Triclosan – The Story of Antimicrobial Hand Soap

Liquid antibacterial soap on a person's hand.
Image via Wikipedia

By Dr. Sacha Elliott, ND

The germ theory, which became the cornerstone of modern medicine and influenced the recent massive push for antibiotic use, proposes that microorganisms are the cause of many diseases.

But this is only one part of the equation. One must also take into account the “biological terrain,” which refers to the state of health of our bodies and the environment in which these microorganisms reside. Put simply: if our body is unhealthy, microorganisms can and will flourish, but if our immune system is powerful and functioning at full capacity, the “bugs” stand no chance!

Enter triclosan, an antibiotic contained in many products that we use on a daily basis. “What’s wrong with a little antimicrobial action?” you may ask.

Well, several things. For starters, mounting evidence suggests that products containing triclosan work no better than those that do not.  The American Medical Association (AMA) and the US Food and Drug Administration have both published information stating that there is no evidence to suggest that using antibacterial soap works any more effectively to reduce bacteria or limit disease than regular soap.

Secondly, triclosan is building up in the fat tissues of animals and humans, and has even been found in umbilical-cord blood in infants and in women’s breast milk. Equally disturbing is the fact that 95 percent of products that contain triclosan end up going down the drain and infiltrating our water systems.

While much of the triclosan is removed in sewage stations, not all is removed from our water. It was one of the most commonly detected compounds in a US Geological Survey of American streams.

Thirdly, if that’s not enough, we have the looming issue of “superbugs,” in which the overuse of antibiotics is contributing to antibiotic resistance. The AMA has now recommended that we refrain from using antibacterial products in our homes in order to avoid antimicrobial resistance.
So what can we do about it?

Avoid products that are labeled “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial,” and those with triclosan in the list of ingredients. It is sometimes included under its chemical name: 5-chloro-2-(2,4-dichlorophenoxy) phenol. Triclosan is also sometimes marketed as Microban. Cutting boards, J-cloths, knives, aprons, household cleaning products, toys and, of course, hand soaps may all contain triclosan.

Of course it is important to wash your hands with regular soap and hot water. But just always remember, it isn’t all about the germs. It’s more about keeping a healthy body and a strong immune system that can detect and destroy any germs before we even know they were there!

Dr. Sacha Elliott is a naturopathic physician practicing holistic family medicine at Canopy Integrated Health in North Vancouver, BC.

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