Study Finds Links Between Household Disinfectants, Obesity

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This story originally appeared on by Jaime Ritter.

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.

Related: Your Kitchen Spring-Cleaning Checklist

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.

“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.

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