A study out of University of California, Davis, shows that antiseptic ingredients in personal care products hinder the function of a cell’s mitochondria, which produce energy. Furthermore, researchers found these same agents inhibit estrogen signaling, which may cause reproductive harm in humans.
The specific ingredients under study are called quaternary ammonium compounds, or quats. They are used as antiseptics in many personal care products. These include toothpastes, mouthwashes, lozenges, nasal sprays, eye drops, shampoos, and lotions. Quats are also present in many household cleaners, laundry detergents and fabric softeners.
Quats Derail Energy in Cells
The study surveyed a collection of 1,600 compounds and drugs in household and pharmaceutical use. The researchers analyzed the impact each compound has on in-vitro cells. In conclusion, the analysis revealed that quats, as a class, inhibited mitochondrial function and estrogen signaling.
“Disinfectants that we are putting on and in our bodies, and using in our environment, have been shown to inhibit mitochondrial energy production and the cellular estrogen response,” said biochemist Gino Cortopassi in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “This raises concern because exposure to other mitochondrial-inhibiting drugs, such as rotenone and MPTP, is associated with increased risk for Parkinson’s disease.”
“Because exposure to quats is also interrupting the sex hormone estrogen response in cells, it could also potentially cause reproductive harm in animals or humans, and others have shown that quats cause reproductive toxicity in animals,” Cortopassi said.
Quats Possibly Contribute to Human Infertility
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, studied the effects of quats on cells, not in mammals. Nevertheless, the implications for humans are significant because other studies have shown similar outcomes.
In early 2017, a group of researchers at Virginia Tech demonstrated a link between quats and neural tube birth defects in both mice and rats. This study follows two others at the same university. In 2014, scientists found that quats led to reproductive declines in mice. Follow-up research in 2016 found that these chemicals were decreasing sperm counts in males and ovulation in females.
“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,” stated Terry Hrubec, associate professor of anatomy at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine-Virginia campus and research assistant professor in the veterinary college’s Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology.
Currently, there is no epidemiological research to show if quat exposure affects human health and fertility. Such a study could determine whether people who have a high rate of exposure to quats, such as restaurant servers, have a more difficult time becoming pregnant or a greater risk of having children with birth defects.
How to Check Ingredients in Personal Care Products
Unfortunately, quats are not the only potentially-harmful ingredients in personal care products. Others include parabens, synthetic colors, fragrance, phthalates, formaldehyde, toluene, and sodium lauryl sulfate. To check what’s in your favorite cosmetics and personal care products and if these ingredients are safe, visit the EWG’s Skin Deep Database.
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