In recent years, our lexicon been bombarded with antibacterial products. Hand sanitizer dispensers are found all over the place, including my local YMCA. The shopping cart corral at the market usually has a canister of antibacterial wipes handy for the handle. Who knows what germs and other "ickies" infested the hands of the person who used it prior, right? Or at least that's the idea.
Surely, much of this dialogue is the result of opportunistic marketing fed, in part, by media attention given to the contagiousness of sickness or disgusting sources of some germs. Every year there's a new and advanced doom and gloom illness brooding over us, and every year we're told immunizations are the key to avoiding it. Not preventative measures, not keeping your immune system strong. Just shut up, get a shot, and don't worry about the cold, bird flu, swine flu, giraffe flu, or, perhaps this year, the Brazilian toad flu.
The controversies surrounding immunizations and vaccinations are a separate topic, but I mention them to highlight the prevalence of this proverbial notion that the best answer to a buzzing mosquito is a hand grenade.
Helpful Products May Be Detrimental
In the early 1970's, a chemical called Triclosan was introduced, and used in hospital and surgical environments as an antibacterial product. Since then, it's made its way into consumer products like soap, toothpaste, and other personal care wares. What's wrong with hospital-grade, bacteria killing chemicals being added to cosmetics and other household items most of us use every day? A lot.
There is a fundamental and wide spread misconception that "anti-bacterial" equals better. An article entitled "Consumer Antibacterial Soaps: Effective or Just Risky?" that appeared in the journal, Clinical Infectious Diseases concludes that antibacterial soaps show no health benefits over plain soaps . We've also heard concern about resistant bacterial strains developing with the overuse of antibacterial products. Most of the public is already terrified of big bad bacteria, the last thing we need is to promote the development of the "Incredible Hulk" version.
Triclosan, specifically, has its own batch of problems. Researchers have linked it to muscle and strength problems . Fish exposed to Triclosan were observed to have trouble swimming and were made more vulnerable to predators - that's not comforting. It shouldn't come as a surprise, the chemical makeup of Triclosan is similar to other environmental toxins and studies are re-evaluating its risk assessment and whether it should be included in consumer products... forty years after its introduction and subsequent infection into a huge list of common products. What damage has already been caused by this exposure?
Every year we battle a new variation of the flu. And every year, toxic, common chemicals, like Triclosan, get shuffled from the "good" column to the "bad." Personally, I'd rather take my chances with the flu.
- Aiello AE, Larson EL, Levy SB. Consumer antibacterial soaps: effective or just risky? Clin Infect Dis. 2007 Sep 1;45 Suppl 2:S137-47. Review.
- Michelle Castillo. Antibacterial agent Triclosan shown to hinder muscle movement in mice, fish. CBS News. 2012 August 14.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.