In the 1970s, a new chemical appeared in many different products that we use every day, such as toothpastes, soaps, and detergents. This chemical is called triclosan and has antibacterial and antifungal effects. For years, the Food and Drug Administration investigated this miracle material that suddenly appeared in a variety of products and tested the safety of its use, and it was only in 2016 that clear legislation was introduced that forbade its presence in soaps. However, it still exists in many of the products we use, such as toothpastes and wet wipes, and it is important that you recognize it and the danger it poses to your health.
"Consumers think that antibacterial agents are more effective than others in eliminating bacteria, but there is no scientific evidence that they are more effective than soap and water," says Janet Woodcock, director of drug research and evaluation at the Food and Drug Administration. The US Food and Drug Administration has made it clear that triclosan, along with 18 other compounds, should not be used in antiseptic products such as hand soap, but the administration's legislation was limited, and the chemical is still used to make toothpastes, wet wipes, and disinfectants.
Over the years, an increasing number of studies have shown that triclosan is harmful to humans and the environment, while the first ones have shown that there is a reason to worry that the chemical acts as an endocrine disruptor – interfering with the physiological functioning of the hormones. In addition, the use of triclosan over time increases the ability of bacteria to develop resistance to antibiotics.
The direct effect of triclosan on human health is widely debated, and according to a review of studies by the Canadian government, the conclusion reached by experts is that the use of low-volume chemicals isn’t harmful to human health; This includes the amount used to produce cosmetics, shampoos, and toothpastes. However, the Canadian government has made it clear that the chemical is indeed harmful to the environment; In fact, it is one of the 10 most common pollutants in rivers in North America.
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts decided to examine the effects of triclosan, and specifically whether it is related to intestinal infections - a problem that has emerged more since they began using the chemical. In the study, they examined the response of mice to a low amount of triclosan, which could be traced in the blood; After 3 weeks of testing previously healthy mice, symptoms of chronic GI infections began to appear.
The study was conducted again in the same way, but this time on mice genetically engineered to develop inflammatory bowel disease. The symptoms of inflammation of the mice developed faster this time, and some also developed ulcerative colitis - a disease that increases the chances of cancer. The same group of mice that developed ulcerative colitis also had a shorter life expectancy than other mice.
Researchers believe that triclosan affects the intestinal microbial community in a way that can be significant to the formation of inflammatory effects. To investigate this mechanism further, the researchers conducted the study again, but this time with mice that had no intestinal microbial community. Indeed, there was no adverse effect on the intestines of these mice.
It is important to emphasize that all these studies have not yet been conducted on humans, but researchers believe that the same results will also appear among them. "We know very little about the effect of triclosan on the human body, and our research indicates that the effects of its use and exposure should be examined and the legality of its use, updated," says Haixia Young, one of the researchers.
A previous study at the University of Massachusetts found that triclosan tends to be stored in toothbrush fibers, and even if you switch to a toothpaste that doesn’t contain the chemical, the triclosan left on the brush is released directly into the mouth in dangerous amounts. Therefore, you may also want to replace your toothbrush. It is still unclear whether there is a link between triclosan and intestinal infections in humans, but it is certainly worth making this small change.