Triclosan in Sportswear Can Cause Inflammation

Everything we consume has an impact on our body, whether positive, negative or neutral. And the products we put on our skin are no different! From moisturizers to hand sanitizers to clothing, the materials that sit on our skin can affect our health. Most materials and products are harmless, but some ingredients may be more harmful than we think. New research reveals that triclosan, a common chemical found in yoga mats and sportswear, can trigger inflammation and gut issues.

What is triclosan?

Triclosan is an antibacterial ingredient added to a wide variety of consumer products. It looks like a good additive at first glance because its purpose is to reduce or prevent the buildup of bacteria. For a time, you could often find it in antibacterial soaps and toothpastes because it reduced bacteria levels in the mouth.

Then, in 2016, the FDA banned the substance in soaps because of controversy surrounding its side effects — and because companies using it couldn’t prove it was safe. It didn’t take long for toothpaste brands to quietly drop triclosan from their ingredient lists to avoid intense scrutiny.

The reason for the search

Knowing the history of triclosan, the idea that it can be harmful is not new. Still, an international team of researchers led by the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill said it was important to learn more about the substance because many companies still use it in products. (In fact, the authors claim that more than 2,000 consumer products still contain this ingredient.) Their study, published in the Nature Communication journal in January, tested the side effects of triclosan on lab mice.

Researchers have speculated that triclosan might worsen existing digestive conditions like colitis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS). So they fed some of the lab mice a diet containing a small dose of triclosan for four weeks. (Other mice, as part of a control group, ate food without triclosan.)

After the four weeks, the researchers found triclosan in various body parts of the mice. In the liver, bile, heart and small intestine, the traces of the substance they found were inactive, meaning they were harmless. But in the mouse’s cecum (a pouch that connects the small and large intestines) and the colon, they found active triclosan, which caused inflammation.

Researchers identified the bacteria inside the gut that triggered this harmful, active form of triclosan. They even identified the bacteria’s enzymes that interacted with the substance. This knowledge is important, as the authors believe their research could lead to treatments for people with colitis and IBS.

So, this study is useful because it could help scientists reduce gut inflammation in people with colitis and IBS. But it’s also a red flag for those of us who often use products containing triclosan. And according to a press release from UNC Health, products that still contain this antimicrobial substance include yoga mats and sportswear.

Study limitations

While this is important news, it’s important to take it with a grain of salt. The researchers conducted the experiment on lab mice, not humans. This was necessary because ethically they could not have tested the effects of the substance on humans. However, this means that we cannot say for sure that triclosan would cause the same effects on us. More research would help solidify the researchers’ conclusions.

Still, it’s important to know the chemicals in so many of our daily products. If you’re worried about triclosan in your yoga mat or workout equipment, check the tags or labels on your purchases. It may also be helpful to visit product websites or contact a product’s customer service department. It may take a little time, but knowing which brands use triclosan can help you avoid unwanted inflammation in your body.

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