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Study Finds Links Between Household Disinfectants, Obesity

Study Finds Links Between Household Disinfectants, Obesity

There may be reasons to switch to eco-friendly products.

A new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal has found links between heavy use of disinfectants, the prevalence of certain gut bacteria, and chances of children being overweight.

Researchers found that 3- to 4-month-old babies who were exposed to disinfectants at least once a week were twice as likely to have higher levels of the bacteria Lachnospiraceae—and subsequently increased odds of obesity—than those who were not frequently exposed. And the more often disinfectants were used around the children, the more Lachnospiraceae was present in their bodies.

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“It’s known from animal studies that higher levels of Lachnospiraceae have been associated with higher body fat and insulin resistance,” Anita Kozyrskyj, senior author of the study and a University of Alberta pediatrics professor, said in a podcast produced by the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Researchers followed 757 children and examined fecal samples at different stages of their lives. They found that participants who were frequently exposed to disinfectants as babies began to have higher body mass indexes (BMI) by age 3. The same correlation wasn't found in households that used eco-friendly products.

"These results suggest that gut microbiota were the culprit in the association between disinfectant use and the overweight," said Kozyrskyj.

In addition to having higher levels of Lachnospiraceae and generally higher BMIs, the children exposed to disinfectants also had lower levels of Haemophilus and Clostridium bacteria—a combo usually seen in children with eczema.

“Elevated fecal abundance of Lachnospiraceae (specifically Blautia) concurrent with lowered Haemophilus is also a signature of diabetes, as shown in a study on 11-year-old children,” researchers wrote.

If you have young kids and you’re currently using antibacterial cleaning products, you may want to consider making the switch to eco-friendly products—especially if weight or immune issues are a problem.

It's important to know that while links have been found, the cause of the association is not entirely clear. Researchers acknowledge, for instance, that families who use eco-friendly cleaning products could just be generally more health conscious and have habits—like a healthy diet and exercising—which contribute to better gut health.

Kozyrskyj says she’s not ready to recommend eco-friendly products, but told CNN the study opened her mind to using green products. She also said she’s using a DIY vinegar cleaning solution in her own home.

Alberta study finds common household cleaners may be linked to obesity in young children

1:37 Alberta study links cleaners to childhood obesity
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A new University of Alberta study suggests frequent use of household cleaners likely increases the risk of obesity in young children.

The researchers found infants at three to four months of age living in homes where disinfectants were used at least once a week were twice as likely to have higher levels of the bacteria called Lachnospiraceae, which would eventually result in a higher risk of being overweight.

“At three years of age, those same children had a higher body mass index than children who were not exposed to frequent home use of disinfectants as infants,” said Anita Kozyrskyj, pediatrics professor and SyMBIOTA project principal investigator.

Kozyrskyj said gut microbiome enriched with Lachnospiraceae is more than just associated with children becoming overweight or obese but “directly responsible.”

The study used data from 757 children and examined their exposure to three categories of household cleaners — disinfectants, detergents and eco-friendly products — on the infant gut microbiome.

“We did not find a relationship between detergents and gut microbiome change or obesity risk that was independent of disinfectant usage,” Kozyrskyj said.

The researcher said it was important to distinguish detergents from disinfectants since the usage of both is highly connected. More than 80 per cent of households use multi-surface cleaners with disinfectants at least once a week and infant exposure likely occurs through contact with aerosols or cleansed surfaces, Kozyrskyj said.

“Based on our study’s finding, we recommend against frequent use of disinfectant cleaners in households with infants and suggest that parents consider alternative cleaning products,” she said.

The study found infants in homes with high use of eco cleaners had a lower risk of becoming overweight or obese.

“Infants growing up in households with heavy use of eco cleaners had much lower levels of different types of gut microbes, such as Enterobacteriaceae,” said Mon Tun, a U of A PhD candidate and first author of the study. “However, we found no evidence that these specific gut microbiome differences were associated with the reduced obesity risk.”

