Triclosan is used in many personal care products as an anti-bacterial agent. You can find it in soaps, toothpaste etc. Triclosan has estrogenic properties or estrogen boosting properties. This means it can behave like natural estrogen in the body. Or, it may increase the power of natural estrogen. Estrogen, like other hormones, is a chemical messenger. It passes through cell membranes, attaches to estrogen receptors and “tells” genes it is time to make some product or activate some process. Adding estrogen-like chemicals can result in increased activity. Too much estrogenic activity can increase risk of cancer in estrogen-sensitive tissues: Breasts, for example. In men, too much estrogen can reduce fertility. The role estrogen plays in men is still under investigation. Here is a recent article from the NY Times on estrogen and aging in men that will help explain things. In rats, triclosan has been found to cause abnormal testicular development and abnormal “other” male tissue.
Other interesting findings about triclosan are:
- People with high triclosan levels also have higher BMI on average
- Are more likely to suffer from allergies, including food allergies
Paul et al. (Dec 2010) have demonstrated that triclosan alters thyroid hormone levels early in lactation. Thyroid hormones are especially important during fetal and infant development because they play crucial roles in brain development. Early thyroid hormone deficiency alters neurological function in animals, and in human, reduces IQ and increases ADHD-like behavior. There are many environmental contaminants that interfere with thyroid hormones including PCBs, PBDEs, perchlorate, and nitrate. It is difficult to study the impact of exposures to these chemicals in humans because its hard to know how much people are exposed to over time, and people are probably never exposed to just one agent at a time. Its important to consider additive (or synergistic or antagonistic) effects and not consider them individually. For now, its probably best for pregnant and lactating women to limit their exposure to triclosan. Guys, you too.
Paul KB, Hedge JM, Devito MJ, & Crofton KM (2010). Developmental triclosan exposure decreases maternal and neonatal thyroxine in rats. Environmental toxicology and chemistry / SETAC, 29 (12), 2840-4 PMID: 20954233
Lankester J, Patel C, Cullen MR, Ley C, & Parsonnet J (2013). Urinary triclosan is associated with elevated body mass index in NHANES. PloS one, 8 (11) PMID: 24278238
Stoker TE, Gibson EK, & Zorrilla LM (2010). Triclosan exposure modulates estrogen-dependent responses in the female wistar rat. Toxicological sciences : an official journal of the Society of Toxicology, 117 (1), 45-53 PMID: 20562219
Savage JH, Matsui EC, Wood RA, & Keet CA (2012). Urinary levels of triclosan and parabens are associated with aeroallergen and food sensitization. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 130 (2), 453-600000000 PMID: 22704536
Kumar V, Chakraborty A, Kural MR, & Roy P (2009). Alteration of testicular steroidogenesis and histopathology of reproductive system in male rats treated with triclosan. Reproductive toxicology (Elmsford, N.Y.), 27 (2), 177-85 PMID: 19118620