I’m female. Of course I have been on a diet. I don’t exactly come from “skinny” stock, but after years of trying (successfully or not) to maintain a healthy weight I’ve come to the realization that any weight issues I have are not my fault. They are my mothers due to her overuse of disinfectants when I was a child.
Or at least that is how I could interpret my battle with the bulge after reading a study recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. According to the study, the use of household disinfectants could increase the risk of children becoming overweight by altering the makeup of their gut bacteria (their microbiome) during the first few months of life. As our understanding of infection prevention improves, so to does our use of hand sanitizers and disinfectants.
In a blog from 2014, I talked about a study showing that different homes harboured different populations of bugs and that these populations closely matched the microbiomes of the residents. As disinfectants and hand sanitizers are agents that are designed to kill microbes (good or bad), in theory the concept that the use of disinfectants could impact our microbiome is plausible.
The study looked at over 750 infants and while I will not get into the specifics of what gut microbiota increased or decreased, suffice it to say, the researchers concluded that exposure to household disinfectants was associated with higher BMI at age 3 and that children were less prone to being overweight in households that cleaned with eco-friendly products.
With cold and flu season virtually upon us, it’s important not to jump to conclusions. The researchers did note that there were a number of limitations in their study. For example, the status of infant exposure to cleaning agents was assumed from parent report meaning recall bias is a very likely possibility. The study did not differentiate cleaning products by brand name or the presence of specific ingredients meaning the results lumping every active ingredient together and not accounting for the known health and safety issues with some active ingredients. Further, the eco-friendly products did not list ingredients on their labels. Lastly, the gut microbiota was from a single point in time nor did they account for any interventions in the child’s life (e.g. exposure to antibiotics) that may have occurred during this time.
What does this all mean? Well, we know that chemicals found in common cleaners and disinfectants can have negative impacts on our health such as asthma or cancer. We know that the purpose of disinfectants is to kill indescriminantly meaning that there can be the opportunity for “bad” bacteria to overpower “good” bacteria. We also know the same is true with the use of antibiotics.
My conclusion is that the study is interesting, but further studies are required to better understand the mechanisms through which disinfectants or cleaning products may alter our micrbiome and what that change may have on our health.