Tun speculated mothers in households with heavy use of eco cleaners may eat healthier food therefore, they have healthier microbiomes during pregnancy, which may, in turn, have a positive impact on the newborn microbiome and later weight gain.

Based on the study, the researchers argue eliminating disinfectant agents in your home can help protect your infant’s gut microbiome and reduce the risk of weight gain and obesity.

Research finds common household chemicals lead to birth defects in mice

Terry Hrubec. Credit: Virginia Tech

A new study at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech has found a connection between common household chemicals and birth defects.

Known as quaternary ammonium compounds or "quats," the chemicals are often used as disinfectants and preservatives in household and personal products such as cleaners, laundry detergent, fabric softener, shampoo and conditioner, and eye drops. The research demonstrated a link between quats and neural tube birth defects in both mice and rats.

"These chemicals are regularly used in the home, hospital, public spaces, and swimming pools," said Terry Hrubec, associate professor of anatomy at the VCOM-Virginia campus and research assistant professor in the veterinary college's Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. "Most people are exposed on a regular basis."

Hrubec investigated the effect of two commonly used quats: alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride and didecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride. These are often listed on ingredient lists as ADBAC and DDAC, respectively, and are valued for their antimicrobial and antistatic properties, as well as their ability to lower surface tension. Hrubec found that exposure to these chemicals resulted in neural tube birth defects—the same birth defect as spina bifida and anencephaly in humans.

"Birth defects were seen when both males and females were exposed, as well as when only one parent was exposed," said Hrubec, who is first author on the study and holds both a doctor of veterinary medicine degree and Ph.D. from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. "The fact that birth defects could be seen when only the father was exposed means that we need to expand our scope of prenatal care to include the father."

Hrubec found that mice and rats did not even need to be dosed with the chemicals to see the effect. Her research shows that simply using quat-based cleaners in the same room as the mice was enough to cause birth defects. "We also observed increased birth defects in rodents for two generations after stopping exposure," Hrubec added.

An earlier study in Hrubec's laboratory found that these chemicals led to reproductive declines in mice. Follow-up research found that quats were decreasing sperm counts in males and ovulation in females. The research raises the possibility of quats contributing to human infertility, which has been on the rise in recent decades.

"We are asked all of the time, 'You see your results in mice. How do you know that it's toxic in humans?'" Hrubec said. "Our research on mice and rats shows that these chemicals affect the embryonic development of these animals. Since rodent research is the gold standard in the biomedical sciences, this raises a big red flag that these chemicals may be toxic to humans as well."

Quaternary ammonium compounds were introduced in the 1950s and 1960s before the standardization of toxicity studies. Chemical manufacturers conducted some toxicity studies on the compounds during this period, but they were never published. Today, the chemicals are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Hrubec noted that an epidemiological study could determine whether people who have a high rate of exposure, such as healthcare workers or restaurant servers, have a more difficult time becoming pregnant or have a greater likelihood of having children with neural tube birth defects, but no such study has been conducted to date.

Are household disinfectants making kids overweight? Study finds possible link

Obesity affects nearly 1 in 6 children in the United States, according to new data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's State of Obesity report. And new findings from the Canadian Medical Association Journal reveal there may be more contributing to that stat than overeating.

Overweight children are approximately five times more likely to be obese or overweight as adults, increasing risk for chronic diseases and health issues like diabetes, hypertension and obesity-related cancers. While some people are more likely to be affected by obesity — older women, Hispanic men and black women — new research suggests postnatal exposure to certain household disinfectants may be linked to being overweight.

The findings, published Monday in the CMAJ, involve data from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development study, which began in 2009.

Researchers closely followed participants from mid-pregnancy into childhood and adolescence and examined fecal samples for infants at 3-4 months of age in addition to survey responses about their home and use of disinfectant products.

Of the 757 infants profiled, 80 percent came from households that used disinfectant products on a weekly basis, typically multi-surface cleaners. The emphasis on cleanliness, researchers said, has led to widening use of the products.

