study compared the lifestyles of over 2,500 PBC sufferers (one set from new cases in the North of England, the second from a PBC sufferers support group) with a random group of similar size drawn from the electoral roll which was matched with the PBC group by age and sex.

PBC is a form of auto-immune disease in which the body's own defenses turn against it. Unsurprisingly, the study found that other auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid and coeliac disease were all more common in the PBC group than the control group.

Less than 1% of male respondents used hair dye, whereas half of all the women surveyed did. When this was investigated among women only, those in the PBC support group were 37% more likely to develop PBC than women in the comparison group.

Respondents were not asked how often they dyed their hair, and it is not clear which component of hair dye might be responsible for this finding, say the authors.

But previous research has indicated an association between PBC and chemicals found in cosmetics, particularly octynoic acid, which is used in hair dye and nail polish.

Smoking was also a major risk factor at 63% in both sets of PBC patients, but surprisingly alcohol use was slightly less likely to be linked to the appearance of PBC.

The research is described in the BMJ publication Gut and was carried out at the Manchester Royal Infirmary and the Manchester Biomedical Research Centre.

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This article was published on Wed 24 March 2010

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