Freaky Clean: Chemical in Antibacterial Soap Weakens Muscle Function

A new study questions the safety of triclosan, a common chemical in antibacterial products like soap, toothpaste and mouthwash

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It turns out antibacterial soaps aren’t so “clean” after all. A common chemical in antibacterial products, triclosan — which can be found soaps, toothpastes and mouthwashes — was found to impair muscle function in lab and animal tests.

Originally, the chemical, developed in the 1960s, was used in hospitals to prevent bacterial infections. Since then, it’s been used in countless household products, and several studies — mostly in animals — have hinted that the effects of triclosan may not be entirely beneficial.

According to a recent Smithsonian article:

Studies have shown that the chemical can disrupt the endocrine systems of several different animals, binding to receptor sites in the body, which prevents the thyroid hormone from functioning normally. Additionally, triclosan penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream more easily than previously thought, and has turned up everywhere from aquatic environments to human breast milk in troubling quantities.

(MORE: Can Overuse of Antibacterial Soap Promote Allergies in Kids?)

Now, in a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the University of California, Davis, found that triclosan also interferes with muscle function. In the lab, they exposed human muscle cells, from the heart and elsewhere, to triclosan and discovered that the chemical interrupted cellular communication necessary for muscle contraction. Then the researchers exposed mice and fathead minnows to the chemical to see what would happen: after a single dose, the exposed mice showed 25% reduced heart muscle function and 18% reduced grip strength. In the fish, which were exposed to as much triclosan as would be expected in a week in the wild, the chemical led to poor performance in swimming tests that simulated escape from a predator.

For its part, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not found the chemical hazardous to humans, but is in the process of reviewing the safety of products containing triclosan; those findings are expected at the end of the year. The FDA notes further that there’s no evidence suggesting that antibacterial soaps containing triclosan offer any additional health benefits over regular soap.

Read more about the recent triclosan findings on the “Surprising Science” blog at Smithsonian.com.

MORE: Hazardous Chemicals in Soaps, Sanitizer?

22 comments
Mike D. Bryant
Mike D. Bryant

(*Sigh*) One more CHIEF reason proving that : Natual amp; Organic Is Always **BEST!!*

kturner63
kturner63

I was told by a nurse practitioner that the reason hospitals do not smell like bleach is because they use hydrogen peroxide to clean (I don't know if it is true, or not)  I make my own antibacterial hand sanitizer (not soap) and counter cleaner using purified/distilled water, hydrogen peroxide, ever clear (grain alcohol) and essential oils.  I work in a middle school and hardly ever get sick - who knows?

thedetoxshop
thedetoxshop

@kturner63 in the UK there is a company on the London Stock Exchange called Bioquell who specialise in hydrogen peroxide and ozone based antibacterial cleaning products for hospitals and other commercial purposes, as well as to the army where the same technology is used as a counter for biological warfare threats. So yes, ozone or H2O2 does provide a viable, natural, eco-friendly and reside free alternative to chemicals. If it's good enough for an army being bombed with genetically modified bacteria I'm sure it's good enough to replace Triclosan in the average kitchen!

Bobby Butternubs Engel
Bobby Butternubs Engel

"...after one dose, mice showed 25% reduced heart function and 18% reduced grip strength..."

That's probably because they gave it enough to actually start poisoning the poor mouse. They did the same thing with marijuana (Which I do not condone) in the 70's showing that it "killed brain cells" while in reality the brain was damaged because they were literally suffocating monkeys with smoke. The tests performed are very unrealistic and misleading.

Am. Cleaning Inst.
Am. Cleaning Inst.

The American Cleaning Institute (www.cleaninginstitute.org) wants to

share some informed perspective on this issue.

The study in question completely distorts

the real world safety and everyday use of this oft-tested ingredient, based on

faulty comparisons to overdosed test subjects. In this current study,

essentially the authors sampled the test subjects (mice and fish) at levels

that the test subjects would never be subjected to in the real world, let alone

human beings.

Antibacterial soaps are used

as a part of common sense hygiene routines in homes, hospitals, doctors’

offices, day care centers, nursing homes, and countless other office and

institutional settings.

 

These products and

ingredients have stood the test of time through extensive research and testing.

It’s unfortunate that attempts are made to distort real world use of products

and ingredients that contribute to better health.