In the study, they noted an increase of a gut bacteria called Lachnospiraceae in infant stool with increased use of disinfectants or eco-friendly cleaners, but they found no similar association when washing detergents without the bacteria-killing ingredients were used.

It's known "from animal studies that higher levels of Lachnospiraceaehave been associated with higher body fat and insulin resistance," senior author Anita Kozyrskyj said in a podcast related to the research.

According to the findings, infants from households that used antimicrobial disinfectants weekly were twice as likely to have higher levels of Lachnospiraceae and then, after age 3, they were also more likely to have a higher body mass index than children from homes where disinfectants were not as frequently used.

In addition to higher levels of Lachnospiraceae, infants from frequent disinfectant use households had lowered abundance of Haemophilusand Clostridium bacteria, a combined profile similar to children with eczema.

"Elevated fecal abundance of Lachnospiraceae (specifically Blautia) concurrent with lowered Haemophilus is also a signature of diabetes, as shown in a study on 11-year-old children," researchers wrote.

“These results suggest that gut microbiota were the culprit in the association between disinfectant use and the overweight,” Kozyrskyj added in the podcast interview.

Gut microbiota, gut flora or gastrointestinal microbiota refers to the "complex community of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract," according to the National Institutes of Health.

“Indeed, concerns over the potential for antibacterial products to be too effective or even toxic has motivated use of “green” or eco-friendly alternatives,” researchers said.

But though eco-friendly alternatives showed different microbiota and lower levels of the bacteria Enterobacteriaceae, plus lower rates of overweight children, study authors didn't provide a link between the altered gut microbiota and reduced childhood obesity or overweight risk.

Due to the lack of convincing data, Kozyrskyj told CNN she's not ready to recommend eco-friendly alternatives, but she has personally switched out popular disinfectants with DIY vinegar cleaning solutions.

Kozyrskyj and her colleagues concluded that antibacterial cleaning products “have the capacity to change the environmental microbiome and alter risk for child overweight,” but further research into the mechanisms through which the products alter gut microbiota and the impact on metabolism is needed.

Could household disinfectants be making our children fat?

Household disinfectants seem like such a good idea, especially when you have children — after all, children make messes, and killing germs helps keep children healthy, right? Not always, it turns out. Sometimes germs actually keep us healthy and keep us at a healthy weight.

More and more, we are learning that not all bacteria are bad. In fact, the bacteria that live naturally in and on our bodies, especially in our digestive tracts, are crucial for health. When we mess with those bacteria, it increases the risk of many problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer — and obesity.

Researchers from Canada used data from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) study to see if there was a connection between the use of household disinfectants by mothers and the weight of their children. They found that indeed, when mothers used household disinfectants (most commonly multi-surface cleaners, hand soap, and spray air fresheners), their children were more likely to be overweight or obese at age 3. By looking at stool samples from the children when they were infants, they found that this increased risk seemed to be related to a change in the bacteria in the digestive tract. The children whose mothers used disinfectants had less of the “healthier” bacteria.

When families use disinfectants, there are fewer bacteria in the house, obviously. Since children spend most of their life indoors, this means that those in “disinfected” homes are exposed to fewer bacteria, and have less of a chance to grow the bacteria that should ideally be living throughout the digestive tract, from mouth to rectum. Interestingly, a study of the bacteria in the mouths of two-year-olds showed that certain mixes of bacteria types increase the risk of rapid weight gain.

It’s not just household disinfectants that affect the bacteria in our bodies. Antibiotics and antacids can too, as well as our diet and lifestyle.

And obviously, it’s not just bacteria that affect weight gain. Interestingly, in the Canadian study children of mothers who used eco-friendly cleaning products were less likely to be overweight at 3 — but this lower risk did not appear to be related to the bacteria in their stool. Instead, the researchers said, it was more likely related to the fact that the mothers in the study who used eco-friendly cleaning products were more likely to breastfeed and to have more education, and less likely to be overweight themselves. Breastfeeding, maternal education, and maternal weight are factors that are known to affect the weight of children.

