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Published On: Tue, Sep 19th, 2017

Why your shampoo and washing powder could be toxic

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Household chemicals cause birth defects and reduced fertility in mice and may have a similar effect on humans

By Daisy Dunne For Mailonline

Everyday essentials such as shampoo and washing powder could be toxic to humans, according to a new study.
New research has found exposure to househould chemicals causes birth defects and reduced fertility in mice.
A common ingredient of household products, known as quaternary ammonium compounds or ‘quats’, is thought to cause the harmful effects.
The research raises the possibility of quats contributing to human infertility, which has been on the rise in recent decades.
One in six couples in the UK now struggle to conceive, while one in eight US couples also have difficulty starting family.

Why Is Infertility On The Rise?
Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected sex or the ability to carry pregnancy to full term.
One in six couples in the UK now struggle to conceive, while one in eight US couples also have difficulty starting family.
Sperm counts in the average British male have fallen by almost half in the past 60 years.
Many experts blame this fall on an increase in environmental chemicals which have weak oestrogen effects, such as DDT.
An increase in oestrogen levels in the general water supply, due to use of the oral contraceptive pill, has also been implicated.
There are also increasing problems in women.
Increasing rates of ‘symptomless’ chlamydia may have contributed to the fall in women’s fertility.
Chlamydia causes inflammation, and scarring, which can permanently damage and block the tubes, leading to infertility.
More women work than ever before, and increasing numbers choose to delay starting a family until established in their careers.
This makes fertility problems more likely, and is thought to be a significant factor in the falling birth rate in the UK.

What are ‘quats’?
Quats 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 defect in the animals’ neural tube, a hollow structure from which the spine and brain form.
‘These chemicals are regularly used in the home, hospital, public spaces, and swimming pools,’ said Terry Hrubec, associate professor of anatomy at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Virginia.
‘Most people are exposed on a regular basis.’
The researchers 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.
They are valued for their antimicrobial properties, as well as their ability to lower surface tension.

What did the study find?
Researchers found that exposure to these chemicals resulted in neural tube birth defects, the same birth defect that causes spina bifida and anencephaly in humans.
Spina bifida is when a baby’s spine and cord don’t develop properly in the womb, causing a gap in the spine.
Anencephaly is the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp that occurs during a baby’s development.
‘Birth defects were seen when both males and females were exposed, as well as when only one parent was exposed,’ said Professor Hrubec.

•Research found exposure to common househould chemicals causes birth defects in mice
‘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.’
The researchers found that mice and rats did not even need to be dosed with the chemicals to see the effect.
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,’ Professor Hrubec added.

How quats cause a drop in fertility
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 question of whether quats contribute to human infertility.
‘We are asked all of the time, “You see your results in mice. How do you know that it’s toxic in humans?”’ Professor 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 standardisation 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.
The results were published in the journal Birth Defects Research.


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