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Pregnancy and Antibacterial Soap a Potentially Dangerous Combination


My wife likes to sanitize everything with bleach. I don’t really approve, but I bite my tongue because it makes her feel better. Germs are everywhere and honestly there is no way to escape them because frankly…. they are you! In hospitals it makes sense to try to fight it, to be as sanitary as possible for the health of the patients. At home it makes a little less sense, there is no need, but that hasn’t stopped the rise of antibacterial soaps. In fact, it’s hard to find a soap that isn’t antibacterial these days, which has brought with it an interesting dilemma, along with potential health issues.

Now,while the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] mulls over whether to rein in the use of common antibacterial compounds that are causing growing concern among environmental health experts, scientists are reporting today that many pregnant women and their fetuses are being exposed to these substances. With it comes potential hazards that were unrealized when they hit the shelves.

“We looked at the exposure of pregnant women and their fetuses to triclosan and triclocarban, two of the most commonly used germ-killers in soaps and other everyday products,” says Benny Pycke, Ph.D. “We found triclosan in all of the urine samples from the pregnant women that we screened. We also detected it in about half of the umbilical cord blood samples we took, which means it transfers to fetuses. Triclocarban was also in many of the samples.”

The problem with this is that there is a growing body of evidence showing that the compounds can lead to developmental and reproductive problems in animals and potentially in humans. Also, some research suggests that the additives could be helping to contribute to antibiotic resistance, a steadily growing public health issue.

To clarify on the issue, the human body is efficient at flushing out triclosan and triclocarban. The problem though is that a person’s exposure to them can potentially be constant.

“If you cut off the source of exposure, eventually triclosan and triclocarban would quickly be diluted out, but the truth is that we have universal use of these chemicals, and therefore also universal exposure,” says Rolf Halden, Ph.D., the lead investigator of the study at ASU.

The compounds we are talking about here are used in more than 2,000 everyday products marketed as antimicrobial. This list includes things like toothpastes [of all things], soaps, detergents, carpets, paints, or even more concerning things like school supplies and toys.

Which is a very unfortunate turn of events, because showing what effect antimicrobials have on people is a challenge. But the team of researchers have found at least one interesting result already. The study yielded a link between women with higher levels of another ubiquitous antimicrobial, butyl paraben, which is commonly used in cosmetics, and shorter newborn lengths. The long-term consequences of this are not clear, but if this finding holds true in larger studies, it could mean that the widespread and almost constant exposure to these compounds could cause a subtle but large-scale shift in birth sizes.

The story doesn’t end there though, state policymakers, the FDA and most industries have taken notice of the mounting evidence against triclosan. In fact, Minnesota became the first state to pass a ban on the antimicrobial’s use in certain products, unfortunately this ban won’t take effect in January 2017. Even some companies, such as Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble, have announced that they are phasing out the compound from some products. Of course the big wheels take longer to turn, but at the federal level, the FDA and Environmental Protection Agency are reviewing the use and effects of the compounds before making any decisions.

The big question, I am sure, is what does this mean for pregnant woman? Unfortunately it’s too early to say, even a strong correlation is not necessarily proof for causation and the data isn’t quite there yet to say for certain. In the short term if you are pregnant it might be best to avoid using things with these compounds in them, at the very least to minimize exposure to them because it is better to be safe than sorry. In the long term all we can do is wait and see what the science says.

Sure it might not be the answer you were hoping for, but that is the thing with the truth, it doesn’t always fit in the yes or no category.

Want to read more? You can find the full study –here!

Pycke BF, Geer LA, Dalloul M, Abulafia O, Jenck AM, & Halden RU (2014). Human biomonitoring of prenatal exposure to triclosan and triclocarban in a multiethnic urban population from Brooklyn, New York Environmental Science & Technology , 8831-8838 : 10.1021/es501100w

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