Common Household Disinfectants Lead to Obesity in Preschoolers

September 24, 2018 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Common Household Disinfectants Lead to Obesity in Preschoolers
“A little dirt never hurt anyone” is often said when children play outdoors arriving home with mud and grass stains on themselves. At the same time, television ads tell us that we need their commercial cleaners to disinfectant surfaces after messy events happen. Regular cleaning is good, but the ubiquitous use of disinfectants to clean appears to be taking a toll on health – specifically in young children. Recent reports show that infants exposed to common disinfectants like disinfectant wipes are more likely to be become overweight by preschool age.

Disinfectants found in sprays or wipes certainly destroy the germs that they come in contact with on the surface, but the use of them also impacts internal balance with the gut flora. This change in gut flora is the deeper issue and is linked to changes in metabolism and consequential weight gain.

The prestigious Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) published a study September 17, 2018 on infant exposure to household disinfectants, gut flora changes, and consequently risk to childhood obesity in preschool age. In the few days since it was published, it has created considerable headline news. The findings of the study demonstrated that exposure to disinfectants during early infancy was associated with a higher body mass index and being overweight at age 3.

The CMAJ study included 757 Canadian infants. The data extracted was independent of antibiotic exposure, breastfeeding, vaginal or C-section delivery, or other factors that might have altered the gut flora balance. Exposure to common disinfectants was found to lower the beneficial bacteria like the genus Haemophilus and genus Clostridium and caused overgrowth of Lachnospiraceae. Overgrowth of Lachnospiraceae has been linked with development of obesity in marine and animal models. Daily, repetitive use of disinfectant household wipes or other cleaners proved more harmful to this balance of flora than once a week cleanings. Natural or “green” products were more neutral to this balance.

Decades of research have found that changes in gut flora and exposure to antibiotics and more recently non-antibiotic drugs that act like antibiotics are linked with changes in health – with often life-long challenges. Triclosan, a common pesticide found in disinfectant soaps, toothpastes, and other personal care items is also linked with obesity and interferes with thyroid health. Research shows that exposure to triclosan in childhood is linked with female teenage obesity.

Endocrine disrupting compounds like triclosan, bisphenols, parabens, pesticides, herbicides are other chemical culprits that lead to obesity, cancer, autoimmune disorders, thyroid problems, and major changes with sex steroid hormones levels and function. It is not surprising that disinfectants contribute to the chemical soup that we now live in. It is, however, a concern at how these chemicals can change physiology in infants to preschool age in a relatively short amount of time as seen in the CMAJ study.

Prenatal exposure, infancy, and young children are at the greatest risk for adverse effects from these chemical exposures. They receive a higher concentration of exposure relative to body weight. Long-term effects from endocrine disrupting compounds and chemical exposures are often not seen until later in childhood and adulthood. Disorders include childhood cancer, delayed growth and impaired neurological function, testicular problems, breast and ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, infertility, low semen counts, obesity, thyroid problems and other concerns.

Lysol, the most popular disinfectant product on the market, describes its history as “over a century of healthing”. It makes one wonder how this statement would be interpreted in the context of information of the CMAJ study. A list of pesticides that are known endocrine disrupting compounds with health effects may be found in a review article from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

A healthy pregnancy and delivery for mom and baby is just the beginning of a healthy start to life. When the little bundle of joy arrives, we want to make sure everything is perfect and clean. It is natural to want to wipe everything down after sticky fingers, spills, and diaper changes. Science has been piecing together just how profound low-level exposure of seemingly innocuous chemicals found in handy, various cleaning products affect the body.

The buffer zone between these chemicals and our body is the gut microbiome. We are finding out that subtle change in the microbiome leads to not so subtle effects later in life. Healthy detoxification system, gut flora, hand washing, vinegar, baking soda, essential oils, and gentle soaps can help reduce the total chemical burden that we are exposed to and are safer to the microbiome. Your infant and young children can’t make those choices, but you can.

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