Are your hands heart-stoppingly clean?

I’ve mentioned before that lathering up with antibacterial soap is probably the worst possible way to wash your hands. These chemical-laden cleaners do more harm than good for a couple of reasons. And the fact that they’re sure to contain triclosan is just one of them.

Scientists developed triclosan 50 years ago to ward off bacteria in hospitals. But now it’s practically a household name-albeit under a few different pseudonyms. Like Dial®, Softsoap®, Colgate®, and Clearasil®. And that’s just to mention a few.

With popularity like that, you’d think triclosan would have a safety profile that’s beyond reproach. But unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

Animal studies have already shown that triclosan is a potent endocrine disruptor and “obesogen” that can interfere with normal thyroid function. And now, new research is showing that it interferes with muscle function, too.

Looking closer at human muscle cells in the lab, researchers from UC Davis found that triclosan exposure interrupts signaling that’s necessary for contraction. Follow-up experiments on mice and fathead minnows confirmed these findings. The fish performed poorly on swimming tests. The mice lost 18 percent of their grip strength…and 25 percent of their heart muscle function.

Obviously, the researchers don’t know for certain if these risks carry over to humans. But do we really want to wait to find out?

Personally, I’d rather take my chances with the germs. The fact is, rising rates of antibiotic resistance and the emergence of killer “superbugs” lead right back to antibacterial soap, too.

So next time you wash your hands, stick with plain old soap.

“Triclosan impairs excitation-contraction coupling and Ca2+ dynamics in striated muscle,” PNAS 2012; Aug 13