Have you had your daily minimum requirement of triclosan today? How about your dosage of triclocarban?
Chances are you have, but don’t know it. These two are antimicrobial chemicals, which might sound like a good thing – except that they disrupt the human body’s normal regulatory processes. Animal studies show, for example, that these triclos can be linked to the scrambling of hormones in children, disruption of puberty and of the reproductive system, decreases in thyroid hormone levels that affect brain development and other serious health problems.
Yet, corporations have slipped them into all sorts of consumer products, pushing them with a blitz of advertising that claims the antibacterial ingredients prevent the spread of infections. The two chemicals were originally meant for use by surgeons to cleanse their hands before operations, but that tiny application has now proliferated like a plague, constantly exposing practically everyone to small amounts here, there and everywhere, adding up to dangerous megadoses.
Triclosan and triclocarban were first mixed into soaps, but then – BOOM! – brand-name corporations went wild, putting these hormone disrupters into about 2,000 products, including toothpaste, mouthwashes, fabrics and (most astonishingly) even into baby pacifiers! Today, use of the chemicals is so prevalent that they can be found in the urine of three-fourths of Americans. They also accumulate in groundwater and soil, so they saturate our environment and eventually ourselves – one study found them in the breast milk of 97 percent of women tested.
For decades, corporate lobbying and regulatory meekness has let this chemical menace spread. Aside from the direct health damage this is causing, the reckless spread of (and profiteering from) antibacterial products is also leading to an even worse nightmare: the stronger, more aggressive bacteria that are immune to – get this – antibacterial products. Oh, the irony!
Most ominously, this nightmare is currently ripping through our medical care system in the U.S. and around the globe. Antibiotic medicines, long hailed as miracle drugs for their ability to battle infections and save lives – are turning out to be too much of a good thing.
Two factors are at work here. First, infectious bacteria themselves (one of the earliest forms of life on Earth) are miracles in their own right, with a stunning ability to outsmart the antibiotic drugs through rapid evolution. Second is the rather dull inclination of us supposedly superior humans to massively overuse and misuse antibiotic medicines. Every time we take an antibiotic to kill bad bacteria infecting our bodies, a few of the infectious germs are naturally resistant to the drug, so they survive, multiply and become a colony of Superbugs that antibiotics can’t touch.
Multiply this colony by the jillions of doses prescribed for everything from deadly staph infections to the common cold, and we get the “antibiotic paradox”: The more we use them, the less effective they become, for they’re creating a spreading epidemic of immune Superbugs.
A big cause of this is the push by drug companies to get patients and doctors to reach for antibiotics as a cure-all. For example, millions of doses a year are prescribed for children and adults who have common colds, flu, sore throats, etc. Nearly all these infections are caused by viruses – which cannot (repeat: CANNOT) be cured with antibiotics. The antibiotics will do nothing for your cold, but will help establish drug-resistant Superbugs in your body. That’s not a smart tradeoff.
In fact, it’s incomprehensively stupid. These are invaluable medicines we need for serious, life-threatening illnesses, but squandering them on sore throats has already brought us to the brink of Superbugs. That’s the nightmare of all nightmares.
Jim Hightower is national radio commentator, columnist and author.