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UM Study: Getting Sick From Being Too Clean?

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A new University of Michigan study dishes the dirt on whether being too clean can actually make you sick.

Young people who are overexposed to antibacterial soaps containing triclosan may suffer more allergies, and exposure to higher levels of Bisphenol A among adults may negatively influence the immune system, according to the study, from the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Triclosan is a chemical compound widely used in products such as antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, pens, diaper bags and medical devices. Bisphenol A (BPA) is found in many plastics and, for example, as a protective lining in food cans. Both of these chemicals are in a class of environmental toxicants called endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs), which are believed to negatively impact human health by mimicking or affecting hormones.

Using data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, U-M researchers compared urinary BPA and triclosan with cytomegalovirus (CMV) antibody levels and diagnosis of allergies or hay fever in a sample of U.S. adults and children over age 6.

“We found that people over age 18 with higher levels of BPA exposure had higher CMV antibody levels, which suggests their cell-mediated immune system may not be functioning properly,” said researcher Erin Rees Clayton.

Researchers also found that people age 18 and under with higher levels of triclosan were more likely to report diagnosis of allergies and hay fever. There is growing concern among the scientific community and consumer groups that these EDCs are dangerous to humans at lower levels than previously thought.

“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,” said Allison Aiello, associate professor at the U-M School of Public Health. 

“It is possible that a person can be too clean for their own good,” said Aiello.

Previous animal studies indicate that BPA and triclosan may affect the immune system, but this is the first known study to look at exposure to BPA and triclosan as it relates to human immune function, Aiello said. 

Details are online in the November 30 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

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