A study evaluated the effects of triclosan in female rats. Triclosan was found to advance the age at which the rats hit puberty. Serum thyroid hormone concentrations were also suppressed by triclosan.
According to the study, as reported by Green Med Info:
“In conclusion, triclosan affected estrogen-mediated responses in the pubertal and weanling female rat and also suppressed thyroid hormone in both studies.”
Triclosan is a chemical used to help reduce or prevent bacterial contamination, and it's commonly added to antibacterial soaps and body washes, toothpastes and certain cosmetics, as well as furniture, kitchenware, clothing and toys. If you see triclosan on a product label, I suggest putting that product back on the shelf, as this chemical is linked to a number of concerning side effects to human health and the environment.
Triclosan May Cause Hormone Disruption
You may be aware that many girls are now reaching puberty at younger ages, a trend that has been linked back to chemicals that disrupt the human endocrine system and affect your hormones, which control development and other important functions in your body. One such chemical is triclosan, a chlorinated phenolic compound that has been found to have both estrogenic and androgenic activity and has been linked to hormone disruption in animals.
The Toxicological Sciences study noted above found that triclosan affected estrogen-mediated responses, and chemicals that imitate estrogen are known to increase breast cancer risk. Triclosan also suppressed thyroid hormone in rats, and this is only one study of many showing this chemical to be a potent endocrine disrupter.
Past research has also shown:
- Exposure to triclosan disrupts thyroid hormone-associated gene expression in frogs, even at low levels (triclosan exposure at 0.15 parts per billion was enough to disrupt a hormone-signaling system in frogs)
- Triclosan decreases circulating concentrations of the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4) in rats
Concerning findings such as these have triggered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates triclosan in consumer products, to conduct a review of the chemical, the results of which they expect to release to the public in the winter of 2012.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates triclosan as a pesticide, has also announced it will undertake a comprehensive review of triclosan beginning in 2013, and notes they will "pay close attention to the ongoing endocrine research and will amend the regulatory decision if the science supports such a change." Unfortunately, what this means for you for now is that essentially nothing is being done in the immediacy to get this chemical out of your hand soap, body wash and toothpaste.
The Rise of Antibiotic-Resistant Disease
The very idea that we must protect ourselves from any and all bacteria at every turn, by eradicating them from every orifice, inch of skin, every utensil and every surface you ever come in contact with, is fundamentally flawed. And we're now living with the ramifications of this misguided line of thinking
Antibiotic-resistant diseases, for example, have sharply increased and now pose a greater threat than modern plagues like HIV/AIDS. The widespread, excessive use of antibacterial products, in addition to the routine use of antibiotics in our food supply, is likely a significant part of the problem. As the conservative American Medical Association (AMA) stated more than a decade ago in the year 2000:
"Despite their recent proliferation in consumer products, the use of antimicrobial agents such as triclosan has not been studied extensively. No data exist to support their efficacy when used in such products or any need for them, but increasing data now suggest growing acquired resistance to these commonly used antimicrobial agents.
… In light of these findings, there is little evidence to support the use of antimicrobials in consumer products such as topical hand lotions and soaps."
Unfortunately, triclosan is still being used widely despite these concerns raised more than 10 years ago. The Emerging Contaminants Workgroup of the Santa Clara Basin Watershed Management Initiative (SCBWMI) also issued a white paper on triclosan more than five years ago, where they explain, in layman's terms, the mechanism by which triclosan may cause resistance:
"Unlike bleach and soap that destroy and dislodge bacteria microbes, triclosan works by interfering with a specific bacterial enzyme. Non-specific antiseptics, such as alcohol, merely break open the cell and, therefore, are not the type of chemical to which bacteria could develop resistance.
On the other hand, triclosan's mode of action is different from alcohols and peroxide. Triclosan is fat-soluble and easily penetrates the bacterial cell wall. And once inside the cell it attacks an enzyme that is used to produce fatty acids that are vital to cell function.
This mode-of-action could ultimately lead to the development of antibiotic resistance. Through continual use of triclosan, non-bacterial strains would be killed, leaving only the bacteria whose enzyme system has evolved to resist the presence of triclosan. Some microbiologists fear that the commercial and personal overuse of triclosan could reduce the effectiveness of currently useful antibiotics. For instance, an antibiotic used to treat tuberculosis targets the same enzyme system."
Congresswoman Calls for FDA to BAN Triclosan
At least a few people on Capitol Hill are thinking clearly; House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise M. Slaughter and two colleagues called on the FDA in April 2011 to enact a ban on triclosan. As reported by Environmental Health Services (EHS), they noted that "triclosan is clearly a threat to our health" and cited the following reasons for the proposed ban:
- "The presence of triclosan in the human body and its impact on our "body burden;"
- Bacterial resistance to antibiotic medications and antibacterial cleaners
- The potential for endocrine disruption as a result of triclosan bioaccumulation in the body
- Wastewater contamination
- The threat of destroying ecological balance
- The fact that triclosan is no more effective than soap and water"
As it stands, this chemical has already been detected in the urine of three-quarters of the U.S. population, which means urgent action is clearly needed. And remember, as the AMA stated 11 years ago, there was, and still is, little or no evidence that these triclosan-containing antibacterial products outperform the good-old-fashioned techniques like washing with soap and water. There is, however, evidence that plain soap is more effective than its antibacterial counterparts.
Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals Common in Personal Care Products
Triclosan is but one endocrine-disrupting chemical common in personal care products. Phthalates are another chemical culprit common in soaps, shampoos, lotions and nail polish, and a recent review of 450 studies found that exposure to this and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals is associated with an increase in body size in humans.
One study by the Environmental Working Group detected phthalates in nearly three-quarters of personal care products tested, noting that:
"Major loopholes in federal law allow the … cosmetics industry to put unlimited amounts of phthalates into many personal care products with no required testing, no required monitoring of health effects, and no required labeling."
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are everywhere these days and can be difficult to avoid unless you take decisive steps to limit or eliminate them from your immediate surroundings. As the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences stated:
"A wide range of substances, both natural and man-made, are thought to cause endocrine disruption, including pharmaceuticals, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT and other pesticides, and plasticizers such as bisphenol A. Endocrine disruptors may be found in many everyday products– including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides."
What can You do to Avoid Triclosan?
Fortunately, triclosan should be listed on product labels, so be sure to check your personal care products for this potentially toxic ingredient. Be particularly diligent in checking labels on antibacterial products, but be aware that this chemical is also in products you may not suspect, like toothpaste.
Generally speaking, choose only high-quality brands you trust that use only safe, natural ingredients. For instance, my organic skin care line, shampoo and conditioner, and body butter are all triclosan free.
I strongly encourage you to consider ditching all of your chemical disinfectants as well, including your antibacterial soaps, laundry detergents and bath and kitchen cleansers, in favor of more natural alternatives.
There's really no need to expose yourself or your family to triclosan, so while U.S. regulatory agencies continue to allow its use, protect yourself by avoiding those products that contain it. BeyondPesticides.org has compiled an extensive list of products that contain triclosan, which you can use as a quick reference.