Is The Obsession with Antibacterial Products Harmful?
Natural Alternatives to Triclosan and other Toxic Chemicals
Today, as disease takes on more resistant strains, it's a very real concern to protect ourselves and our children from harmful bacteria and viruses. In the 1970s, triclosan (also known by its brand name Microban) was introduced as an antimicrobial component in many antibacterial soaps and other personal-care items such as toothpastes, deodorants, mouthwashes, bedding, washcloths, kitchen utensils and toys. Triclosan is a synthetic, broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent that destroys both good and bad bacteria, and now, due to its overuse, has contributed to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
Studies show that the very chemicals that make the soaps "antibacterial" can harm us. Both triclosan and triclocarban can interfere with hormones, especially the hormones for growth and reproduction. They act as xenoestrogens or artificial estrogen mimickers. This disrupts hormonal balance that is critical to healthy functions. These are also known to disrupt thyroid function, accelerate aging and depress the central nervous system.
A study recently published revealed that exposure to triclosan is linked with muscle function impairments in humans and mice, as well as slowing the swimming ability of fish. The chemical is shown to impair ECC of both cardiac and skeletal muscle and may have the potential to contribute to heart disease and failure. The greatest impact will be on people with heart disease at 50% of function, where reducing heart function an additional 10-20% could markedly affect health.1
Measurable levels of triclosan have been increasing since it was first introduced as an antibacterial agent in the 1970s. It is found in plasma, urine and breast milk.2 Triclosan is so prevalent in soaps, cleaners and personal care products, and a study by the CDC found it present in the urine of 75% of Americans over the age of five,3 and in 97% of breast milk.
To worsen matters, when you wash your hands with antibacterial soap in chlorinated tap water, the combination forms chloroform, which is a potent carcinogen that is naturally formed in chlorinated water, and adding antibacterial soap significantly increases the chloroform. This is worse when the water is under high pressure such as in a shower.
An advisory committee to the FDA claims that soap with triclosan is no more effective than washing with ordinary soap and water, but this finding is disputed by the manufacturers of products that include it.4 Also, the American Medical Association recommends against using triclosan in the home because it may encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
For those of us who avoid antibacterial products that include synthetic chemicals, we cannot easily avoid the fact that while some of the chemical is absorbed into skin during hand washing, most is washed down the drain and into our municipal treatment systems where many plants cannot remove the chemical. Triclosan is now found in our lakes and streams and is toxic to algae, fish, amphibians and rats.5 It also breaks down in chlorinated water and in sunlight, and the breakdown components include chloroform and dioxins which are human carcinogens.6 Unfortunately, no matter how we choose our lifestyles, we can't completely avoid exposure to these harmful chemicals, but we can make personal choices for our families to reduce as much exposure as possible.
In our family, when we use a public restroom, we typically bypass using the antibacterial soap and instead wash with warm/hot water, dry and then use Hopewell's Citrus Quench Hand Cleanser Spray that we keep in the car/purse/diaper bag and carry it into restaurants and places where we know we'll want to sanitize our hands. We also keep a bottle of Plague Defense Spray in our car and use it on shopping cart handles, toilet seats and so on. If you'd like to tinker with making your own cleansers, see the recipe below.
I am also particular about the soaps and personal care products we apply to our skin. We use Dairy Meadow Soaps, made by a couple who live on a small farm nearby and/or our Hopewell soaps, made by our daughter Anna Blessing. We have special selections for hands, bath, pets and shampoo. If you prefer a liquid soap, you can make your own with castile soap and add essential oils for bacteria fighting power. For hand and body moisturizers, we are very happy with Elizabeth's Naturals. We also blend a variety of moisturizers for the face and body that are very popular. If you are looking for cleaning options, we have some simple, effective recipes available that use essential oils instead of harmful chemicals.
Kerri's Personal Experience with Antibacterial Soap
Years ago when my husband, who had been diagnosed with End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), needed dialysis to help clear some of the toxins from his body (dialysis of any kind does not clear all the toxins, only kidneys are capable of doing that, if they are functioning properly), we did peritoneal dialysis proceedings ourselves at home.
Part of the training for me to be able to assist my husband with the exchanges (the term for the procedures) was to wear a mask and use antibacterial soap for scrubbing my hands for no less than 2 minutes each time before beginning to hook him up for the exchange. After doing this for a couple of months, I had sores all over my hands. I mentioned this to a dear friend of mine, and she made me a batch of homemade soap with tea tree oil in it. I no longer continued to get sores, and even though the soap healed my hands eventually, they scarred from the damage done by the antibacterial soap. I learned to stay away from it the hard way.
The doctor and nurses at the dialysis center said they'd never had anyone on peritoneal dialysis for so long with so many exchanges who never had an infection. The tea tree essential oil and homemade soap was obviously effective.
It is reported that we need roughly 10% essential oil for an effective antibacterial sanitizer with no alcohol content, so this would require 120 drops (6 ml) essential oil.
It is recommended that you refrigerate when not in use to increase shelf life, but we have not done this, and it's lasted over a year.
May you have a wonderful, healthy winter,
1 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, University of California, Davis. Triclosan impairs excitation-contraction coupling and Ca2+ dynamics in striated muscle. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22891308
2 Dr. Isaac Pessah, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, the study's lead author. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, University of California, Davis. Triclosan impairs excitation-contraction coupling and Ca2+ dynamics in striated muscle. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22891308
3 Antibacterial Chemical Raises Safety Issues by Andrew Martin, August 19, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/20/business/triclosan-an-antibacterial-chemical-in-consumer-products-raises-safety-issues.html?_r=2
5 EWG's Guide to Triclosan http://www.ewg.org/files/EWG_triclosanguide.pdf
6 Environmental Emergence of Triclosan