Can toothpaste cause osteoporosis?
Story at-a-glance -
- Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor which is persistent in the environment and detrimental to aquatic life. Researchers theorize it negatively impacts your thyroid gland, increasing your risk of osteoporosis
- Osteoporosis is a condition in which bone mass is lost; this increases the chances of breaking your bones. There are several risk factors, such as age, gender, ethnicity and family history along with taking certain medications, having an inactive lifestyle and smoking
- Researchers found that those with the highest levels of triclosan in their urine have the greatest risk of bone mineral density decline and osteoporosis. Those with osteoporosis are more likely to fracture their hips, which increases the risks of disability and death
- Triclosan has been banned in hand sanitizers but remains an ingredient in many toothpaste brands. Consider using this recipe to make your own toothpaste, without toxic ingredients and which you may flavor to your individual taste
Osteoporosis is a condition of the bones in which bone mass is lost; this increases the risk of fracturing your wrists, hips and spine.1 Osteoporosis affects men and women. More than 53 million people in the U.S. already have the condition or are at risk for developing it. Risk factors are either fixed or modifiable. Those factors you cannot change include:2
- Gender — Women have a greater risk of developing osteoporosis than men and lose their bone tissue faster with changes happening at menopause.
- Age — As you grow older your bones may become thinner and weaker.
- Ethnicity — African-American and Hispanic women have a lower risk, while white and Asian women are at higher risk.
- Family history — If your parents have a history of osteoporotic fractures this may increase your risk.
While there are things you cannot change, there are certain ones over which you have control. Long term use of certain medications, having an inactive lifestyle or being on extended bed rest, along with smoking all increase your risk of bone loss.3 A diet low in calcium and vitamin D also increases your risk because both are necessary for your body to create dense bones.4
Bone is living tissue constantly undergoing the addition of new bone cells and the removal of old ones. New bone is added faster than old bone is removed until your late 20s.5 "Peak bone mass" is a term used to describe how large and strong our bones can get. Reaching peak bone mass typically occurs between the ages of 25 and 30, followed by greater resorption of bone than bone formation.
Anything having to do with nutrition affects bone formation, including the use of alcohol6 and having an eating disorder.7 Researchers8 have now linked the use of a commonly found antibacterial chemical with increased bone loss and a higher risk of osteoporosis.
Chemical in toothpaste increases risk of osteoporosis
The chemical triclosan, which was banned from hand sanitizers by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,9 may increase your risk of osteoporosis. Researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to look at the association between concentrations of triclosan in the urine with bone mineral density in women over age 20.10 In a press release, one researcher wrote:11
"Laboratory studies have demonstrated that triclosan may have potential to adversely affect the bone mineral density in cell lines or in animals. However, little is known about the relationship between triclosan and human bone health.
As far as we know, this is the first epidemiological study to investigate the association between triclosan exposure with bone mineral density and osteoporosis in a nationally representative sample from U.S. adult women."
One-thousand, eight hundred forty-eight records were analyzed using data from 2005 to 2010. The measurements revealed the higher the concentration of triclosan in the urine, the greater the risk of bone mineral density decline and osteoporosis.12 This association was stronger in postmenopausal women than those who had not yet reached menopause.13
Data were adjusted for factors including hormonal use, diabetes, body mass index and physical activity level. The authors speculated there was a disruption in thyroid function caused by triclosan, leading to lower bone mineral density and other things, including possible estrogenic activity in older women.14
Cumulative effect of environmental toxins on your thyroid
Your thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly and located in the front of your neck.15 It secretes hormones regulating heart and digestive functions, bone maintenance, metabolic rate, muscle control and mood. It may become overactive or underactive beginning at birth or developing after exposure to things in the environment. In their consumer update, the FDA wrote:16
"Triclosan can be found in many places today. It has been added to many consumer products — including clothing, kitchenware, furniture, and toys — to prevent bacterial contamination. Because of that, people's long-term exposure to triclosan is higher than previously thought, raising concerns about the potential risks associated with the use of this ingredient over a lifetime."
Triclosan is one of many environmental toxins affecting thyroid function. According to the American Thyroid Association,17 more than 12% in the U.S. will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime and an estimated 20 million currently have some form of thyroid disease. However, symptoms are not always prominent, so up to 60% may be unaware that they have a problem.18
Biological and environmental toxins affect your thyroid gland. For instance, the Epstein-Barr virus, known to trigger infectious mononucleosis, is known to modify the host's immune response and may trigger autoimmune thyroid disorders.19
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals fall under this category as well. These interfere with the function of the thyroid gland and may exhibit different symptoms based on levels of exposure, time of exposure and gender.20 The thyroid gland is sensitive to the action of these disruptors, and triclosan is one of them.21
Health hazards associated with exposure to triclosan are not limited to thyroid problems or a reduction in bone mineral density. According to the FDA,22 dangers associated with triclosan have not been fully established.
Many health hazards associated with triclosan
The FDA discussed three potential challenges, writing there isn't enough evidence to determine the contribution of triclosan to antibiotic resistance. They also wrote that studies evaluating skin cancer risk and the potential breakdown of triclosan on the skin after exposure to UV light are ongoing.23 However, a consensus of 200 scientists and medical professionals24 expresses a different opinion.
They cite 10 reasons,25 including its prevalence in the environment and its detrimental effects on aquatic organisms. Also on the list are direct exposure through personal care products, food and drinking water. Triclosan affects the endocrine systems of humans and animals, which may contribute to increased sensitivity to allergens and potential to modify the human microbiome.
