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Antibacterial Soap Could Harm Your Heart and Muscles

Antibacterial soap could harm your heart and muscles

If you and your kids wash your hands with antibacterial soap and use other antibacterial products, these items may not be the best for your health. Investigators report that the antibacterial substance called triclosan, commonly found in personal care products, may harm your heart and muscle function.

Triclosan has been in the news before

The current findings, which are the result of research by experts at the University of Colorado and the University of California, Davis, are not the first time triclosan has been highlighted in the news as a health hazard.

In a University of Michigan School of Public Health study reported in 2010, the authors noted that the triclosan used in antibacterial soaps and other healthcare products were detrimental to the immune system in children. In fact, they stated that their findings "may support the 'hygiene hypothesis,' which maintains living in very clean and hygienic environments may impact our exposure to microorganisms that are beneficial for the development of the immune system."

Also in 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency teamed up to review the effect of chemicals such as triclosan that are used in everyday products. According to the FDA website "Triclosan: What Consumers Should Know," the agency will issue the findings of its review to the public in winter 2012, while it currently maintains that "triclosan is not known to be hazardous to humans."

Now in the new research, which appears online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors report on three experiments that explored the impact of triclosan, which is found not only in antibacterial soaps but also in toothpaste, mouthwash, clothing, carpets, toys, and more common products. In each of the experiments, the scientists used doses of triclosan that people and animals could expect to be exposed to in daily life.

  • When scientists exposed heart muscle cells and skeletal muscle fibers to triclosan in the lab, presence of the chemical interfered with the normal communication between proteins that allow these cells and fibers to respond properly, thus causing skeletal and heart muscle failure.
  • Within 20 minutes of exposure to triclosan, mice experienced up to a 25 percent reduction in cardiac function
  • The mice also exhibited an 18 percent reduction in their grip strength for up to one hour after exposure to one dose of triclosan
  • Fathead minnows exposed to triclosan in their water for one week demonstrated significantly less ability to swim when compared with unexposed controls. These fish are typically used to study water pollutants.

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What does this study mean to consumers
The results of this study, as well as others involving triclosan, including previous work by UC Davis researchers linking triclosan to problems with reproductive hormone function and brain activity, suggest consumers should rethink their use of products that contain the chemical. Co-author Nipavan Chiamvimonvat, professor of cardiovascular medicine at UC Davis, warned that "in patients with underlying heart failure, triclosan could have significant effects because it is so widely used," although he also noted more research is needed.

However, even the FDA admits it has not evidence that adding triclosan to antibacterial products gives consumers any extra health advantages over plain soap and water. The agency tells consumers who are worried about using soaps that contain triclosan to "wash with regular soap and water."

As consumers, you have a choice, and there are many soaps, mouthwashes, cosmetics, and other personal care products that do not contain triclosan. Anyone who wants to avoid this chemical should carefully read the ingredient panels on these products.

According to another study co-author, Bruce Hammock, professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, "Triclosan...has become a ubiquitous value added' marketing factor that actually could be more harmful than helpful." You can help avoid harm to your heart and muscle function by choosing antibacterial products and other personal care items that do not contain triclosan.

Cherednichenko G et al. Triclosan impairs excitation-contraction coupling and Ca2 dynamics in striated muscle. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2012. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1211314109
Food and Drug Administration

Image: Wikimedia Commons