Given what we know, though, about the many problems that can occur when we get too aggressive about killing bacteria, it’s not a bad idea to rethink our cleaning products. Here are some ideas:

Household Cleaning Products May Contribute to Childhood Obesity by Altering Gut Microbiota

Commonly used household cleaners could be making children overweight by altering their gut microbiota, suggests a Canadian study published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

The study analyzed the gut flora of 757 infants from the general population at age 3-4 months and weight at ages 1 and 3 years, looking at exposure to disinfectants, detergents and eco-friendly products used in the home.

Researchers from across Canada looked at data from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) birth cohort on microbes in infant fecal matter. They used World Health Organization growth charts for body mass index (BMI) scores.

Associations with altered gut flora in babies 3-4 months old were strongest for frequent use of household disinfectants such as multisurface cleaners, which showed lower levels of Haemophilus and Clostridium bacteria but higher levels of Lachnospiraceae. The researchers also observed an increase in Lachnospiraceae bacteria with more frequent cleaning with disinfectants. They did not find the same association with detergents or eco-friendly cleaners. Studies of piglets have found similar changes in the gut microbiome when exposed to aerosol disinfectants.

“We found that infants living in households with disinfectants being used at least weekly were twice as likely to have higher levels of the gut microbes Lachnospiraceae at age 3-4 months when they were 3 years old, their body mass index was higher than children not exposed to heavy home use of disinfectants as an infant,” said Anita Kozyrskyj, a University of Alberta pediatrics professor, and principal investigator on the SyMBIOTA project, an investigation into how alteration of the infant gut microbiome impacts health.

Babies living in households that used eco-friendly cleaners had different microbiota and were less likely to be overweight as toddlers.

“Those infants growing up in households with heavy use of eco cleaners had much lower levels of the gut microbes Enterobacteriaceae. However, we found no evidence that these gut microbiome changes caused the reduced obesity risk,” she said.

She suggests that the use of eco-friendly products may be linked to healthier overall maternal lifestyles and eating habits, contributing in turn to the healthier gut microbiomes and weight of their infants.

“Antibacterial cleaning products have the capacity to change the environmental microbiome and alter risk for child overweight,” write the authors. “Our study provides novel information regarding the impact of these products on infant gut microbial composition and outcomes of overweight in the same population.”

Source: Moira K. Differding, Noel T. Mueller. Are household disinfectants microbially mediated obesogens? Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2018 190 (37): E1095 DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.181134

Household disinfectants may be making children overweight, scientists find

Everyday disinfectants and surface cleaners could be making children overweight by altering the bacteria in their guts, a new study suggests.

Babies exposed to household disinfectants have a higher body mass index (BMI) at the age of three, while excess weight is less common in toddlers from homes that clean with eco-friendly products, researchers have found.

Although the scientists warned that no causal link had been proven, they said the results suggested gut microorganisms were “the culprit” in the link between disinfectant use and children becoming overweight.


The Canadian experts took samples from 757 infants for their study, during which they followed participants as they grew from the womb, into childhood and adolescence.

Babies from homes where antimicrobial disinfectants were used at least once a week were twice as likely to have higher levels of a bacteria linked with obesity when they were three or four months old than those whose families did not frequently use disinfectants, the study found.

When the children with higher levels of the bacteria Lachnospiraceae were three years old, their BMI was higher than that of their peers, according to the report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Higher levels of Lachnospiraceae are linked with higher body fat and insulin resistance, although it is normal to find them in the gut, said Anita Kozyrskyj, senior author of the study.

The human gut hosts tens of trillions of microorganisms, including an estimated 1,000 species of bacteria.

The researchers did not find any links between obesity and the use of washing detergents that did not contain bacteria-killing ingredients such as bleach and hydrogen peroxide.

Ms Kozyrskyj, a paediatrics professor at the University of Alberta, said the results suggested that gut microbiota – groups of microorganisms – were the culprit in the association between disinfectant use and becoming overweight.


