Q. I just read about a study that found that triclosan in soaps and toothpaste doesn’t harm your gut bacteria. Does this mean these antibacterial products are now safe to use? -- Andrew G., New York City
A: Not really. The study you’re referring to is from the Stanford School of Medicine, and it’s one of the first studies to address the impact of triclosan found in personal-care products on the gut and oral biome. (Triclosan also is known as an antibacterial pesticide.) It’s a well-done study and shows that in a sample of 13 people short-term use of triclosan in personal-care products doesn’t alter the gut or oral biome by much.
But there are questions the study doesn’t answer, such as what are the long-term effects of triclosan on the gut biome (it’s bioaccumulative) and on the endocrine system, since triclosan is a known hormone disrupter.
Triclosan has been heavily restricted by the EU since 2014, and starting in 2017 Minnesota will ban retail sales of products containing it. Companies such as Colgate-Palmolive, Proctor & Gamble, Avon and Johnson & Johnson have taken steps to remove triclosan from their products. (It also can be found in toys, clothing, kitchenware and furniture.)
Although the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t seen evidence that seems compelling enough to ban triclosan, startlingly bad results have shown up in animal studies. So while the U.S. (and Canada) kicks the triclosan can down the road, we say it’s better to be safe than sorry.
There’s no benefit to using antibacterial products (OK, one toothpaste did a better job with gingivitis), and studies have shown that plain soap and water is equally effective against bacteria on the hands. So buy soaps without antibacterial ingredients, and brush your teeth for one more minute a day.
Q: I thought kids in Michigan who weren’t vaccinated couldn’t attend school, but there’s a big increase in chickenpox cases, and the kids getting it aren’t vaccinated. How’s that possible? -- Bonnie M., Traverse City, Michigan
A: You’re right; chickenpox cases in Michigan are up 57 percent from this time last year. That’s in part because in Michigan (and 27 other states) parents can get a non-medical vaccination waiver for their kids if they attend an “educational session.” Unfortunately, the education parents get at these sessions doesn’t teach them to vaccinate their children against this highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease. And the vaccine not only protects kids, it also protects folks who cannot get the vaccine, like pregnant women and those with a weakened immune system, such as the elderly and anyone receiving chemotherapy.
Fortunately, research now highlights effective ways to convey the importance of vaccinations to people wary of inoculations. When researchers at Northwestern University sent senior citizens a two-minute informational video about the pneumonia vaccine, it tripled the likelihood they would get it at their next doctor’s visit. And another study determined that if folks read articles like this one that explain how a vaccine works and what getting a child vaccinated (or getting one themselves) means to them personally, then people will be more receptive.
So ... vaccines introduce a weakened or dead version of the infecting agent (it cannot give you the disease!) to your immune system. Your immune system then builds up its defenses against that virus or bacteria, so when the real thing comes along, it can protect you against it. Two doses of the varicella vaccine are 98 percent effective against chickenpox.
If you or your child isn’t vaccinated, you both can be down for a week or more while you deal with painful, potentially scarring blisters, rashes and high fever -- and you face the risk of hospitalization and even death.
When we wrote “YOU: Raising Your Child,” we concluded that the major benefits from childhood vaccines were more than 40,000 times greater than the chance of being harmed by it. Making sure your child is vaccinated will help your child and your community thrive.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at firstname.lastname@example.org.