Let's talk about triclosan.
You may know it by its more popular name, Microban, the antibacterial product that almost always uses triclosan as an active ingredient. Are you ready for one helluva list of products that any one of you could easily find on store shelves in a version that contains triclosan? Okay, here goes: chopsticks, steering wheels, garden hoses, hot tubs, pillows, slippers, hand soap, toothpaste, underwear, towels, mattresses, sponges, shower curtains, phones, flooring, cutting boards, fabric, children's toys, cosmetics, deodorants, and countertops. To name a few.
In this germophobic day and age, it seems that we're all to happy to turn a blind eye to the frightening truth: when antimicrobials are (mis)used on such a wide scale, the ever-increasing number of bacteria that mutate to resist our drugs cause serious problems for the medical world in treating infectious diseases. To be fair, the rise of superbugs has much more to do with the overuse of antibiotics in animals (thanks, CAFOs) and humans (thanks, MDs), but that hardly lets triclosan-happy manufacturers off the hook. Consider the fact that numerous studies show many antibacterial household products to be no more effective at killing germs than regular soap. In other words, at the low concentrations found in such products, triclosan delivers a one-two punch of causing harm while not doing its job of protecting us from bacteria. I'm a little underwhelmed. You?
Except, instead of being disappointed, we should be angry. Triclosan is, as the title of this post suggests, a toxin. In animal studies, it has been linked to endocrine and thyroid disruption (fun stuff like androgenic effects in fish), and as with other nasty chemicals, it is being found in all the wrong places at increasing levels. Triclosan is present not only in our fatty tissues but also in umbilical cord blood and women's breast milk. And since we carry so much of it, we expel a lot of it, too, and it's running down streams all across the country. The really scary statistic is the huge jump in the concentration of triclosan in Rick Smith's urine after exposing himself to antibacterial toothpaste, facial cleanser, hand soap, shaving gel, deodorant, shower soap, and dish detergent for two days: 2.47 ng/mL turned into 7,180 ng/mL. That's almost 3000 times higher!
So what are we to do if we want to avoid triclosan but stay healthy? I recommend the following steps:
- wash your hands
- Wash Your Hands
- WASH YOUR HANDS
- wash your hands properly (for a great visual guide, check this out)
- unless you've just washed your hands, don't touch your face, as germs love to enter your system through your eyes, nose, and mouth
- drink lots of fluids to continuously flush bacteria out of your system (for bonus points, please use a low-flow toilet and observe the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" rule)
- eat a nutritious diet that keeps your body healthy, and therefore, your immune system strong
- be happy, because stress makes you susceptible to illness :)
Do you have other tips for staying healthy without resorting to antimicrobials?
Image of chemical structure of triclosan sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
Image of angry cartoon bug used under Creative Commons from Ben Piddington (beneneuman/flickr).