What is it? The germ theory, which became the cornerstone of modern medicine and influenced the recent massive push for antibiotic use, proposes that microorganisms are the cause of many diseases. I, and many others since, have argued that this is only one part of the equation. One must also take into account the biological terrain – referring to the state of health of the environment in which these microorganisms inhabit, namely, our bodies. To put this in simpler terms: if our bodies are unhealthy, microorganisms can and will flourish, but if our immune systems are powerful and functioning at full capacity, the “bugs” stand no chance!
Why it is bad for you: Triclosan, although the name may be unfamiliar, is an antibiotic contained in many products that we use on a daily basis. “What’s wrong with a little antimicrobial action?” you may ask. Well, several things. For starters, mounting evidence is pointing to the fact that the products that contain triclosan work no better than those that do not. The American Medical Association (AMA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have reviewed studies that show there is no evidence to suggest that using antibacterial soap works any more effectively than soap without to reduce bacteria or limit disease. Secondly, triclosan is building up in animal’s and human’s fat tissue (fat stores all types of things!) and has even been found in umbilical cord blood in infants and in that of women’s breast milk. Equally disturbing is the fact that 95% of products that contain triclosan end up going down the drain and infiltrating our water systems. While much of the triclosan is removed in sewage stations, not all is removed from our water – it was one of the most commonly detected compounds in a U.S. Geological Survey of American streams. This is where I refrain from ranting about the toxic impact it has on our ecosystem (algae and aquatic life)!! Thirdly, if that’s not enough, we have the looming issue of “superbugs” in which the overuse of antibiotics is contributing to antibiotic resistance. The AMA has now recommended that we refrain from using antibacterial products in our houses in order to avoid antimicrobial resistance.
What to do about it: Simple. Avoid products that are labeled “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial”. Read the ingredients, and avoid those with triclosan (it is sometimes included on ingredient lists using its chemical name: 5-chloro-2-(2,4-dichlorophenoxy) phenol). Cutting boards, J cloths, knives, aprons, household cleaning products, and of course, hand soaps, may all contain triclosan. Avoid products that contain Microban – triclosan is sometimes marketed under this brand. Some examples of products containing triclosan are Colgate Total toothpaste, Gilette shave gel, Right Guard deodorant, and Clean & Clear foaming facial cleanser. DO wash your hands with good ol’ regular soap and hot water, being cognizant to scrub well for 30 seconds. Keep in mind – it isn’t about the germs, but more about the biological terrain – keeping a healthy body and healthy mind allows for a fully functioning immune system to take care of any germs before we even know they were there.
- Environmental Defense recommends mandatory ban to protect Canadians & our environment (June 2012)
- What’s the Deal With Triclosan? (fitsugar.com)
- Dr. Joseph Mercola: 4 Dangerous Myths About Hand Washing (huffingtonpost.com)
- Debate over triclosan poses risk to makers of antimicrobial handsoap (New York Times)