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Should you avoid triclosan?

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

Hidden danger in antibacterial products

That antibacterial soap on your counter? It could be doing more harm than good, researchers say. A chemical used in many antibacterial products, triclosan, has been found to hurt muscle function. What does this mean?
Woman washing hands

When you lather up with antibacterial soap, you are most likely rubbing pesticide all over your skin. Really. Triclosan, a chemical used in antibacterial products, was first registered as a pesticide in 1969, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And researchers at the University of California at Davis say that triclosan could be hurting your body — by making your muscles not function as well.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America in July 2012, UC Davis researchers found that triclosan, which is found in a variety of products including hand soaps, deodorants, toys, trash bags and bedding, causes muscle function to decrease. “The effects of triclosan on cardiac function were really dramatic,” said Nipavan Chiamvimonvat, professor of cardiovascular medicine at UC Davis and a study co-author, in a UC Davis release.

Researching triclosan

To delve into how triclosan may impact the human body, researchers conducted a variety of experiments mimicking daily triclosan exposure that humans experience. They found reduced heart function and reduced muscle strength, among other effects, in their experiments

“We were surprised by the large degree to which muscle activity was impaired in very different organisms, and in both cardiac and skeletal muscle,” said Bruce Hammock, a study co-author and professor in the UC Davis department of entomology, in a release. “You can imagine in animals that depend so totally on muscle activity that even a 10 percent reduction in ability can make a real difference in their survival.”

More research needed

The Food and Drug Administration and the EPA are delving deeper into the chemical and its risks, through new assessments. Meanwhile, researchers say that the use of it needs to be greatly restricted going forward.

The EPA, which last assessed triclosan in 2008, is undergoing what it calls "a comprehensive review of triclosan," specifically taking into account new studies on the effects it has on the endocrine system. including thyroid and estrogen hormones. The "EPA and FDA are collaborating on research projects that will help both agencies to better characterize the endocrine-related effects of triclosan, including toxicological effects, human relevance and the doses at which they occur to determine if levels of human exposure are safe or not. The agency will pay close attention to this ongoing research and will amend the regulatory decision if the science supports such a change," says the EPA in a recent online fact sheet.

What should you do?

Although no formal action has been taken to curb the use of triclosan in hygiene products and products for the home, it's important that you consider what the research suggests and make an informed decision about the products you use. There are alternatives available that do not contain triclosan — something you can determine by giving product labels a close look.

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