They find, based on extensive peer-reviewed research, the endocrine disruptor26 bioaccumulates and is toxic to humans and the ecosystem.
One meta-analysis also found evidence of exposure to triclosan may alter cancer risk.27 Another found that the amount absorbed through the skin is comparable to levels required for mitochondrial dysfunction. Researchers concluded:28
"Taking into consideration these significant findings, incorporation of this antimicrobial into readily available consumer products, not just in soap, needs to be re-evaluated, and biological effects of its breakdown products and metabolites need to be investigated."
In a review of the literature,29 researchers discussed how the widespread use of triclosan increased levels found in surface water, wastewater and drinking water. They concluded in areas with high densities of bacteria, like wastewater treatment plants, conditions were ripe for proliferation of bacteria and exchange of genetic material resulting in an abundance of antibiotic-resistant communities.
In one study,30 researchers used mice to determine how short exposure to triclosan may affect inflammation in the colon. They determined mice exposed to triclosan experienced a modification of their gut microbiota and increased inflammation. The triclosan also increased the severity of colitis and triggered greater colon cancer cell growth.
Long-term impact of osteoporosis
The degree of risk of osteoporosis rises as you age, in part based on your peak bone mass density achieved in your late 20s and early 30s. Osteoporotic fractures have a serious impact on health, quality of life and happiness. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation,31 at least 33% of women and 20% of men over the age of 50 worldwide will suffer an osteoporotic fracture.
These fractures do not always heal well and may result in chronic pain, long-term disability and increasing dependence on others, and death.32 Other complications from hip fractures may include blood clots, pulmonary embolisms, pneumonia and postoperative infections when the hip must be surgically repaired.33
In another study,34 researchers found 6% of those living at home younger than 75 and 33% of those at home older than 85 were moved to a nursing home after a hip fracture. After fracturing a hip, 28% lost their ability to cook their own dinner.
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation,35 after a hip fracture 40% of individuals will be unable to walk independently after one year and 33% will be totally dependent at home or in a residential care facility within the first year.
Although these outcomes are severe, in countries where there's not as much access to care, people may not get the surgery they need, and this may result in permanent disability or death.36
For the first 10 years after fracture from osteoporosis, you'll experience an increased mortality risk,37 with the first year38 being the most dangerous. For those over 75, the risk of other major or minor fractures will also increase. Hip fractures affect mobility and emotional health as well.39
What else is in toothpaste?
The presence of triclosan is not limited to just wastewater and personal care products: It's also in certain kinds of toothpaste. Although some40 quote a lifetime use of toothpaste of 20 gallons, according to the Organized Pack Rat,41 a lifetime usage adds up to 11.3 gallons based on their calculation of the number of uses from a travel size tube of toothpaste. Regardless of how it's calculated, though, a lifetime use of toothpaste adds up to a lot of chemicals in your mouth.
These chemicals enter your bloodstream through absorption in your mucous membranes. In a report from the Cornucopia Institute,42 an organic industry watchdog, there are a number of potential risks associated with certain ingredients in toothpaste.
Common over-the-counter toothpaste may contain chemicals known to have endocrine-disrupting, inflammatory or carcinogenic activity. Triclosan is only one of those chemicals. Fluoride is another neurotoxin and endocrine disruptor commonly added to toothpaste and water supplies. I discuss more about the dangers in my article, "Short film reveals the lunacy of water fluoridation."
Some toothpastes also contain sodium lauryl sulfate and/or sodium lauryl ether sulfate, which cause the foaming action. Sodium lauryl sulfate, a registered pesticide to treat fleas and ticks,43 has been linked to skin irritation and canker sores.44 Additional ingredients may include:45
- Saccharin — Researchers have found saccharin is carcinogenic in the urinary system of animals.46 It was banned in 1981 due to the history of causing bladder tumors but has been unbanned in more than 100 countries worldwide where it's currently used as a sweetening additive.47
- Carrageenan — While this product has no flavor or nutritional value, manufacturers use it to thicken or stabilize products, such as toothpaste. In animal studies, exposure to undegraded and degraded carrageenan is associated with intestinal ulcerations and neoplasms.48
- Pyrophosphates — This helps reduce plaque but also demineralizes saliva, which prevents the natural remineralization of teeth and may affect the health of your teeth over time.49
- Phosphate salts — Inorganic phosphate salts are effectively absorbed and may elevate serum concentrations. This may be especially damaging to those with chronic kidney disease. The main problems caused by phosphate salts are vascular damage and calcification.50
Make your toothpaste at home — cheaper, safer and healthier
If you're frustrated by a lack of toothpaste options at the grocery store, it may be time to start making your own. This recipe, adapted from SimpleGreenSmoothies, is simple and easy.51 Its coconut oil base has been shown to attack oral bacteria that are responsible for dental decay and cavities.52
Natural Coconut Toothpaste
- 6 tablespoons coconut oil
- 6 tablespoons baking soda
- 25 drops of essential oil (peppermint, cinnamon or other mint, for example)
- 1 teaspoon stevia (to taste)
- Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until creamy.
- Pour into a Mason jar and seal until ready to use.
- SimpleGreenSmoothies notes that since it may be a challenge to get the mixture out of the jar, a fruit pop stick can help scoop out just enough to put on your toothbrush.
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