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.
Photo by Arlington County.