Are Anti-Bacterial Products Safe?

Triclosan an antibacterial soap ingredient impairs muscle function in animals

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Products advertised as being antibacterial are everywhere these days. While the ingredients may be safe in small doses for humans, could there be long term and far reaching effects?

A recent study evaluated the effects of triclosan on muscle activity.

The study found that triclosan, an antibacterial chemical commonly used in hand soaps and other products, may impair muscle function.

"Consider using natural soaps."

Principal investigator, Isaac Pessah, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and team performed experiments using doses that were similar to those people and animal may be exposed to during everyday life.

As the use of products containing triclosan continues to grow, so does the amount of the chemical found in streams, sewage, fish, urine sample, plasma and breast milk. This means the chemical is showing up in the environment and in animals unexpectedly.

Researchers tested the triclosan exposure on hand grip in mice and the ability to swim in flathead minnows.

The mice were given triclosan intravenously and the fish were exposed to the chemical by diluting it in their water for up to seven days. Both animals were given a dose similar to what people and animals would be normally exposed to in everyday life.

Grip strength in the mice was measured using metal wire mesh before and after triclosan was administered. Provoked and non provoked swimming was measured in the fish at one day, 4 days, and 7 days of exposure.

Other tests were also conducted to determine possible effects of the chemical. These tests include isolating and testing organs exposed to triclosan.

The researchers found that triclosan impaired the ability of muscles to contract by preventing the flow of calcium ions within the muscles. This is important as the heart needs the calcium channels to communicate properly in order to fully function.

Mice experienced a 25 percent reduction in heart function 20 minutes after exposure to the chemical. The also experience an 18 percent grip strength reduction for up to one hour after receiving one dose of triclosan.

The fish that were exposed for seven days had significantly reduced swimming activity, demonstrating the affects of aquatic pollutants. Such a reduction in swimming ability changes the fish’s ability to avoid or escape predators.

While the results of the study do not translate to humans, the findings may be important for those with existing heart problems as triclosan is a cardiac depressant. It’s also important to be mindful regarding what consequences overuse of the chemical may have on our ecosystem.

The researchers suggest a more regulated use of antibacterial products.

"Although this study evaluated the effects of triclosan on mouse heart muscle cells, it raises the possibility that this commonly used antibacterial could also interfere with the normal function of human heart muscle cells," said Sarah Samaan, MD, a cardiologist with Legacy Heart Center and co-director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Institute at the Baylor Heart Hospital.

Dr. Samaan says she uses antibacterial products on her hands up to 30 times each day to prevent infection in her patients but will begin paying more attention to the ingredients in her products.

"Since triclosan is present in so many products that we use every day, it is not just people in health care that should be concerned," said Dr. Samaan

The study was published in the August issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study was supported by National Institutes of Health Grants and Muscular Dystrophy Association Grants.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 7, 2012
Last Updated:
September 10, 2012