The Double-Edged Blade Of Cleaning… Wait, What?

SciShort_5_26_16At the intersection of humankind’s boundless ingenuity and stupidity are the scientific achievements that end up burning us hard. The Industrial Revolution, for instance, caused life expectancies across the planet to spike upward, and yet many believe it will ultimately be responsible for the entire planet burning up/drowning in the oceans of climate change. So it goes with Triclosan.

First introduced in hospital scrubs in the 1970s, the chemical was prized for its antimicrobial and anti-fungal effects. Since then it has become nearly as ubiquitous as high fructose corn syrup—and just as controversial. Triclosan is now found in everything from cleaning supplies to toiletries, toys, and clothes.

The many concerns about it historically include increasing resistance to its efficacy, and the fostering of super bugs which could be horribly disastrous for us as a species. But now an OSU-led study has identified a new area of major concern: our tummies.

Dr. Thomas Sharpton, an associate professor of microbiology and statistics at OSU, has just helped author a study that found Triclosan has a destructive effect on the gut bacteria that can be so vital to healthy human existence.

“There has been a legacy of concern about exposure to microbial pathogens, which has led to increased use of these antimicrobial products,” said Sharpton in a press release. “However, there’s now a growing awareness of the importance of the bacteria in our gut microbiome for human health, and the overuse of antibiotics that can lead to the rise of ‘superbugs.’ There are consequences to constantly trying to kill the bacteria in the world around us, aspects we’re just beginning to understand.”

The destruction of gut bacteria has been linked to diabetes and heart disease, not to mention a host of digestive issues. The fact that Triclosan, which is easily absorbed by human skin and is found all over the place, has such a negative effect on these bacteria is a major find.

When asked to comment about how this would affect sales of cleaning materials, manufacturers responded by shrieking, “Use our product or you’ll die of microbes!” and then ran out of the room. Their stock prices continue to rise.

By Sidney Reilly