Dr. Joseph Mercola
with Rachael Droege
It used to be that antibacterial soaps were used mainly in clinical health care environments. Now, antibacterial soaps are used in households across the country where they amount to a $16 billion-a-year industry. Some 72 percent of all liquid soap sold in the United States now contains antibacterial ingredients.
The active ingredient in most antibacterial products is triclosan, an antibacterial agent that kills bacteria and inhibits bacterial growth. But not only does triclosan kill bacteria, it also has been shown to kill human cells. Triclosan was introduced into consumer products in 1995, and its use has spread rapidly.
Antibacterial ingredients have become so prevalent in the United States that there are now antibacterial soaps, laundry detergents, shampoos, toothpastes, body washes, dish soaps and many household cleaning products.
Consumers use these products because they have been marketed as an effective and necessary way to lower the risk of infection. However, many scientists fear that the widespread use could lead to a strain of resistant bacteria, or "superbugs," and cause the ingredients to lose effectiveness for the times when they really are needed.
And now, the first major test in people's homes has found that using antibacterial products apparently offers little protection against the most common germs. The study represents the first time scientists have attempted to evaluate the products under real-life, day-to-day conditions in homes.
In the study, published in the March 2, 2004 journal Annals of Internal Medicine, people who used antibacterial soaps and cleansers developed cough, runny nose, sore throat, fever, vomiting, diarrhea and other symptoms just as often as people who used products that did not contain antibacterial ingredients.
The researchers pointed out that most of the symptoms experienced by the study participants are typically caused by viruses, which the antibacterial soaps don't protect against. And for the symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea, which may be caused by bacteria, the people who used regular soaps had no greater risk than those who used antibacterial products.
Further, many traditional medical circles now accept the hygiene hypothesis, which centers on the idea that children need to be exposed to some bacteria in early childhood in order to strengthen their immune systems. Children who are not exposed to common bacteria, which are wiped out by antibacterial soap, may be more prone to allergies and asthma.
Even the American Medical Association (AMA) does not recommend these products. So why do they persist? Simple; the manufacturers have relied on using fear to convince people that they need to use them to stay healthy. So, avoid being duped by these companies. All you need to use is a plain soap that you can pick up in your local health food store, as washing with plain soap and water will get rid of most all bacteria.