Antibacterial Soaps – being too clean can make people sick

A new study from the University of Michigan School of Public Health suggests that young people who are overexposed to the triclosan in antibacterial soaps may suffer more allergies, and the immune systems of adults exposed to Bisphenol A (BPA) may be negatively impacted.

Triclosan is also found in toothpaste, pens and medical devices. Bisphenol A is found in plastics such as the lining of tin cans, and both chemicals are endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) which negatively affect health by mimicking or affecting hormones.

The researchers used data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, comparing levels of BPA and triclosan found in the urine with cytomegalovirus (CMV) antibody levels and diagnosis of allergies or hayfever in a sample of American adults and children over the age of six.

The results showed that people over 18 with higher levels of BPA had higher CMV levels, suggesting their immune system may not be functioning properly. People aged 18 and under with higher levels of triclosan were more likely to have a diagnosis of allergies or hayfever.

Although they are already known to be harmful, EDCs may be dangerous to humans at much lower levels than previously thought. The research findings about triclosan support the ‘hygiene hypothesis’, which states that over-clean environments prohibit our exposure to micro-organisms which would otherwise develop and strengthen the immune system.

However the study is limited because of how the data was measured. Allison Aiello, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and principal investigator on the study cautioned that it may be possible that the individuals who have an allergy may be more hygienic because of their condition, and thus that the relationship observed above is not causal, or is actually an example of reverse causation.

Further study would investigate the long-term effects of BPA and triclosan, to see if a causal relationship could be established.

Source: University of Michigan

November 2010


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