Antibacterial soap ingredient triclosan now linked to liver fibrosis

hand washing is not more effective with antibacterial soap
CC BY 2.0 peapod labs

Another reason to stop buying antibacterial soap

The marketing claim 'antibacterial' still sells soap. I know this because people are still buying it, which I know because it is still all over the shelves at the supermarket.

That apparently means that people are not afraid of superbugs developing due to the constant evolutionary pressure of low levels of antibiotics in the environment. Fear of frog-disruptors has not slowed the growth of this product sector.

soap bubbles, hopefully not antibacterial Caroline Gagné/CC BY 2.0

And what is an 'endocrine disruptor' anyhow? Describing the effects of endocrine disruptors, such as (gasp!) shrinking male genitalia, seems scary. But the growing body of science against the widespread use of antibiotics has led to only piecemeal bans on triclosan. One might have thought that news would stop sales of the product instantly!

Will news linking triclosan with liver fibrosis hit home?

A study just completed by researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine shows that triclosan causes liver fibrosis in mice. The development of the disease in mice follows a mechanism that shows humans are also at risk.

Studies on risk aversion demonstrate that the more personal a risk appears, the more likely we are to take it seriously. Superbugs, three-legged frogs, and media hysteria about trends in genital size in wide populations may not trigger that sense of 'this could affect me!' necessary to change behaviors.

But we all have a liver, hopefully merrily plugging along removing toxins from our body so that we can survive the chemical soup in which we live. And since studies show "traces in 97 percent of breast milk samples from lactating women and in the urine of nearly 75 percent of people tested," our livers are each suffering an onslaught of this chemical that could turn our working liver into a mass of scar tissue. The mice with such damage subsequently suffered more and larger liver tumors induced by other chemical exposures.

The science of risk management also weighs benefits against negative effects. There are situations where antibiotics, including triclosan, are beneficial and worth using. But studies suggest antibacterial soap is not more effective than plain soap at preventing disease; its widespread use in cleaning products poses risks not worth taking.

soap bubbles in the environmentrawdonfox/CC BY 2.0

If people stop buying it, the suppliers will stop making it. If enough voices call for a ban on the use of triclosan in these products, the suppliers will stop making it. So far, it seems people have not been scared enough. Are you scared enough now?

Tags: Antibiotics | Bacteria | Cleaning | Health

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