Piglets born indoors and raised in conditions where disinfectant aerosols are frequently used have perturbed gut microbial balances compared with those not reared under such conditions, the scientists noted.

They said babies living in households that used eco-friendly cleaners had different microbiota and were less likely to be overweight as toddlers.

“The eco-friendly product-using mothers may be more healthy,” the professor said, adding that the mother’s overall healthier lifestyle and eating habits may benefit both the gut bacteria and their children’s weight.

It is possible that some disinfectant products contained triclosan, which is no longer used in UK cleaning products

Ms Kozyrskyj said she could not recommend buying eco-friendly products as a direct result of the study, since a causal link had not been confirmed, but she said the findings had opened her mind to using green products such as homemade vinegar cleaners in her own home.

Sally Bloomfield, honorary professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said more questions needed answers before conclusions could be drawn.

“This study must be regarded as only a preliminary indication that disinfectant use might be a contributory factor to reducing gut microbe diversity, alongside factors such as c-section birth, overuse of antibiotics etc," she said.

"A major flaw is the non-homogenous nature of the products in each category. In some cases, the commercial products were categorised into disinfectants or detergents without detailed knowledge of ingredients."

Study: Some Cleaning Products May Have This Surprising Impact On Your Children's Health

With flu season almost upon us, pediatricians stress the importance of hand-washing and sanitizing, so it makes sense that parents want to feel good about using common household cleaning products in their home to safeguard their families on a regular basis. Well, you may want to have a closer look at which ones you're using because, according to a new Canadian study, some common cleaning products may have a surprising impact on your children's health.

New research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal made a link between household cleaning products and the possibility of children becoming overweight, according to findings published by Newsweek. Researchers who were part of the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) group found in the study that kids who lived in households where disinfectants were used at least once a week had a higher body mass index (BMI) by age 3 than children who came in less regular contact with such products.

On the other hand, children who came from homes where eco-friendly products were used for clean-up (including such substances as vinegar) were less likely to be overweight, as Newsweek detailed.

While this link existed in households using "multi-surface cleaners," according to MSN, the association between cleaning products and increased BMI levels was not there when a household reported using natural detergents and eco-friendly cleaners.

Scientists arrived at the surprising connection by studying the gut (intestinal) flora of 757 babies aged between 3 to 4 months old, according to Fox News. The children’s fecal samples were collected at the start of the study, to reveal the bacteria which lived in their guts. Researchers also asked parents how often cleansers were used, and visited residences to check on product usage, according to a press release for the study shared on Science Daily.

In particular, children frequently exposed to disinfectants had higher levels of the Lachnospiraceae family of bacteria in their guts than other participants. Mice with higher levels of Lachnospiraceae in their gut stored more fat and had greater insulin resistance, as Dr. Anita Kozyrskyj, a pediatrics professor at University of Alberta, who led the study, told Newsweek. The bacterial composition of a child's gut is tied to important functions from postnatal intestinal development to nutrient absorption, according to the National Institutes of Health website.

In the new study, according to Science Daily, scientists reassessed these children at the age of 1 and 3 years old, and measured their weight. The conclusion? Disinfectants may mess with a child's natural gut bacterial balance. This thesis dovetails with findings from the past two decades, the authors concluded, that harsh chemical cleansers can affect the body. In fact, according to the Organic Consumers Association website, chemical cleaning ingredients have been linked with hazards big and small, from respiratory irritation to cancer.

However, as Dr. Kozyrskyj told Newsweek, this new study may have been hampered by the reliance on parents reporting their disinfectant use, and not noting brand names of items they were using. Also, the expert noted, it's possible that "the mothers who used eco-friendly products during pregnancy had more nutritious diets and a healthier pregnancy. As a result, their healthy microbiome was passed on to their newborns.”

For some time, natural-health advocates, including You Tube's Dr. Josh Axe, have been voicing the idea that some household cleansers, such as bleach, may be dangerous, and can be easily swapped for natural ingredients, such as lemon and various essential oils.

