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Medicine Science

Being Too Clean Can Make People Sick 333

An anonymous reader writes "Young people who are overexposed to antibacterial soaps containing triclosan may suffer more allergies, and exposure to higher levels of Bisphenol A among adults may negatively influence the immune system, a new University of Michigan School of Public Health study suggests (abstract, full paper [PDF]). Triclosan is a chemical compound widely used in products such as antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, pens, diaper bags and medical devices. Bisphenol A is found in many plastics and, for example, as a protective lining in food cans. Both of these chemicals are in a class of environmental toxicants called endocrine-disrupting compounds, which are believed to negatively impact human health by mimicking or affecting hormones."
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Being Too Clean Can Make People Sick

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  • by maxwells_deamon ( 221474 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:08PM (#34379560) Homepage

    Antibacterial soap does not contain antibiotics. It contains simpler chemicals (alcohol, etc) which kill cells on contact. Antibiotics are more specific

  • Nothing new (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:08PM (#34379570)

    The 1954 study by the Public Health Service and the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP) study already found that out about polio when they did the Salk vaccine field trial: "But polio is a disease of hygiene. A child who lives in less hygienic surroundings is more likely to contact a mild case of polio early in childhood , while still protected by antibodies from its mother. After being infected, these children generate their own antibodies, which protect them against more severe infection later. Children who live in more hygienic surroundings do not develop such antibodies" (Source: "Statistics" page 4, by David Freedman, Robert Pisani & Roger Purves, publisher: Norton)

  • And this is News? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:09PM (#34379576)

    Today's kids are so wrapped in cotton wool the poor darlings never get dirty.
    I blame the TV advertising for this. Many ads go out of their way to suggest that the only way to stay healthy is to use AB stuff at every opportunity.

    Last year I told my grandkids how I used to play in the dirt. They were shocked.
    They didn't beleive me until I showed them a picture of me covered in mud from head to foot aged two.
    Their mothers were horrified.
      "All those germs? How could you?"

    Then to make them feel rally bad, I told them how we used to dig holes in the ground and make underground camps, have cooks outs and other cool stuff.
    All done when I was less than 12.

    Ok, we didn't have PlayStations or Xboxes back then. We had fun inventing things to do.

  • by ubergeek65536 ( 862868 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:14PM (#34379680)

    That's why Bisphenol A is a registered toxic substance in Canada. It also causes more girls to be born that boys.. but maybe that's a good thing for the /. crowd.

  • by Sponge Bath ( 413667 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:15PM (#34379702)
    No kidding. I wince at the nastiness my nephews, nieces and their friends more or less wallow in, but they seem generally healthy and happy. From a clean adult viewpoint I still think children are best handled with latex gloves and lengthy tongs.
  • by Sonny Yatsen ( 603655 ) * on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:16PM (#34379726) Journal

    As an old Mythbusters episode demonstrated - fecal coliform bacteria is on EVERYTHING and is just a fact of life. A healthy immune system quash it like any other pathogen and you wouldn't give it a second thought (or a first one, for that matter).

  • by dclozier ( 1002772 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:18PM (#34379754)
  • by Kosi ( 589267 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:20PM (#34379782)

    You'll also probably never had a date in your life too..

    Hey, even Zappa sang about the Golden Shower, there are more girls who like that out there than you imagine!

  • by SirThe ( 1927532 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:22PM (#34379814)
    It doesn't really cause more girls to be born than boys; it causes boys to develop girl's sex organs and has been linked to breast cancer, among other things (it basically acts like estrogen).
  • Re:Wake up and read (Score:5, Informative)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:26PM (#34379918)

    That is not the Opposite of the GP's statement.

    If anything you've proven his point.

    Further, I think you misread the article.

    Conclusions: Endocrine-disrupting chemicals like BPA and triclosan may negatively impact human immune function as measured by CMV antibody levels and allergy/hayfever diagnosis, respectively, with differential consequences based on age.

    So rather than your assertion that "the immune system is targeting harmless compounds" the facts are that the immune system is not functioning up to par (depressed CMV antibody levels) thereby allowing higher levels of allergy/hayfever.

  • by ElectricTurtle ( 1171201 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:29PM (#34379956)
    Actually plain soap doesn't do shit. It's an emulsifier, not a panacea. Plain soap simply binds oils and water, the theory being that if you take the oil off your skin you're magically "clean". It does not "kill" "germs" (the non-scientific catchall term which includes viruses which aren't even alive in the first place according to the classical definition of life) any more than other emulsifiers like lecithin or egg yolks do.
  • by robbyjo ( 315601 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:30PM (#34379980) Homepage

    Follow up study on this topic (triclosan in toothpaste) in 2005: []

    Points still stand.

  • Re:Yawn (Score:5, Informative)

    by gordguide ( 307383 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:38PM (#34380128)

    'Antibacterial' soap kills almost no bacteria that regular old soap doesn't. It is a marketing term that means nothing in the world of reality because soap itself destroys most strains of bacteria on contact. Therefore, this is something more going on here than just "not enough germs weakens immune system". ...

    Not true, actually. Soap simply breaks the bond between your skin and the oils your body produces. These oils are what prevents plain water from washing away bacteria.

    So, washing with ordinary soap washes away bacteria; it does not kill them.

