|Triclosan in my toothpaste (and maybe yours too)
First I saw a post about some issues with Crest Toothpastes containing polyethylene: Dentist calls Crest toothpaste dangerous; Now P&G changing ingredients. This seemed a bit disturbing. But then I saw a "Related Link": Shoppers Ditching Colgate Total Amid Triclosan Fears. And I thought - holy cra*## - really? I had no idea triclosan was in toothpaste. And why did I react strongly? Well triclosan, which is antimicrobial agent, though it has it's potential benefits, has some potential risks associated with it's antibacterial activity (see also this discussion from the EU). What are these possible risks? Risks like increasing the frequency and spread of antimicrobial resistance. And risks like messing with microbial ecosystems.
And due to these potential risks, I have been blogging and writing and complaining about the use of triclosan in various building materials for some time now. For example
Potentially important paper on need to regulate Triclosan http://t.co/eZaqq9mjQK - publishing behind a paywall is idiotic #ShameOnACS
— Jonathan Eisen (@phylogenomics) March 8, 2014
And also see:
- Studying – not wantonly killing – the microbes around us and the rise of the “microbiology of the built environment”
- A disturbing trend – casual and reckless use of antimicrobial agents in building materials.
You see, I thought, for reasons that are unclear to me right now, that the main issue with agents like triclosan was their use in kitchen counters and clothing and building materials. Well, it never even occurred to me that it would be in oral care products and thus purposefully introduced into the human body.
So I decided to check to see if my toothpaste had any in it. And, well, $*##. It did.
What the f$(#? Colgate has triclosan? Given potential microbiome effects http://t.co/Ej0mr5Vxxq … this seems idiotic. pic.twitter.com/bLPO3BRogg
— Jonathan Eisen (@phylogenomics) September 23, 2014
Well, that is disturbing. So I decided to Google around to see what else there was out there on Triclosan in toothpaste. And I discovered this gem from Colgate in response to the news story I mentioned above: Colgate officials have responded to such concerns by saying they think it is perfect safe. The piece is by Patricia Verduin, PhD., Head of Colgate-Palmolive Research & Development.
Here is a quote from that "article":
We all know that a rumor travels half-way around the world before the truth even has a chance to be heard. But we want the truth to have a chance to catch up. We encourage consumers to look at the facts.And here is another.
I know the science and I know how it works. It is the only toothpaste I use.What a condescending, arrogant response. I am looking at facts. As I presume are others. And what we see does not make us happy. Just as we as a society are freaking out (justifiably) about overuse of traditional antibiotics (I use the term traditional antibiotics here to refer to things commonly called antibiotics), we should also be worried - probably really worried - about overuse of agents like triclosan. Don't let the "biocidal" or "antimicrobial" or "antiseptic" terminology fool you. If one of the major effects of a chemical is to kill microbes, it is something to worry about. See for example Triclosan Promotes Staphylococcus aureus Nasal Colonization which shows some evidence that these worries are not just rumors that travel around the world. Here are some quotes from that article
These findings are significant because S. aureus colonization is a known risk factor for the development of several types of infections. Our data demonstrate the unintended consequences of unregulated triclosan use and contribute to the growing body of research demonstrating inadvertent effects of triclosan on the environment and human health.In the end, I would like to say - shame on Colgate and Proctor and Gamble. Yes, triclosan in their toothpaste may lower the risk for some oral health problems. But consider traditional antibiotics as an analogy. Yes, they can lower the risk from dying from an infection and are very important tools for all sorts of cases. But at the same time, even with their benefits, we as a society are looking to reduce their use as much as possible and to reserve them for cases where they are truly needed. Prophylactic use of traditional antibiotics is now generally frowned upon. Similarly, prophylactic use of triclosan in toothpaste, even with some health benefits, has way way too many potential, unknown, health risks to be continued. This notion is not a rumor. It is not "overselling the microbiome". It is simply following the precationary principle until we know more. It is certainly much more "the truth" right now than idiotic statements like "I know the science and I know how it works."
Posted about this topic again to Twitter. And some of the same issues came up so starting looking for more papers on the topic. Here are some:
- Urinary Triclosan is Associated with Elevated Body Mass Index in NHANES
- Perturbation and restoration of the fathead minnow gut microbiome after low-level triclosan exposure
- Human Fetal Exposure to Triclosan and Triclocarban in an Urban Population from Brooklyn, New York
- Prenatal Exposure to Phenols and Growth in Boys