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Your handwash can give you cancer!

Liquid hand Wash
Smoking, alcoholism, exposure to radiation are well known causes of cancer but did you know that your hand wash is also a causative agent of cancer lurking around you in your everyday life. To be precise, its not the hand wash that causes cancer but an important ingredient called Triclosan that is the real culprit and unfortunately for us, it is being commonly used in most everyday products such as toothpaste, shampoo, mouthwashes and even deodorants. So, from the time you get up until the time you step out of your house, you are exposing yourself to a bunch of products that are carcinogens (substance capable of causing cancer) and when you step out, you know, you are no better either.

The obvious question then is, why are all these everyday products filled with such a harmful ingredient. To understand that, we need to first know why Triclosan is so popular among manufacturers of these products,

Why use Triclosan?

English: molecular formula of Triclosan
English: molecular formula of Triclosan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It all began with a small study about soaps which showed that soaps containing triclosan and similar other antimicrobial products performed better at getting rid of germs than soaps that did not. You can find the abstract of the story here. This study prompted manufacturers to start using triclosan in every day products such as deodorants, mouthwashes, toothpaste etc. to give me additional antimicrobial properties. While this might seem a very good idea to apply, the truth is that you that you need significantly large amounts of triclosan in your products for it to be extremely effective otherwise, they are not really better than regular soap. Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US has made this very clear on its own page about Triclosan and what consumers should know

Dangers of Triclosan

However, the page also states that FDA still has to review other studies about dangers of triclosan in every day products and one such study is that of Professor Robert Tukey from the Department of Chemistry and Pharmacology at the University of California, San Diego. Published in the journal PNAS, the study speaks about how mice that were exposed to triclosan for six months, roughly equivalent to 18 years of age in humans had compromised liver function and integrity. The researchers believe that presence of triclosan in the body causes additional stress on the liver, since the compound also affects the activity of constitutive androstane receptor, an important player in the process of clearing up of foreign substances from the body. Since this receptor's activity is being toned down by triclosan in the body, the liver tries to compensate for the lost function by making more liver cells than normally required, which ends up being fibrotic and causing cancerous growth. 

The greater revelation coming from this study was that 97% of breast milk samples collected from lactating mothers contained traces of triclosan, meaning that right from birth, we are being exposed to triclosan, irrespective of whether we use triclosan containing products or not. Since, triclosan cannot be broken down in the body, it is ultimately excreted out and begins accumulating in our sewage water, which finally ends up in the larger bodies, also affecting life forms there in. 

What can be done about this? 

While there are not many extensive studies done to confirm the findings of this study, we can definitely make a start by choosing to use triclosan only in products where it has be proven to be actually effective and then working towards eliminating it completely in every day use and finding a suitable alternative. 

Surely, nobody wants to be diagnosed with liver cancer for using toothpaste and mouthwash for 18 years. 


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