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Interesting Information: Just Say “NO” to Hand-wash Chemicals

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Interesting Information:  November 11, 2012

Just Say “NO” to Hand-Wash Chemicals

I was looking for a fermented beet recipe in Sandor Ellix Katz’s WILD FERMENTATION when I realized I had marked a passage about using antibacterial soaps, most of which contain Triclosan or Triclocarban.  Katz’s book is all about using organisms of fermentation to create living foods.  As such, he argues that these organisms “play a role in protecting us, as organisms among organisms, from disease” (8).

Triclosan has been classified as a pesticide by the EPA since 1969, though it is more often used in products that promote the “body hygiene,” with which we are obsessed.  Here’s the EPA site since googling reveals that there are a number of internet sites trying to deny this classification of triclosan:  http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/REDs/factsheets/triclosan_fs.htm.   One does not really want to think that one is putting a pesticide on one’s skin or in one’s mouth (toothpaste).

The Natural Resources Defense council’s page on the dangers of triclosan is a good place to start understanding how dangerous it is.  Triclosan may cause antibiotic resistance in humans and definitely encourages the growth of “superbugs” and disrupts hormones, particularly in the brain and the reproductive systems:  http://www.nrdc.org/living/chemicalindex/triclosan.asp?gclid=CPyh97ewx7MCFcxAMgod0n4AQg.

I was fairly astonished at the extensive use of triclosan in all kinds of products.  Dr. Ben Kim has assembled an astonishing list of these products: http://drbenkim.com/articles/triclosan-products.htm.  One might expect triclosan in soap, but it’s also in toothpaste and all kinds of cosmetics–and that’s just the beginning.  Do take a look at Kim’s list–it’s in first-aid products, clothing, toys, kitchen equipment…

If the terms “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial” appear on a label, start looking deeper for Triclosan on the main ingredient label.

And, if you’re somewhere where you’ve used a toilet that has one of those hand-wash dispensers that substitute for soap and water–you might want to forgo using it.  What may or may not be on your hands is far less dangerous than the chemical you’re about to use.  Maybe carry “wipes” that are less dangerous?

As I said, Americans are obsessed with germs and body hygiene–which dates back to the divergence between germ-theory proponents and immune-system proponents AND to the market’s ability to make products that seem to quiet our fears about germs and pathogens–a fear the market exploits.  I explored this history in Mainely Tipping Points 8 Essay, with regard to the safety of real milk versus the dead commercial milk, which is on this blog.  (You can get to the essays by clicking on the right sidebar or by searching from the search bottom on the right sidebar ).  And, that’s where Katz and his WILD FERMENTATION come back into play.  It’s worth reading Katz’s take on this whole subject, from which I quote below.  (Note:   Katz cites all his quotes in the text.)

Our culture is terrified of germs and obsessed with hygiene.  The more we glean about disease-causing viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms, the more we fear exposure to all forms of microscopic life.  Every new sensationalized killer microbe gives us more reason to defend ourselves with vigilance  Nothing illustrates this more vividly than the sudden appearance, everywhere in the United States, of antibacterial soap.  Twenty years ago, mass marketing of antibacterial soap was but a glimmer in some pharmaceutical executive’s eye.  It has quickly become the standard hand-washing hygiene product.  Are fewer people getting sick as a result?  “There’s no evidence that they do any good and there’s reason to suspect that they could contribute to a problem by helping to create antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” says Dr. Myron Genel, chair of the American Medical Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs.  Antibacterial soap is just another exploitative and potentially dangerous product being sold by preying on people’s fears.

The antibacterial compounds in these soaps, most commonly triclosan, kill the more susceptible bacteria but not the heartier ones.  “These resistant microbes may include bacteria…that were unable to gain a foothold previously and are now able to thrive thanks to the destruction of competing microbes,” says Dr. Stuart Levy, director of the Tufts University Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance.  Your skin, your orifices, and the surfaces of your home are all covered with microorganisms that help protect you (and themselves) from potentially harmful organisms that you both encounter.  Constantly assaulting the bacteria on, in, and around you with antibacterial compounds weakens one line of defense your body uses against disease organisms.

Microorganisms not only protect us by competing with potentially dangerous organisms, they teach the immune system how to function.  “The immune system organizes itself through experience, just like the brain,” says Dr. Irun R. Cohen of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.  A growing number of researchers are finding evidence to support what is known as “the hygiene hypothesis,” which attributes the dramatic rise in the prevalence of asthma and other allergies to lack of exposure to diverse microorganisms found in soil and untreated water.  “The cleaner we live…the more likely we’ll get asthma and allergies,” states Dr. David Rosenstreich, director of Allergy and Immunology at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York (9).

So, just say “no” to Triclosan as an ingredient in hygiene products and all the other products in which it is found.

And think about all the germ-theory hype a bit more…

Work to build up your immune system…