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(NBC News) -- Washing your hair might make you lose your mind! Sounds like a line from the cover of a tabloid magazine - but it's the focus of government research!
As Helen Chickering reports, researchers say an ingredient found in some soaps and shampoos might affect memory.
Ahhh...those bubbles! The soapy signal we're scrubbing squeaky clean. But now new research in animals suggests those suds may be washing away more than dirt.
Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D, UNC School of Public Health Researcher: "Depending on the treatment, some mice are stupid, some are not"
The research centers around an ingredient found in shampoos soaps and a lot of other products we use to keep clean: It's called D-E-A. It's the stuff that helps makes soap and shampoo soft and bubbly. But there's also some research that shows DEA may rob the brains ability to make memory cells."
Researcher Dr. Steven Zeisel has uncovered evidence in mice that suggests d-e-a, and a similar ingredient t-e-a, seep through the skin and block the brain's ability to absorb choline, a key nutrient that plays a crucial role in the memory cell making process in the developing brain.
Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D, UNC School of Public Health Researcher: "And what we found for example, is that low choline causes half as many cells to be divided as when you give extra choline, sot that's a huge change."
Earlier research by Dr. Zeisel showed that mice that were deprived of choline in the womb weren't as sharp as the animals whose mothers were fed a choline rich diet. Now they want to see if the choline blocking effect found in dea and tea Will have the same memory robbing impact.
Steven Zeisel, Md. Phd, UNC School Of Public Health Researcher: "And our hypothesis is that they will, and we'll be able to show that doses of this compound administered frequently will cause um, abnormal brain development in the baby and they'll perform as if their mothers were eating too little choline in the diet"
Bottom line, the animals won't be as smart. But what could all this mouse research mean for people? Dr. Zeisel says if the dea-hypothesis holds true, the memory impact would probably be minimal in adults. But could have a bigger effect on the developing brain - during pregnancy, and the first few years of life.
Steven Zeisel, Md. Phd, UNC School Of Public Health Researcher: "I would never have thought that washing my hair could harm my baby - and again our research might not show that, but that's the reason we're putting the effort in put together a team funding from nih try to find out for sure for people."
Findings that could have us all, taking a second look at what's inside those bubbles that keep us squeaky clean.
The U-N-C research is using the same amounts of d-e-a as most of us would get if we shampooed our hair a couple of times a week.
Dr. Zeisel and his team of researchers are also testing to see if adding extra choline to the diet can make up for the brain cell deficiency caused by d-e-a.
DEA stands for diethanolamine (die-eth-uh-noll-amean), a chemical that is used in shampoos, lotions, creams and other cosmetics. DEA is used widely because it provides a rich lather in shampoos and keeps a favorable consistency in lotions and creams. TEA, the other ingredient being tested is similar and stands for triethanolamine.