The evidence continues to mount regarding the harmful health effects of triclosan, an antimicrobial agent found in many consumer care products, including toothpaste. Despite industry claims that the chemical is totally safe, the results of a new study performed by UC Davis scientists beg to differ.
A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in 2012 revealed that Colgate-Palmolive Co. conspired with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to deliberately withhold research on the safety of triclosan in the 1990s. Some of the information withheld included studies that showed issues in bone formation of fetal rats and mice exposed to the chemical.
Recent study contradicts manufacturer’s claims that triclosan doesn’t cause cancer
Colgate dismissed the findings and defended use of triclosan, issuing the following statement:
“Recent claims that triclosan in Colgate Total can lead to cancer are absolutely untrue. Global regulators have reviewed the issue of carcinogenicity and have concluded that triclosan in consumer products does not pose a human cancer risk.”
However, data obtained from the most recent study suggests that triclosan does in fact cause cancer, specifically liver cancer.
Published in the November 17 journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study’s data shows that triclosan causes liver fibrosis and cancer in laboratory mice, findings that could be potentially be relevant to humans.
Estimated 75 percent of American adults have triclosan in bloodstream
Slightly soluble in water, triclosan is a white powdery substance added to cosmetics, deodorant, dental products, soap and kitchen tools, such as cutting boards and ice cream scoopers. It’s so widely used that an estimated 75 percent of Americans over five years old have traces of the chemical in their blood and urine, according to Morning Star Publishing. This includes in nursing women’s breast milk.
Researchers with the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine say long-term exposure to triclosan could potentially cause serious health consequences.
“Triclosan’s increasing detection in environmental samples and its increasingly broad use in consumer products may overcome its moderate benefit and present a very real risk of liver toxicity for people, as it does in mice, particularly when combined with other compounds with similar action,” said Robert H. Tukey, a professor in UC San Diego’s departments of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Pharmacology.
After observing the effects of mice exposed to triclosan for 6 months, the equivalent of 18 years for humans, scientists believe triclosan may make it harder for the body to purge itself of foreign chemicals.
Triclosan disrupted liver integrity and compromised liver function in mice, scientists say. Mice exposed to triclosan were also more susceptible to developing chemical-induced liver tumors, which were larger and more frequent than in mice not exposed to the chemical.
“The study suggests triclosan may do its damage by interfering with a protein called the constitutive androstane receptor, which is responsible for clearing foreign chemicals from the body,” according to a news release by UC Davis. “To compensate for this stress, liver cells proliferate and turn fibrotic over time. Repeated triclosan exposure and continued liver fibrosis eventually promote tumor formation.”
Triclosan, one of 7 chemicals frequently detected in US streams
Most of the triclosan used in personal care products ends up being washed down the drain and sent for processing at the nearest water treatment plant, where it does not get filtered out. The chemical eventually makes it way to the soil where it accumulates and is taken up by plants, animals and humans.
Its effects on aquatic life are unknown, however, scientists do know that the presence of triclosan in the environment is contributing to bacteria resistance.
“Predominant bacteria like E.coli, salmonella, shigella, and other intestinal bacteria become resistant to triclosan fairly readily.”