When you buy soap, do you get products labeled “antibacterial” thinking they’ll keep your family safer? Do you think those products will lower your risk of getting sick, spreading germs or being infected? According to the FDA, there is very little evidence to show that over-the-counter antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than plain soap and water.
On the contrary, in a new study done by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, researchers found evidence that triclosan, an antimicrobial compound found in many soaps and other household items can worsen fatty liver disease in mice fed a high-fat diet.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also details the molecular mechanisms by which triclosan disrupts metabolism and the gut microbiome, while also stripping away liver cells’ natural protections.
“Triclosan’s increasingly broad use in consumer products presents a risk of liver toxicity for humans,” said Robert H. Tukey, PhD, professor in the Department of Pharmacology at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
Not the first of its kind.
But this isn’t all that new. In 2014, another study conducted on mice found that triclosan exposure promoted liver tumor formation by interfering with a protein responsible for clearing away foreign chemicals in the body.
In the current study, the researchers fed a high-fat diet to mice with type 1 diabetes. As previous studies have shown, the high-fat diet led to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). In humans, NAFLD is an increasingly common condition that can lead to liver cirrhosis and cancer. Diabetes and obesity are risk factors for NAFLD.
Some of the mice were also fed triclosan, resulting in blood concentrations comparable to those found in human studies. Compared to mice only fed a high-fat diet, triclosan made things worse by speeding up the development of fatty liver and fibrosis.
Here’s what’s likely happening.
According to the study, eating a high-fat diet normally tells cells to produce more fibroblast growth factor 21, which helps protects liver cells from damage.
However, the team discovered that triclosan messes with two molecules, ATF4 and PPARgamma, which cells need to make the fibroblast growth factor 21. Worse yet, the antimicrobial compound also disrupted a variety of genes involved in metabolism.
In addition, the mice exposed to triclosan had less diversity in their gut microbiomes – fewer types of bacteria living in the intestines, and a makeup similar to that seen in patients with NAFLD. And as you already know, less gut microbiome diversity is generally associated with poorer health. That’s why we always recommend eating a wide variety of foods that are naturally rich in probiotics.
Since triclosan can be found almost anywhere, this study gives us insight on how people following a diet rich in processed foods, which are loaded with unhealthy fats could lead to the development of fatty liver disease.