August 15, 2012 — New research has linked triclosan, an ingredient in thousands of common household products, to decreased muscle movement in animal studies. Triclosan is one of the most common anti-bacterial chemicals used in soap, body wash, mouthwash, toothpaste, and more. It is also often used to prevent bacterial growth in clothing, furniture, kitchenware, and toys. Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that the chemical could adversely impact human health and the environment.
The researchers who conducted the study tested triclosan on muscle fibers from the heart and skeleton of rodents. Normally, these muscle fibers contract when exposed to electrical stimulation. However, when triclosan was introduced, the researchers found decreased muscle movement. When rodents were injected with relatively low concentrations of triclosan, they suffered deadly heart attacks. When the researchers further reduced the dosage, the rodents had a 25% decrease in heart function within 20 minutes of the injection. They also had persistent muscle weakness.
The authors of the study warned, “Although triclosan is not regulated as a drug, this compound acts like a potential cardiac depressant in our models.”
Long-term studies have yet to determine the effect of triclosan on human health, although the animal studies are a warning sign. Triclosan is easily absorbed through human skin, and it is increasingly found in breast-milk, urine, and blood plasma.
In response to growing public concern, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published a safety guide for consumers. They have said that triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to human health. Even though studies of triclosan in animals have suggested the compound can alter hormone function, these results may not necessarily mean the same risk applies to humans. The FDA is continuing to review the safety of triclosan.
The American Cleaning Institute (ACI), an industry group for companies that produce anti-bacterial products, maintains that the research and media coverage is distorted. “Antibacterial products containing the germ-killing ingredient triclosan remain safe and effective for everyday use,” according to Richard Sedlak, ACI executive vice president.
In addition to concerns about human health, there are concerns about the effects of triclosan and triclocarban on the environment, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is investigating. Because the chemical is an ingredient in many products used for washing, it ends up in sewers and waste-water, which occasionally contaminates downstream bodies of water. The compounds can persist in the environment for several decades. They are among the top ten most common pharmaceutical chemicals found in drinking water and the environment.
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