 

More information on the

safety and effectiveness of antibacterial products and ingredients can be round

online at www.fightgermsnow.com and www.cleaninginstitute.org/anti....

Brian Sansoni/American Cleaning Institute

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

Just drink a bottle of wine instead : cures all ills .

Jason Bailey
Jason Bailey

This is ridiculous reporting. The PNAS article showed that these effects start to happen at 12.5 mg/kg in mice. That is like an average sized human injecting nearly a gram of the stuff into their body. There isn't that much of this stuff in the largest bottle of antimicrobial soap you can buy.

The reporter is grasping at straws to make up a story here. Nothing to see...move along.

Jen Cord
Jen Cord

Though it may be true that it takes a large amount of the chemical to affect humans, it is newsworthy to have a discussion about the use of these antibacterial products.  I have coworkers (I am a teacher) that not only use a lot themselves, but they teach the students to use a full pump of it after every single bathroom break, runny nose, and sneeze.  For some kids, this can be 6+ more times a day.  Then, their parents whip out the bottle every where they go for shopping carts, toilets, and eating out.  I completely understand your position that it would take large quantities to affect people, but where that line is, is a question worth asking.  

Jason Bailey
Jason Bailey

Also...don't confuse hand sanitizer (active ingredient = ethanol) and antimicrobial soap (active ingredient = triclosan).

Jason Bailey
Jason Bailey

A question worth asking, I most definitely agree. My problem is with the reporting. There are specific ways to determine 1. a toxic dose, and 2. how much of the stuff rubbed on the skin is required to reach that toxic dose. The actual data address #1, but the writer jumps to the conclusion that antibacterial soap causes the same effects as injecting huge quantities directly into the body. Apparently, he did not do so much background research as to put "triclosan skin penetrance" into PubMed...or maybe he did and ignored it because it would have killed the story. Basically, generalizing from the readily available literature, you can probably sit in a tub of antimicrobial soap for 24 hours and you still not soak up enough triclosan to do you much, if any, harm. (e.g., 

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pu...

Talendria
Talendria

I think it's a legitimate story for two reasons:

1)  Triclosan is only the tip of the iceberg.  Humans are exposed to dozens (possibly hundreds) of chemicals before they even leave the house in the morning.  Our environments are saturated with known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, and we don't know in what concentrations these will cause problems, particularly in susceptible individuals like young children.

2)  There are usually better alternatives to chemically derived products.  The green/organic movement has progressed to the point where you can buy non-toxic and environmentally friendly products at just about any grocery store, so why wouldn't you?

The author is providing a valid counterpoint to the "better living through chemistry" credo.

Talendria
Talendria

Please write a follow-up article concerning the potentially harmful chemicals in wet wipes:  methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI) in hiney wipes and alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (ADBAC) in cleaning wipes.  Both of these chemicals have been linked to various adverse reactions and environmental issues.  My son's teachers require the children to clean their desks with Clorox wipes every single day.

ULURU
ULURU

 Isn't that the job of the custodians? Why don't we make the students mop the floor also.

Talendria
Talendria

I don't mind the teachers giving chores to the children.  For one thing, the custodian is busy cleaning up unnecessary messes (graffiti in the bathroom, barf in the hallway, etc.), but it's also good for the children to have some responsibilities.  Most kids these days don't do any chores at home.  However, it's upsetting that the teachers don't read the usage instructions on the products.  You're supposed to either wear gloves or wash your hands after using those wipes.  The kids do neither; then they rub their eyes or eat something.  While I don't think the chemicals are concentrated enough to cause immediate harm, I also don't think it can do them any good in the long term.

Talendria
Talendria

What's that you say?  The FDA is entirely useless?  I already knew that.  On a related topic, what is the process for impeaching an entire government agency?

Tritiumx
Tritiumx

Antibacterial soaps are already a disaster, needlessly stimulating the antibiotic resistance of  bacteria and contributing to the rise of "super-bugs" that cannot be treated with current antibiotics. This is just one more reason no one should be using them. Just use soap...

PrinceHall
PrinceHall

Too bad every hospital in America encourages employees and patients to use them.

Talendria
Talendria

It's probably not a coincidence that many of these hospitals are breeding grounds for MDR bacteria.

Tommyqgj
Tommyqgj

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