CA – MAR 15 – CS

  • Posted by CERC India
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Are antibacterial products doing more harm than good?

Advertisements constantly urge consumers to use antibacterial products to eliminate germs from their homes and protect themselves from sickness. Antibacterials such as triclosan are now being added to an increasing number of personal and home care products. But, is the overuse of antibacterial products harmful?

CERS and CHOICE (Australia) explored the health hype surrounding antibacterial cleaners. Their investigation revealed several startling facts.

Use in hospitals not homes: While antibacterial soaps and cleansers are needed in healthcare settings where they are used under optimal conditions to protect against infection, they provide little benefit in our homes. In fact, use in the home may make the products less effective in hospitals, where they are needed most.

Battle of the bugs: Some bacteria help us stay healthy by keeping harmful bacteria in check. When we bombard them indiscriminately with antibacterials, we disrupt the balance between good and bad. Worse, we may end up giving the bad bugs the upper hand. Antibacterial products may inhibit growth of susceptible and harmless strains of bacteria while not affecting resistant strains.

Soap and water: Many of the products we find in the supermarket are no more effective than soap and water. Although soap doesn’t actually kill all bacteria, it lifts dirt off the skin and other surfaces, so dirt and bacteria can be easily rinsed away. In fact, scientists have demonstrated that washing hands with plain old soap is just as effective in reducing bacterial load as washing with antibacterial soap.

Viral infections: Many studies have shown that the use of antibacterials does not reduce infection rates in households. This is because many of the common illnesses you need to worry about are caused by viruses, not bacteria.

Resistance to antibiotics: The extensive use of handwashing products and cleaners containing biocides could contribute to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria and ultimately reduce the efficacy of prescription antibiotics. If antibacterials are included in consumer products at sub-lethal concentrations, for instance, they create the perfect environment for the evolution of resistant strains.

Allergy link: Health scientists have suggested that our war on bacteria may be partially responsible for the increase in rhinitis and allergic asthma in children. Based on studies showing a lower incidence of allergic disease in children who grow up in large families, attend childcare or have pets, the current consensus is that exposure to microbes as a child plays an important role in regulating the immune system.

Triclosan: One of the most common antibacterials to be added to household products is triclosan. It is a highly effective agent against harmful organisms, but there is concern that it could also pose a risk to our health and environment. Animal studies have indicated that it may be an endocrine disruptor as it interferes with both thyroid and sex hormones.

Check ingredients: Check the ingredients list of your soaps and toothpaste before buying. Antibacterial agents to look for on the backs of household products, in addition to triclosan, are hydrogen peroxide, benzalkonium chloride, chlorine, iodine, chlorhexadine and cetylpyridium chloride.

Using hand sanitizers: Choose a sanitizer with 60-80% alcohol. Use soap and water first if your hands are visibly soiled. Apply the sanitizer and continue rubbing until the hands are dry. Most sanitizers claim to kill 99.9% of germs, but the accuracy of this claim is dependent on the ingredients and how the product is used. Also, alcohol sanitizers do not protect you from everything.

Manufacturers respond: We wrote to Hindustan Unilever Ltd. (HUL) and Colgate Palmolive (India) Ltd asking them about the worldwide concerns regarding antibacterial products.

HUL said:Scientific evidence is currently inadequate to demonstrate a link between the use of germ protection products and development of antibiotic resistance during consumer use.”

Colgate Palmolive said: “The use of triclosan in toothpaste, in our opinion, is considered to be safe. In India, the Bureau of Indian Standards recognises triclosan as a safe ingredient for use in cosmetics.”

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