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Cleanliness May Make You Sick

Cleanliness May Make You Sick

A new study from the University of Michigan School of Public Health suggests that young people who are overexposed to antibacterial products containing the chemical compound triclosan may actually suffer from more allergies. As reported in today’s Science Daily, triclosan is found in many products including antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, pens, diaper bags and medical devices; it belongs to a type of environmental toxicants called endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs). These are thought to mimic or otherwise negatively affect hormones in humans.  More about triclosan and antibacterial chemicals in a previous Care2.com post by Jennifer Mueller.

The study also found that, in adults, exposure to higher levels of Bisphenol A may have a negative impact on the immune system. Like triclosan, Bisphenol A is an EDC.

The survey used data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The researchers compared urinary Bisphenol A (BPA) and triclosan with cytomegalovirus (CMV) antibody levels and diagnosis of allergies or hay fever in a sample of U.S. adults and children over age 6. Allergy and hay fever diagnosis and the amount of CMV antibodies a person has were used as markers of immune alterations. 

Those age 18 and under who had higher levels of triclosan were more likely to report a diagnosis of allergies and hay fever. Those 18 and older who had higher levels of BPA exposure also had higher CMV antibody levels, which suggests immune system dysfunction.

Ten years ago, scientists were already raising concerns about the impact of antibacterial household products on public health and, indeed, on the use of such products leading to children developing more allergies:

Scientists are concerned that the antibacterial agents will select bacteria resistant to them and cross-resistant to antibiotics. Moreover, if they alter a person’s microflora, they may negatively affect the normal maturation of the T helper cell response of the immune system to commensal flora antigens; this change could lead to a greater chance of allergies in children.

With winter just around the corner and people, and children in particular, having to stay inside more, we’ll soon be deep in the season of colds, viruses, runny noses, coughing, and Kleenex. So beware of germs and wash your hands but keep in mind that just because a product is ‘antibacterial’ does not mean it is keeping your child healthy—it may be doing just the opposite.

Also see this petition to get toxic anti-microbial chemicals out of our soap and our bodies.

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Photo by Arlington County.

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45 comments

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5:23PM PST on Dec 9, 2010

I actually agree.
which is why I barely ever use hand sanitizer, when most people I know are using it after everything they touch.

10:08PM PST on Dec 4, 2010

Cleanliness is next to Godliness....we will soon be next to God, thanks to the toxins we create.

2:40PM PST on Dec 4, 2010

Triclosan is actually banned in Denmark.

11:13AM PST on Dec 4, 2010

Yet another reason to use botanically based products over a singular chemical that is easily adapted to by microbes.

6:30AM PST on Dec 4, 2010

thanks for the article.

5:46AM PST on Dec 4, 2010

it has been know for a long time that in hospitals bacteria grow to a number and resistance barely no antibiotic or disinfectant can fight

7:44PM PST on Dec 3, 2010

Seems we would be better off spraying beneficial microbes around to compete with the troublesome ones rather than going around kill both good and bad, at times allowing the bad to proliferate. There had been some interesting studies on phages in Russia (they couldn't afford antibiotics) and more recently some studies here (but it seems very limited)

BTW a major factor in the rise of drug resistant bacteria is Factory Farming - read "Eating Animals" a must read if you care about your health, animal cruelty and worker protections.

4:29PM PST on Dec 3, 2010

I've been saying that you have to make a choice to have a spotless home or animals...4 dogs 10 chickens...I made my choice..we are happy and healthy..It's not gross around here but it isn't spotless...

2:06PM PST on Dec 3, 2010

Reading all these posts bring on many memories and things of today. Since I was brought up in the late 50s early 60s. We played in in dirt piles literally where they were building new houses. I don't remember getting sick much.
I have 19 cats, 4 dogs, a macaw and 2 salt aquariums, so you can tell how spotless my house stays. I do have a 15yo who still is at home and she is rarely sick. Now my oldest daughter, 40, tries to be Ms. Cleanliness and hypochondriac. Here kids are always going to the ER or emergency room. Part is trying to be opposite of her mother.
I was in pretty good shape till I had a heart attache and retained an MRSA staff hospital infection, thanks to our elite hospital. I've been in the hospital 4 more times since heart surgery once for back surgery since the infection migrated to my spine, nice huh? Now I'm on disability since they can't get rid of this infection (anti-biotic resistant), So, my theory, dirt is good, and I use whatever soaps and cleaners are on SALE.

My wife and I try to keep things relatively clean but my son and his girlfriend who live downstairs are pigs. What can I say, the girls are pretty much clean freaks and he is like "Pig Pen" from Peanuts.

1:51PM PST on Dec 3, 2010

Soap and water works people!! Don't you think it's better to be safe than sorry?? Seems mankind doesn't learn anything until the shit hits the fan. We always react AFTER the fact. I'm sure (well, I hope) anyone would agree that PREVENTION is the key.

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