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There’s a pretty good chance that you’re brushing your teeth with a chemical known to cause allergies, thyroid problems, muscle spasms and resistance to antibiotics, among other things.
It took the FDA 36 years to get this chemical out of our soaps and hand sanitizers. But it has remained in other products since then, including toothpaste, shampoo, and skin cream.
Many children’s toys and kitchen utensils are coated in this chemical, presumably to make them resistant to germs.
But study after study continues to show us that this chemical is far scarier than the germ it’s meant to protect us from.
And, most recently, for the first time, it’s been linked to osteoporosis.
Triclosan: Bad for germs, worse for your health
If you grew up in the 1960s like I did, you probably remember hearing the very same commercials telling us how these new products were superior at keeping scary germs away.
In the years that followed, we slowly learned the truth about their celebrated antimicrobial chemical ingredient, known as triclosan.
Study after study showed what it could do to the human body: disrupt hormones, cause muscle and heart spasms, and do damage to unborn fetuses.
In 1978, the FDA first proposed a rule that would eliminate triclosan from soaps and hand sanitizers. But in their usual fashion, the agency did not follow through with their own proposal, and triclosan stayed on the market.
In 2010, 32 years later, the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the FDA for failing to issue a final ruling on triclosan.
Finally, in 2016, the FDA banned the use of triclosan in antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers.
Sadly, in those decades in between, the market for antibacterial products with triclosan had grown into a $1 billion a year industry. Triclosan made its way into the bodies of 75 percent of the U.S. population and has been found in blood, urine, and breast milk.
Also, in those intervening years, research has continued to demonstrate just how harmful triclosan is.
Triclosan and osteoporosis
Last month, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism published a study linking triclosan with osteoporosis. It was the first study to look at the connection between levels of triclosan in the urine and decreased bone mass density in women.
The study looked at data from 1,848 women between 2005 and 2010 and found that women who had higher levels of triclosan in their urine were more likely to develop osteoporosis later on in life.
Triclosan interferes with thyroid function, and there is a known connection between thyroid imbalance and bone loss.
Here’s a chronology of other research showing the harmful effects of triclosan:
- 2010 – triclosan inhibits the activity of estradiol, a form of estrogen, thus endangering early fetal development. Also, of course, depleted estrogen leads to bone loss.
- 2012 – triclosan disrupts the endocrine systems of several different animals.
- 2012 – triclosan impairs normal muscle function in mice and humans.
- 2014 – a small study linked triclosan to liver cancer in mice.
How you are exposed, and how to protect yourself
Check product ingredients. And know what to look for…
Any product labeled as containing Microban actually contains triclosan. These include everything from kitchen utensils to carpeting to toothbrushes.
And if you use a toothpaste with triclosan, you’re doubling your risk.
In a 2017 study, more than a third of nylon toothbrushes tested retained about seven to 12.5 times the amount of triclosan a person would actually come into contact with from toothpaste. What’s more, the triclosan stayed in the bristles for about two weeks after switching to a non-triclosan toothpaste. So, it’s a good idea when you switch out your toothpaste, to get a new toothbrush as well.
Here are some ways to avoid triclosan:
- Stop using antibacterial soaps containing the chemical. Look for “triclosan” on the Drug Facts label.
- Look for triclosan in kitchen equipment like cutting boards and spatulas.
- Ask your workplace and your children’s school to stop using antibacterial hand soaps. Instead, suggest soaps with oregano oil or basil oil, both potent natural antibacterial agents.
- Avoid products like food containers or shower curtains that claim to “keep food fresh longer” or have “odor-fighting ingredients.” They usually don’t list their ingredients, but chances are there’s triclosan in there.
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- Study links common chemical in cosmetics and toothpaste to osteoporosis — CNN
- Nylon Bristles and Elastomers Retain Centigram Levels of Triclosan and Other Chemicals from Toothpastes: Accumulation and Uncontrolled Release — Environmental Science & Technology
- Triclosan Under The Microscope — Chemical & Engineering News
- Triclosan, a Chemical Formerly Used in Antibacterial Soaps, Was Found to Impair Muscle Function — Smithsonian
- Triclosan is a potent inhibitor of estradiol and estrone sulfonation in sheep placenta — Environment International
- Triclosan soap linked to mouse liver cancers — NHS