Common “Antibiotic” Ingredient in Mouthwash, Baby Products, Found to Encourage Antibiotic-Resistance in Bacteria

Apparently it is not just the overuse of prescription antibiotics that we have to worry about.  Triclosan is common ingredient added to products like mouthwash and baby products to aid in their antibacterial properties.  Unfortunately, the study says that this very came chemical may actually contribute to bacteria developing tolerance to normal, and even lethal, levels of antibiotics.

Since the noble discovery of penicillin, antibiotics have been the lifeblood of medicine.  Of course, because of their prevalent—and sometimes even careless—use, we now find ourselves in the precarious position of facing superbugs that are resistant to many of the basic antibiotics.  A new study adds to this concern, though, by suggesting that a common ingredient found in many personal care products could also have contributed to this bacterial immunity, so to speak. 

Washington University professor Petra Levin explains, “In order to effectively kill bacterial cells, triclosan is added to products at high concentrations.”  

Perhaps that is why the United States Food and Drug Administration advised, in 2017, of safety concerns and the lack of efficacy evidence to recommend against adding triclosan to soaps. Of course, these guidelines have not been effective at discouraging companies from adding the chemical to consumer soaps (and other products). 

Still, Levin assures, “Triclosan is very stable. It lingers in the body and in the environment for a long time.”

In the study, which involved mice, researchers were able to investigate the extent by which triclosan can limit bacterial survival on/in the human body.  Specifically, though, the research intended to investigate bactericidal antibiotics; so researchers treated bacterial cells with these compounds and tracked their effects. One group was a treatment group and a second group was a control, which received no antibiotics.

Levin goes on to say, “Triclosan increased the number of surviving bacterial cells substantially.  Normally, one in a million cells survive antibiotics, and a functioning immune system can control them. But Triclosan was shifting the number of cells. Instead of only one in a million bacteria surviving, one in 10 organisms survived after 20 hours. Now, the immune system is overwhelmed.”

Essentially, the study found that triclosan exposure actually allowed for bacteria to escape death that would have otherwise been near-guaranteed from treatment with antibiotics.

The results of this study have been published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents & Chemotherapy. 

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