Antibacterial? Ditch it…NOW!

Tis the season for cold and flu prevention.  Everywhere you go there are wipes, wall mounted dispensaries, and pump bottles full of hand sanitizer.  Bathrooms are stocked with antibacterial soaps and we are encouraged to throughly wash our hands at every opportunity.  We’ve even gone so far as to make articles of clothing, shoes, even household items like cutting boards with antibacterial properties.  Though it may seem beneficial to rid ourselves of pathogenic bacteria, viruses and even fungi at every opportunity, what effect does contact with so many antimicrobial items have?

Through the Skin

Epithelial_typesYour skin is the largest organ of your body.  However, most of us don’t think of our skin in the same category as our liver, per say, because the top layer of our skin is actually dead tissue.  Despite this fact, our skin is very much alive.  It is the single external barrier between our insides and the outside world.  But this barrier is anything but impermeable.  Our skin is constantly taking in and transporting whatever it absorbs into your blood stream and throughout your body.  This is how patches like the nicoderm, the birth control patch, and even some hospital administered pain patches work.  The substance in the patch is absorbed transdermally – meaning through the skin.

anti-bactWhat makes something antimicrobial?

In the case of most commercial hand sanitizers isopropyl alcohol is the main antibacterial ingredient.  Though isopropyl alcohol evaporates so quickly it poses little threat in the way of absorption.  However isopropyl alcohol is extremely drying to the skin.  With repeated exposure your skin can become so dry that it begins to crack thus creating even easier access for bacteria, viruses and other pathogens to enter into your system.

In the case of antibacterial soaps as well as other commonly used personal care products like deodorants, mouthwashes and toothpaste but also including other household items like bedding, clothes, carpets, toys and trash bags a chemical called triclosan is often used.  Never heard of it?  Very likely.  Exposed to it every day?  Almost guaranteed – even if you dont use antibacterial soap or other antibacterial products.  In 1998 he U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that more than 1 million pounds of triclosan were produced annually in the United States.  And because it is used in so many products triclosan can be detected in waterways and aquatic organisms ranging from algae to fish to dolphins.  Even more frightening triclosan can even be detected in human urine, blood and breast milk.

What’s the big deal with triclosan?

According to a study published earlier in 2012 conducted at the University of California, Davis triclosan negatively impacts muscle function.  Although a decrease in muscle function may not sound that serious, it is when you consider your heart is a muscle and your very survival depends on its proper and consistent function.  “We have shown that triclosan potently impairs muscle functions by interfering with signaling between two proteins that are of fundamental importance to life,” said Isaac Pessah, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and principal investigator of the study.  After exposing mice daily to the chemical, the researchers noted that triclosan reduced gripping strength in the rodents by 18 percent and slowed down heart function by a terrifying 25 percent.  In addition the UC Davis research team has previously linked triclosan to other potentially harmful health effects, including disruption of reproductive hormone activity and of cell signaling in the brain.  Dr. Pessah, the study’s lead author, wants consumers — and the FDA — to be aware of its effects. “Regulatory agencies should definitely be reconsidering whether it should be allowed in consumer products.  Triclosan is found in virtually everyone’s home and is pervasive in the environment.  The risks definitely outweigh the benefits,” he says.

Staying Healthy

Common sense may have already told you that constantly exposing yourself to antibacterial products may not be in your best interest.  It is proven that individuals who live a healthy lifestyle and subsequently have a healthy immune system have a decreased susceptibility to both bacterial and viral illnesses. So, what can you do to keep yourself healthy and happy this winter.  The answer is much simpler that you might imagine.

  • Get plenty of sleep.  Sleep is your body’s opportunity to recharge your immune system.  If your body is overly fatigued it will be harder for you to fight the flu or any other potential invader.
  • Check your stress.  Stress is the root cause of 99% of all illness.  Stress, emotional or physical, supresses your immune system’s function and prevents your body from fighting off the bacteria and viruses that make you sick.
  • Avoid sugar like the plague.  Sugar, like stress, suppresses the function of your immune system.  The cells of your immune system will take in sugar instead of the vitamin C necessary to destroy bacteria and viruses when both are abundant in the body.  It is especially important to avoid sugar if you feel you are getting sick, but keeping sugar out of your diet on a regular basis will make it harder for viruses and bacteria to bother you in the first place.
  • Exercise regularly.  Exercise increases the circulation of blood and components of your immune system.  This increases the chances of your immune system  finding any bacteria and viruses before they have a chance to spread.  Exercise also increases your immune system efficiency in deciphering and acting upon viruses and bacteria before they make you sick. .
  • Get some sunshine, or a Vitamin D supplement.  Vitamin D increases the potency of your immune system.  The BEST way to get your vitamin D is from safe sun exposure.  However, getting enough sunshine to support adequate Vitamin D production at this latitude is almost impossible, especially in the winter.   The next best option is to take a 2000 IU Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) supplement, which is the same vitamin D your body makes when exposed to sunshine.
  • Take your Fish Oil.  Your immune system can’t function optimally without the necessary omega-3 fats DHA and EPA. Research has shown that EPA and DHA support your immune system to provide increased resistance to common colds and illnesses like the flu.
  • Take a probiotic.  Approximately 70% of our immune system is located in our intestines.  When you take a probiotic you control the type of bacteria that inhabit your intestines and thereby makes sure that those bacteria are fighting FOR you and not against you.  Choose a probiotic that contains at least 1 billion organisms and 10 different strains per serving.

Read the full University of California, Davis study here.

Get a list of common items containing triclosan here.

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