Recently, it was revealed that exposure to the chemical triclosan – widely used in antibacterial soap and toothpaste, to name but a few – causes an increased incidence of allergies in young people.
In adults, exposure to the chemical bisphenol A can cause damages to the immune system. This plastic derivative, for which the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still claims there are no data to point at negative effects, can be found in everyday plastic items.
In their new study, experts at the University of Michigan School of Public Health say that triclosan and bisphenol A are both part of a class of chemicals known as endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDC).
These substances act in the human body by mimicking the action of hormones, or by inhibiting and boosting the action of hormones beyond normal activity levels, leading to imbalances with negative implications for health.
“We found that people over age 18 with higher levels of BPA exposure had higher CMV [cytomegalovirus] antibody levels, which suggests their cell-mediated immune system may not be functioning properly,” explains Erin Rees Clayton.
The scientist holds an appointment as a research investigator at the U-M School of Public Health, and was also the first author of a new paper detailing the findings, which appears in the November 30 online issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
The team used data collected from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to conduct its investigation. Adults and children above the age of 6 were the main focus of the research.
An increased incidence of allergies and hay fever was discovered in teenagers below the age of 18 who were exposed to high levels of triclosan. It may be that the two EDC compounds are harmful to humans at concentrations far lower than 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,” says Allison Aiello.
She was the principal investigator on the new study, and holds an appointment as an associate professor at the U-M School of Public Health.
“It is possible that a person can be too clean for their own good,” concludes the expert, who is currently a visiting associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard University.