Think that keeping your children’s hands and mouths clean is helping them stay healthy? Think again! New research from Johns Hopkins Children’s Center reveals that exposure to common antibacterials found in soap, toothpaste, mouthwash and other personal-care products may make children more prone to a wide range of food and environmental allergies.
Using existing data from a national health survey of 860 children aged 6-18, the researchers examined the relationship between the children’s urinary levels of antibacterials and preservatives found in many personal-hygiene products and the presence of IgE antibodies in the child’s blood. IgE are markedly elevated in people with allergies.
“We saw a link between level of exposure, measured by the amount of antimicrobial agents in the urine, and allergy risk, indicated by circulating antibodies to specific allergens,” said lead investigator Jessica Savage, M.D., M.H.S., an allergy and immunology fellow at Hopkins.
“The link between allergy risk and antimicrobial exposure suggests that these agents may disrupt the delicate balance between beneficial and bad bacteria in the body and lead to immune system dysregulation, which in turn raises the risk of allergies,” Savage added.
In the study, those with the highest urine levels of triclosan – an antibacterial agent used in soaps, mouthwash and toothpaste – had the highest levels of IgE antibodies and their risk for food allergy risk was twice that of children with the lowest triclosan levels. Similarly, children with the highest urinary levels of parabens – preservatives with antimicrobial properties used in cosmetics, food and medications – were more likely to have detectable levels of IgE antibodies and twice the risk of environmental allergens such as pollen and pet dander.
These findings are consistent with the so-called hygiene hypothesis, which has recently gained traction as one possible explanation behind the growing rates of food and environmental allergies in the developed world. The hypothesis suggests that early childhood exposure to common pathogens is essential in building healthy immune responses. Lack of such exposure, can lead to an overactive immune system that misfires against harmless substances such as food proteins, pollen or pet dander.
All of which suggests that parents should put away the hand sanitizer and let their kids play in the dirt with a dog!