Antibacterials in personal-care products linked to allergy risk in children

June 19, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- Exposure to common antibacterial chemicals and preservatives found in soap, toothpaste, mouthwash and other personal-care products may make children more prone to a wide range of food and environmental allergies, according to new research from Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

Results of the NIH-funded study are published online ahead of print June 18 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Using existing data from a national health survey of 860 children ages 6 to 18, Johns Hopkins researchers examined the relationship between a child’s urinary levels of antibacterials and found in many personal-hygiene products and the presence of IgE antibodies in the child’s blood. IgE antibodies are immune chemicals that rise in response to an allergen and are markedly elevated in people with allergies.

“We saw a link between level of exposure, measured by the amount of antimicrobial agents in the urine, and allergy risk, indicated by circulating antibodies to specific allergens,” said lead investigator Jessica Savage, M.D., M.H.S., an allergy and immunology fellow at Hopkins.

The researchers caution that the findings do not demonstrate that antibacterials and preservatives themselves cause the allergies, but instead suggest that these agents play a role in immune system development.

The investigators say their findings are also consistent with the so-called hygiene hypothesis, which has recently gained traction as one possible explanation behind the growing rates of food and environmental allergies in the developed world. The hypothesis suggests that early childhood exposure to common pathogens is essential in building healthy immune responses. Lack of such exposure, according to the theory, can lead to an overactive immune system that misfires against harmless substances such as food proteins, pollen or pet dander.

“The link between allergy risk and antimicrobial exposure suggests that these agents may disrupt the delicate balance between beneficial and bad bacteria in the body and lead to immune system dysregulation, which in turn raises the risk of allergies,” Savage added.

In the study, those with the highest urine levels of triclosan — an antibacterial agent used in soaps, mouthwash and — had the highest levels of food IgE antibodies, and therefore the highest allergy risk, compared with children with the lowest triclosan levels. Children with the highest urinary levels of parabens — preservatives with antimicrobial properties used in cosmetics, food and medications — were more likely to have detectable levels of IgE antibodies to environmental allergens like pollen and pet dander, compared with those with low paraben levels.

The team initially zeroed in on seven ingredients previously shown to disrupt endocrine function in lab and animal studies. These compounds were bisphenol A — found in plastics — and triclosan, benzophenone-3 and propyl, methyl, butyl and ethyl parabens, found in personal-hygiene products and some foods and medications. Interestingly, triclosan and propyl and butyl parabens, all of which have antimicrobial properties, were the only ones associated with increased allergy risk in the current study, the researchers noted.

“This finding highlights the antimicrobial properties of these agents as a probable driving force behind their effect on the ,” said senior investigator Corinne Keet, M.D., M.S., an allergist at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

Children with the highest urine levels of triclosan had nearly twice the risk of environmental allergies as children with the lowest urinary concentrations. Those with highest levels of propyl paraben in the urine had twice the risk of an environmental allergy. Food allergy risk was more than twice as pronounced in children with the highest levels of urinary triclosan as in children with the lowest triclosan levels. High paraben levels in the urine were not linked to food allergy risk.

To clarify the link between antimicrobial agents and allergy development, the researchers are planning a long-term study in babies exposed to antibacterial ingredients at birth, following them throughout childhood.

Explore further: Prenatal pet exposure, delivery mode, race are key factors in early allergy risk

Related Stories

Food allergy risk up for children born in the fall

May 1, 2012

(HealthDay) -- Children born in the fall have an increased risk of food allergy, with a significantly increased risk seen only for Caucasians and those with eczema, according to a study published online April 19 in Allergy.

Recommended for you

Snapshot turns T cell immunology on its head

October 6, 2015

Challenging a universally accepted, longstanding consensus in the field of immunity requires hard evidence. New research from the Australian Research Council Centre of excellence in advanced Molecular imaging has shown the ...

Four gut bacteria decrease asthma risk in infants

September 30, 2015

New research by scientists at UBC and BC Children's Hospital finds that infants can be protected from getting asthma if they acquire four types of gut bacteria by three months of age. More than 300 families from across Canada ...

Flu infection reveals many paths to immune response

September 28, 2015

A new study of influenza infection in an animal model broadens understanding of how the immune system responds to flu virus, showing that the process is more dynamic than usually described, engaging a broader array of biological ...

Immune cells may help fight against obesity

September 15, 2015

While a healthy lifestyle and "good genes" are known to help prevent obesity, new research published on September 15 in Immunity indicates that certain aspects of the immune system may also play an important role. In the ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.