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Antibacterial products may be dangerous for pregnant women and their fetuses

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New research suggests that pregnant women should avoid using antibacterial products, which contain chemicals that may be harmful to both mother and child.

This research will be presented at an upcoming meeting of the American Chemical Society. The study is just one of many that is raising red flags about the common use of antibacterial products, particularly regarding the chemicals used in them.

After looking at a group of pregnant women exposed to antibacterial soaps and other products, doctors discovered a disturbing trend: not only did they find triclosan and triclocarban, the most commonly used chemicals in these products, in the urine of the pregnant women, but they also found evidence of the chemicals in blood samples taken from the umbilical cord, suggesting that the chemicals are also transferred into the fetuses.

There is growing evidence that the compounds in these products, which include everything from soaps to toys, may cause both reproductive and developmental problems in humans. A 2007 study done by the University of California Davis discovered that triclosan actually alters hormone activity in both rats and humans.

Some studies even point out that those who use these products may become resistant to antibiotics.

In 2010, Arizona State University researchers found that both triclosan and triclocarban that end up in wastewater sludge eventually get transferred into soil and water. More importantly, those chemicals remain there for a long time, affecting both our food and water supplies.

For occasional exposure, the human body is capable of flushing out chemicals like triclosan and triclocarban. Unfortunately, most humans receive exposure to these chemicals on a more regular basis.

"If you cut off the source of exposure, eventually triclosan and triclocarban would quickly be diluted out, but the truth is that we have universal use of these chemicals, and therefore also universal exposure," says Rolf Halden, Ph.D., the lead investigator of the ASU study.

Recently, the state of Minnesota banned the use of these chemicals in certain products. Some companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, are phasing out the use of those chemicals. The FDA, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, are now looking at the harmful effects these chemicals are having on both humans and the environment.

So for those looking to scale back on the use of antibacterial products, what's the best advice?

"Our mothers taught us to wash our hands well before the advent of antimicrobial soaps, and that practice alone prevents the spread of disease," says Bill Lasley of UC Davis.

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