Cleaning Products Linked to Childhood Obesity

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Exposure to common household cleaning products during infancy could cause obesity, according to a new study.

Could the products we use to clean our homes be making our children obese?

Broadly speaking, the hygiene hypothesis states that the rise in chronic inflammation and associated diseases (diabetes, obesity, etc.) is due to excessive sanitation interfering with the natural balance of microorganisms (the microbiome) in our bodies.

Detergents, disinfectants and other cleaning products are standard fare in homes and often marketed as ensuring our children’s safety. However, their use has been associated with an increased risk of wheezing in both users and their children.

There is not much data on associations between detergents and obesity, but a recent study identified high levels of the active ingredient in antibacterial products (triclosan) in overweight adolescent’s urine. Another study showed that piglets exposed to aerosolized disinfectants had altered gut microbiota.

So, researchers at the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) study analyzed the gut microbiomes of more than 750 children aged 3–4 months and looked at the children’s exposure to disinfectants, detergents, and eco-friendly cleaning products used in their homes.

After ruling out any other potential factors, the scientists found a clear link between the mothers’ reported use of disinfectant (but not other cleaning products) in the home, changes in some types of normal gut bacteria in their 3–4-month-old infants, and the children’s weight at 1 and 3 years old.

Infants living in households with disinfectants being used at least weekly were twice as likely to have higher levels Lachnospiraceae gut bacteria at age 3–4 months. Consequently, the body mass index (BMI) of these children was higher at 3 years old than children not exposed to the disinfectants.

Interestingly, eco-friendly products didn’t affect the children’s likelihood of becoming overweight.

The research suggests that the use of antibacterial cleaning products (disinfectants) in the home should be limited.

Further studies are needed to understand how household cleaning products alter gut microbial composition and the subsequent role this might have on metabolic disease.

Reference:

Tun et al. Postnatal exposure to household disinfectants, infant gut microbiota and subsequent risk of overweight in children. CMAJ. 2018 Sep 17;190(37):E1097-E1107. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.170809.