    Antibacterial soaps do kill many of the bacteria, while also washing them away (as it is, after all, soap). By antibacterial soaps we are talking about products like Irish Spring; by ordinary soap we are talking about products like Ivory bar soap.

    No antibacterial agent (that you can safely use in the home) kills 100% of the flora it's exposed to, and no soap washes away 100% it's exposed to.

    Your body needs some types of bacteria to be healthy; as does your own skin. You don't really want to be killing helpful bacteria; you are less healthy as a result, but antibacterial agents are non-discriminatory. They kill the good with the bad. So, there's one problem with antibacterial soaps.

    With ordinary soap, you wash away a large amount of bacteria but helpful bacteria remain in enough quantity that they can reproduce and do their helpful job.

    Also, bacteria are able over time to resist agents deployed to kill them. So, if you use antibacterial soaps where ordinary soap would do, you end up with "superbug" infestations, like ordinary staph bacteria that morphs into aggressive agents that infect wounds in hospitals and are extremely difficult to control. There's the second problem with antibacterial soaps.

    Use ordinary soap, wash as often as required, and live a healthy life. It's not complex.

  • Re:Urine is clean (Score:3, Informative)

    by keeboo ( 724305 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:39PM (#34380136)
    Unfortunately once urine is exposed to air, bacteria start to process that into something unpleasant.
    Canned food is sterile too, but it will eventually rot if left opened.
  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:42PM (#34380188)

    Now the article suggests that it could either be caused by the hygiene or the chemicals used in the cleaners.

    Now if this study was well done and had some control groups, say other forms of cleaners, we might learn something we didn't already know.

    Quoting from the Abstract:

    Results: In analyses adjusted for age, sex, race, BMI, creatinine levels, family income, and educational attainment, ... compared urinary bisphenol A (BPA) and triclosan with serum cytomegalovirus antibody levels

    So by measuring urinary bisphenol A they have a built in "control group" of sorts. Since BPA is not cleared rapidly from the body according to studies cited in the full paper, this allows them to gauge the amount of exposure to these chemicals. They then compared exposure levels to diagnosed infections and allergies.

    The study had nothing to do with soap use or any specific products. Simply measuring the levels of long-lived chemicals in the blood and correlating that with diagnosis.

  • by bl8n8r ( 649187 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:45PM (#34380230)
    Then don't forget phthalates, sunscreen and many more products. It makes no damn logical sense to complain about hand soap when you can basically get the same results from sunscreen or plastic (or plastic-lined) water bottles.  This crap is in so many products that hand soap is only the tip of the iceberg.
  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:47PM (#34380268)

    Antibacterial soap does not contain antibiotics. It contains simpler chemicals (alcohol, etc) which kill cells on contact.

    Alcohol is usually found in hand sanitizers, not soap. Antibacterial soap usually contains triclosan, which is similar to antibiotics in that it gradually interferes with a part of bacterial metabolism that humans don't have. It prevents bacterial growth over time, but doesn't kill instantly. As with antibiotics, some bacteria have evolved resistance to triclosan due to constant exposure.

    Hand sanitizers are mostly alcohol, which is immediately highly disruptive of many biological processes. Since it evaporates away after use, long term chronic exposure shouldn't be a problem. At any rate, if alcohol could breed dangerous resistance, then the Jack Daniels distillery would have been ground zero for superbug outbreaks decades ago.

    I personally find it highly annoying that almost all liquid hand soaps on the market contain triclosan. (So much for the "wisdom" of free markets. The potential problems with triclosan, and its lack of effectiveness in preventing disease have been common knowledge for many years now.) We go out of our way to only buy Ivory, which is the one brand that seems to not include triclosan (or any annoying scents either), but it's not always easy to find.

  • by jpstanle ( 1604059 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:52PM (#34380350)

    Why is the parent modded informative? While the antibacterials used in soap are not really an antibiotic, the rest of the post is wrong. Most antibacterial soaps contain triclosan, which when used in concentrations it is use in soaps decidedly does NOT kill on contact and merely inhibits reproduction of the bacteria cells.

    Unlike commercial hand sanitizers that usually utilize ethanol to kill on contact, the triclosan [] used in antibacterial soaps is relatively simple for bacterial populations to develop resistance against.

  • by spun ( 1352 ) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Monday November 29, 2010 @06:08PM (#34380588) Journal

    Uh not to nit pick, but this study is far from useless, and your smug, supercilious "Now if this study was well done and had some control groups, say other forms of cleaners, we might learn something we didn't already know." appears to be a poorly paraphrased version of what the scientists themselves actually said. Pointing out things the scientists themselves say does not make you wise.

    Plain and simple, you did not understand what you read, you said a control group with different cleaners was needed. This was not a study of cleaners.

  • Re:You just know it? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @07:21PM (#34381570) Homepage Journal

    And that, children, is why Chinese people were always in better health than everyone else, especially Europeans and Americans.

    Except they weren't. Lame how you discredited your otherwise insightful comment with some sinocentrism. That kind of arrogance is one of the worst diseases possible.

  • by Formalin ( 1945560 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @08:03PM (#34382002)

    How is this +4 informative?

    Plain soap kills bacteria via destroying the cell walls. (I believe this is due to it drying out the cell wall, much like it dries out your hands by removing oils)

God doesn't play dice. -- Albert Einstein