Antibacterial Soap Additive Triclosan Linked To Liver Damage: Study

The findings of new research raise concerns about potential safety risks associated with antibacterial soap, hand sanitizers and other consumer products that contain triclosan, indicating that the additive may increase the risk of liver disease and the development of cancerous tumors.  

In a study published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences), researchers from the University of California, San Diego, compared the effects of triclosan exposure among in mice over eight months to mice that were not fed triclosan.

Triclosan is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial that came into use in the consumer market 20 years ago, quickly gaining a wide foothold. It is now one of the most common additives used in consumer products, with triclosan found in hand sanitizer, soaps, toothpastes, detergents, plastics and other therapeutics.

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Among male mice fed a daily dose of triclosan, researchers found that the additive was associated with the development of inflammation, then scarring of the liver and cancerous tumors, which led to the development of advanced liver disease. These conditions can also lead to a higher risk of developing liver cancer in humans.

Researchers found cancerous cells established in the liver and those steadily exposed to triclosan were more likely to develop liver tumors, and bigger tumors than the mice that were not exposed to triclosan.

The study revealed triclosan may stimulate liver cell proliferation and fibrotic responses, accompanied by signs of oxidative stress, while activating nuclear receptors. It “substantially accelerates haptocellular carcinoma development acting as a liver tumor promoter,” wrote study authors.

The mice were exposed to a daily dose of triclosan dissolved in water near 60 times the dose that humans are exposed to in a single gram of toothpaste. However, humans are exposed to the chemical in dozens of other products every day.

Concerns Over Triclosan

As a result of the widespread use of the additive, triclosan is now listed as one of seven compounds most frequently detected in American streams and it is also widely found in the urine, blood, and breast milk of U.S. residents and wild animals.

Other studies have linked side effects of triclosan exposure to a wide range of health risks, including endocrine disruption, impaired muscle contraction and effects on aquatic ecosystems.

In August, concerns emerged about the safety of Colgate toothpaste, after a Bloomberg News investigation uncovered triclosan as an ingredient in the popular brand. The report highlighted documents approving Colgate Total Toothpaste, despite the finding indicating the product contained the controversial chemical.

Another study on the ubiquitous chemical published in 2012 found that triclosan could be very damaging to muscles, indicating that it hindered muscle contractions and reduced muscle strength in fish and mice.

Scientists also found triclosan reduced heart function by 25% and grip strength by 18% within only 20 minutes of exposure to the chemical.

Triclosan in consumer products has been a concern to the nation for years.

In 2011, a petition was issued to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calling for a ban on triclosan, indicating that the chemical aids in the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant illnesses, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (MRSA).

In addition, the FDA is currently evaluating the safety of triclosan use in consumer products.

The EPA estimates nearly 1 million pounds of triclosan is manufactured in the U.S. every year. The pervasive use of triclosan among Americans varies from person to person, but the body’s ability to metabolize and expel the compound from the body also varies.


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