Meanwhile, Cosmos reported related findings by epidemiologists Noel Mueller and Moira Differding, who confirmed there was a “biologic plausibility to the finding that early-life exposure to disinfectants may increase risk of childhood obesity." When the findings cam out, Dr. e r Cecilie Svanes explained to the Unviersity of Bergen:

Moral of the story? The safest way to clean your house may just be the old-fashioned way your grandma might have done: soap, a cloth and a bucket of water.


“Previous studies that looked into the association between consuming foods at a fast pace and increased energy intake focused solely on children.

'However, by assessing both adults and children, we were able to debunk the notion that adults are immune from the effect of eating quickly on obesity that have been established in children,' Gibson added.

The team also found a difference in birth order of siblings, when it came to determining just how quickly they were likely to eat their food.

They found that first‐born children were twice as likely to eat faster compared to children who were not first‐born.

Researchers from the University of Roehampton and Bristol University worked with 800 volunteers who completed surveys about their weight and eating rates. Stock image

Adults with no siblings reported eating slower than adults who were not first‐born and a higher number of siblings was associated with faster eating rate in children from Bristol, but not in children from London.

London adults without siblings ate slower than those with two or more siblings, but having one sibling was associated with eating faster than having two or more.

'Guidance for preventing obesity in both children and adults needs to be revised to take into consideration not only the types, quality and quantity of foods consumed, but also the eating rate,' explained Gibson.

'By slowing down and taking longer to eat our meals, we can keep our waistlines and BMIs in check.”

The findings from this study have been published in the journal Clinical Obesity.


Obesity is defined as an adult having a BMI of 30 or over.

A healthy person's BMI - calculated by dividing weight in kg by height in metres, and the answer by the height again - is between 18.5 and 24.9.

Among children, obesity is defined as being in the 95th percentile.

Percentiles compare youngsters to others their same age.

For example, if a three-month-old is in the 40th percentile for weight, that means that 40 per cent of three-month-olds weigh the same or less than that baby.

Around 58 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men in the UK are overweight or obese.

The condition costs the NHS around £6.1billion, out of its approximate £124.7 billion budget, every year.

This is due to obesity increasing a person's risk of a number of life-threatening conditions.

Such conditions include type 2 diabetes, which can cause kidney disease, blindness and even limb amputations.

Research suggests that at least one in six hospital beds in the UK are taken up by a diabetes patient.

Obesity also raises the risk of heart disease, which kills 315,000 people every year in the UK - making it the number one cause of death.

Carrying dangerous amounts of weight has also been linked to 12 different cancers.

This includes breast, which affects one in eight women at some point in their lives.

Among children, research suggests that 70 per cent of obese youngsters have high blood pressure or raised cholesterol, which puts them at risk of heart disease.

Obese children are also significantly more likely to become obese adults.

And if children are overweight, their obesity in adulthood is often more severe.

As many as one in five children start school in the UK being overweight or obese, which rises to one in three by the time they turn 10.

Common cleaning products could lead to childhood obesity, study finds

HOUSTON, TX (KPRC) A recent Canadian study finds the disinfectants we’re using in our homes could make kids fat.

In the past few decades, scientists say asthma, Type 1 diabetes, obesity and other diseases are sharply on the rise among kids, so what has changed?

The study, which was only examining childhood obesity, finds that disinfectants are changing the bacteria in children’s gut and that may later lead to obesity.

It’s very compelling research, according to Dr. Geoffrey Preidis, a pediatric gastroenterologist from Texas Children’s Hospital. But he’s not convinced.

“We still don’t know what is causing that link, and it could be a lot of other things that were not accounted for,” Preidis says. “Specific types of cleaners, they might also encourage their children to run around outside and exercise as opposed to spending hours in front of a television or a screen.”

He does agree with one part of the study, he said: We may be too sterile.

“Several hundred years ago many of our ancestors lived on farms … there was no refrigeration, no electricity. So that is one of the key changes that many people are pointing to that could be driving this increased risk of certain diseases,” Preidis said.

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