Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dangerously Clean

How clean is too clean? In an age of anti-bacterial, germ-fighting soaps and cleansers, are we obsessing about germs and dirt at the expense of our health? Some experts would answer that question with a resounding "yes"!

Take, for example, the growing controversy over triclosan, an antibacterial chemical used in many liquid soaps, hand sanitizers, and dishwashing liquids. Originally developed for medical professionals as a surgical scrub (and also used as a pesticide!), triclosan has found its way into our homes and into our bodies. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, reported in The Washington Post, found that 75 percent of the population is showing triclosan in their urine. Why? Because triclosan is not only found in such products as Dial® Liquid Soap and Clearasil® Daily Face Wash, but also in Jason Natural Cosmetics, Revlon ColorStay LipSHINE Lipcolor Plus Gloss, Right Guard Sport Deodorant, Aveeno Therapeutic Shave Gel, Solarcaine®, Merrell Shoes, Playskool®'s Roll 'n' Rattle Ball, and Fruit of the Loom Socks. Yes, socks! The many ways that chemicals seep into our homes and our bodies is downright astounding.

So what's the concern? Triclosan has been suspected as an endocrine system disruptor; of weakening the immune system; and of being related to birth defects. According to cancer prevention expert Samuel S. Epstein, triclosan is toxic to normal liver enzymes and has been linked to allergies, asthma, and eczema in humans. In addition, triclosan is considered to be among the top 10 persistent contaminants in U.S. rivers, streams, and lakes according to tests of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Are we so germ-phobic as a culture, that we are willing to risk our long-term health - and the health of the planet - to kill off some bacteria? More than 10 years ago, Dr. Stuart B. Levy, director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at Tufts University in Boston, wrote: "Bacteria are a natural, and needed, part of life. Most live blamelessly. In fact, they often protect us from disease because they compete with, and thus limit the proliferation of, pathogenic bacteria. The benign competitors can be important allies in the fight against antibiotic-resistant pathogens." Our bodies may need exposure to these bacteria and microbes in our environment in order to be healthy, especially during early childhood. As Jane Brody wrote in the New York Times in 2000:

During their first year of life, babies need to be exposed to germs to foster the production of T-helper 1 cells, which make antibodies to dangerous microorganisms. If the baby's environment is too clean, the production of T-helper 1 cells is not adequately stimulated and the immune system instead overproduces T-helper 2 cells, which create antibodies to allergens and could result in lifelong allergies or asthma, a recent study in Italy showed.

Excessively clean can be dangerously clean. Pure, old-fashioned soap and water has been shown, time and again, to kills germs effectively. If want to keep ourselves, our families, and our planet healthy, we need to tone down the germ-phobia and recognize the need for living in balance with microorganisms. Seek out safer alternatives or learn how to make your own basic home cleaners from simple ingredients such as vinegar and essential oils.

1 comment:

  1. I also get dry, cracked hands from the antibacterial soaps giving pathogens another entry to the body.


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