Triclosan, a common antimicrobial found in toothpastes and soaps, promotes the development of colon cancer

Where do you draw the line when it comes to avoiding germs? Maybe you’re the type who politely declines shaking hands in business meetings, or you might skip a great-looking passed appetizer at a party because you didn’t get a chance to wash your hands. Perhaps you’ve even mastered leaving public restrooms without touching the doors with your freshly-cleaned hands. After all, germs can make you pretty sick and they’re mostly worth avoiding… but would you be willing to increase your risk of cancer to get away from these menacing microbes?

If you’re using antibacterial products that contain the ingredient triclosan, it’s a price you’re probably already paying as a new study shows that this common chemical promotes colon cancer and inflammation of the colon.

Researchers at the University of Amherst, in conjunction with scientists from 13 other universities, looked into this effect in mice studies. In tests of triclosan on healthy, normal mice, they found it led to low-grade inflammation. An additional round of experiments saw them inducing gut inflammation in the rodents and then feeding them low doses of triclosan over the course of three weeks. They also gave mice who had been genetically engineered to develop inflammatory bowel disease and another group with chemically-induced colon cancer the same dosage.

The colon inflammation in the mice got worse after they consumed concentrations of triclosan that were equivalent to those reported in human blood plasma. The triclosan also spurred the growth of tumors and brought on colitis, a type of colon inflammation that causes abdominal pain and spasms, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding.

To determine why triclosan is so harmful, they looked into its effects on gut microbes. The mice who had experienced inflammation at the hands of triclosan had a lower diversity of microbe species in their gut as well as lower overall populations of good bacteria known as Bifidobacterium.

Moreover, they found that mice without any bacteria whatsoever in their gut – so-called “germ-free mice” – didn’t suffer any effects from consuming triclosan. This led them to believe that triclosan’s dangers are linked to the changes they cause in the microbiome.

These and other results have prompted the researchers to call for further studies and possible regulation changes in light of the negative health consequences this ingredient can cause. It has also been linked to hormone disruption, compromised immune function, liver cancer, and antibiotic resistance.

Triclosan is everywhere

If you think that you don’t need to worry about this because you avoid antibacterial hand gel, think again: Triclosan is in more products than you might believe. In fact, Americans use millions of pounds of it every year, and it’s been detected in three fourths of the urine samples of people tested in the U.S.

Triclosan has been banned in some products, but it’s still somehow allowed in toothpaste, where it can easily be released in the mouth. If this news has you checking your ingredients list and tossing your toothpaste, you should probably replace your toothbrush while you’re at it as studies have shown that triclosan adheres to bristles and makes its way back into people’s mouths later on.

It can also be found in certain hand soaps, toys, body washes, cleaning products and kitchenware. According to Shape, it can even be found in athletic clothing like antimicrobial and antibacterial garments.

It’s no surprise, then, that it’s one of the top ten pollutants in American rivers. If it’s bad for human health, just imagine what it’s doing to the environment!

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