Young people * Healthy living * Allergies and hay fever

Can being too clean make you sick?

Can being too clean make you sick? Overexposure to antibacterial soaps linked to allergies

An antibacterial chemical used in many soaps, toothpastes and other cleaning products has been linked to an increased risk of allergies in young people.

A similar link has also been found with a chemical used in the production of many plastics, including some used to line food cans.

Both chemicals, triclosan and Bisphenol A (BPA) are types of environmental toxins called endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs), which are believed to negatively impact human health by mimicking or affecting hormones.

The study, by scientists from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, compared levels of both chemicals in the body with levels of antibodies linked to allergies, and also reported cases of hay fever and other allergies.

This showed that people over 18 with higher levels of exposure to BPA had higher levels of the antibodies. Additionally, people age 18 and under with higher levels of triclosan were more likely to report diagnosis of allergies and hay fever.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Allison Aiello said: "The triclosan findings in the younger age groups may support the 'hygiene hypothesis,' which maintains living in very clean and hygienic environments may impact our exposure to micro-organisms that are beneficial for development of the immune system."

As triclosan is used so widely as an antibacterial agent in homes, it may be affecting the nature of the micro-organisms that we are exposed to in childhood. In effect, "it is possible that a person can be too clean for their own good," Dr Aiello said.

One note of caution is that the significance of the findings may be linked to the fact that people with allergies are more likely to live in cleaner households. Scientists say that more work needs to be done to separate out these factors before a full picture can emerge.

The study is published in the online journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

This article was published on Mon 29 November 2010

Image © Valua Vitaly -

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