The link between toothpaste and the risk of cancer

A recent study has unveiled[1] that using Triclosan (a common ingredient in whitening toothpastes and hand-soaps) can cause inflammation within the colon, potentially leading to colon cancer. These findings are based on a phase-1 study[1:1] - conducted on mice at the University of Amhurst, Massachussetts.

What is Triclosan?

Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent[2]. It is used in the manufacturing of consumer products such as toothpaste, soaps, detergents, toys, and surgical cleaning fluids.

What are the standard risks associated with Triclosan?

As per the US Food & Drug Administration, the side effects of Triclosan exposure are:

Some short-term animal studies have shown that exposure to high doses of triclosan is associated with a decrease in the levels of some thyroid hormones. But we don’t know the significance of those findings to human health. Other studies have raised the possibility that exposure to triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. At this time, we don’t have enough information available to assess the level of risk that triclosan poses for the development of antibiotic resistance.

There are other ongoing studies that involve the safety of triclosan. One is a study investigating the potential of developing skin cancer after a long-term exposure to triclosan in animals. Another is a study on the potential breakdown of triclosan to other chemicals on human skin after exposure to triclosan to ultraviolet (UV) rays. At this time, neither study has been completed.

Source: US Food & Drug Administration[3]


The Triclosan trial conducted on mice

In a study conducted at UMass Amherst[1:2], experimental mice were exposed to short-time treatment with triclosan at low doses. This was a control group of mice. The exposure led to low-grade colonic inflammation in the control group. Eventually, it led to the development of exaggerated colitis and colitis-linked colon cancer in the exposed mice.

“These results, for the first time, suggest that triclosan could have adverse effects on gut health.” - Guodong Zhang (University of Massachusetts-Amhurst, US)

Toxic effects at various dosages

So far, the research indicates that Triclosan can have toxic effects at high doses, but the health effects of lower concentrations on human exposure, remain unclear. In order to establish effects at different dosage levels, the UMass team fed mice with food containing different concentrations of triclosan for a period of three weeks.

The results of this trial demonstrated that the mice which were treated with the same concentration of triclosan as seen in human blood samples, displayed more systemic colon inflammation as compared to mice within the previous control group. In the non-control groups, the severity of colon inflammation and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) was also high, even at low exposure doses.

Tumor size increase & low survival rates

The same study showed that in a separate group of mice that had already developed colon cancer, exposure to triclosan decreased their survival rates and increased the tumor sizes.

The participating researchers have asserted that further studies are necessary in order to understand the complete impact of Triclosan on humans. It still needs to be determined whether colon cancer patients are at risk of further adverse effects due to Triclosan exposure in their daily food & hygiene habits.

Meanwhile, PLEASE READ the active ingredients of every consumer hygiene product that you use, such as toothpaste and hand-soaps in order to monitor and control personal exposure to Triclosan and other carcinogens.

Also, please make sure that kids do not get exposed to toothpaste variants containing Triclosan, because children often have a habit of 'eating' toothpaste as opposed to adults. Till the time further information is available about the exact nature of Triclosan effects on humans, parents should refrain from exposing their children to Triclosan-laden toothpastes.

  1. Massachussetts-Amherst - ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. Wikipedia - ↩︎

  3. - ↩︎