“It is possible for a person to be too clean for their own good.” This is a recent quote from Allison Aiello, visiting associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard, who is studying the effect of frequent handwashing with antimicrobial soap containing triclosan, or 2,4,4’-trichloro-2’-hydroxydiphenyl ether. Her research has shown an increase in allergies and hay fever in children and teens with chronic use of soap products containing triclosan.

Handwashing with a powerful soap containing triclosan brings up two questions:

1. What is the effect of chronic removal of hand bacteria? We know where these hands go, especially in children (the mouth, for starters).

2. What could this chemical be doing to our body from a metabolic/hormonal perspective?

My input:
1. Science has now discovered that people normally have over a 1000 different species of bacteria not only in our intestinal tract, but also on our skin. This fact points out the normal symbiotic balance with microbes that we have evolved with for millions of years. The human/microbe symbiosis is especially important in childhood immune development. Research and clinical observations support the “Hygiene Theory,” which states that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious and symbiotic microorganisms and parasites increases susceptibility to allergic diseases (like allergies, asthma, dermatitis, and autoimmune diabetes) by disrupting the natural development of the immune system. Children living in non-industrial countries and closer to nature generally don’t have these problems.

2. Triclosan is also used in toothbrushes, ice-making machines, and in pesticides! This type of exposure has led to research by concerned individuals who have now shown significant evidence that it is yet another toxin with hormone-disrupting qualities which could majorly affect immunity. Due to the increase in negative evidence, the FDA has decided to thoroughly investigate triclosan, but not until 2013—a decade earlier than previously planned!

So what are the solutions? First, take a high quality probiotic and also make your own cultured foods. We may soon find topical probiotics could be beneficial, as well. Second, find safe soaps and use them mostly after exposure to public places. Safe soaps (or hand sanitizers) can be found at www.ewg.org, under cleansing products – hand sanitizers. Third, get involved in social networking by joining “green”groups to help educate and promote the changes we desperately need.