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Monday, October 25, 2010

Death by Hand Sanitizer...

Killing bacteria on your hands is good, right?  After all, that's what our mom's told us when we were growing up: "Wash your hands before you eat!" was right up their with "You'll put you eye out...".

Unfortunately, modern marketing has taken this notion to a very dangerous extreme: antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizer.

Dangerous you say?  But after I pet Fluffy my hands are full of nasty dog bacteria, aren't they?


But the methods you may be using to get rid of Fluffy's germs might be killing you.  And, the likelihood of infection from other, more dangerous bacteria like MRSA, may be increased by hand sanitizer.

First let's start first with how the immune system works.  Everyone's heard about T-Cells, anti-bodies and the sorts of things that happen inside you body as part of your immune system.  But that's not what's important here because this system comes into play after there's a problem.

Here we're going to start with your first line of defense:  the Mucosal Immune Response (MI).

First of all, what is this?  From this link: "The mucous membrane lines the passages and cavities communicating with the air and outside environment, consisting of a surface layer of epithelium, a basement membrane and an underlying layer of connective tissue (lamina propria). It extends from the nose to the rectum lining the hollow organs and cavities of the body."

When you put something in your mouth, inhale germs that someone has coughed or sneezed out, or swallow something the MI is your bodies first line of defense.  Picture your mucosa as a silk stocking imbedded with white blood cells and immuno-globulins. These defenders will label, attack and remove any perceived pathogen, as a toxin, bacteria, fungus, virus or undigested food proteins, that enters your system and tries to get through the lining into the blood.

Mucous membranes are usually colonized with friendly bacteria, e.g., lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidis that discourage colonization of pathogens. When these protectors are killed by immunosuppressive drugs such as antibiotics, and certain foods, (e.g., white sugar and foods made with it) stress, chlorine, food preservatives, chemicals, environmental toxins, etc., then pathogens like Candida albicans can attach to the membrane and overgrowths occur, called Candidiasis or yeast infections.

So what you do with your hand sanitizer and Fluffy's germs first touches your body via the MI.

Now, let's look into what's going on with hand sanitizer.  (This also applies to various hand soaps and other products that people use.)  Hand sanitizers, soaps, kitchen and bathroom sprays can contain any number of ingredients to kill "germs".  Among them triclosan, alcohol, sodium hypochlorite, sodium hydroxide, and benzalkonium chloride (this list is basically related to hand sanitizers but these chemicals, triclosan in particular, can be found in other products.)

First, alcohol.  There are two kinds: Ethanol and Isopropyl.  Ethanol is the kind you drink and is also called ethyl alcohol.  It kills germs.  Ethanol evaporates within seconds of application to the skin.  However, health care workers have been warned not to put alcoholics in the same room as hand sanitizers. There have been verified reports of prison inmates getting drunk on hand sanitizers and of children licking hand sanitizers off their hands and getting drunk.

While most of the alcohol in hand sanitizers evaporates within seconds of being rubbed on the hands, some is absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. Research with adults showed measurable amounts of alcohol in the bloodstream after using a large amount of hand sanitizers, but not enough to cause intoxication. The same research has not done been done with children.

The other route of alcohol absorption is through inhalation of the vapors.

Isopropyl alcohol, also called rubbing alcohol, is a petrochemical that can be absorbed through the skin and through inhalation of vapors. It is a known neurotoxin, meaning toxic to the nervous system. It also dries the skin out. Some research shows toxicity even in low doses when used around the eyes and lips. Rubbing alcohol was once used to rub down children with a fever. The practice was discontinued after some infants died or went into a coma from repeated rubdowns. The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) toxicity rating of isopropyl alcohol is a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being most toxic.

So what are the issues here.  First off alcohol is not terribly effective on bacteria.  It will kill gram-negative types more effectively than gram-positive types.  Alcohol dissolves the outer layer of the cell wall for gram-negative types.

The good news is that many bad bacteria, like MRSA, are gram-positive and alcohol will kill them.

The very bad news is that alcohol dries out your skin causing cracks.  Cracks into which bad bacterina and MRSA can enter your body directly.

Next - triclosan.  This FDA approved chemical has its own set of problems.  The main one in my view is that it combines with chemicals in water to create substances like dioxin and chloroform.  Dioxin is a highly toxic poison.

Chloroform can damage your bodies MI and let in things through your mucus lining.

Personally after reviewing even the Wikipedia listing (see above) I think this is bad news all around.

The remaining chemicals fall into two categories: one for surfaces and one for hands.

Benzalkonium chloride, or ADBAC, while able to kill bacteria, also results in an increase of bacterial resistance.  So, killing 99.9% of the bad bacteria can make the remaining .1% more virulent and dangerous.  Personally I would not put this on my body.  It can also cause allergic problems, its toxic to other animals like fish and can cause problems with your MI.

The remaining chemicals are not part of hand sanitizers.  Bleach kills lots of things, like MRSA, but its damaging to your skin and contains chlorine which can damage your MI.  Sodium hydroxide, or lye, is an ingredient in lye-based soaps.  Its effective at killing MRSA as well.

For me the bottom line on hand sanitizer is that its not something to use.

In addition, proper nutrition and keeping your body in good condition, i.e., avoiding antibiotics that can impact the MI is a good thing.  Having the proper concentration of stomach acid is also important as it relates to bacteria on food.  Many drugs can reduce the effectiveness of stomach acid.

Also, if you have a cut or other penetration of your skin - treat it with Iodine (Logol's or the betadyne type) - don't use hand sanitizers.

As for Fluffy - man and dog have been evolutionary companions for tens of thousands of years - if Fluffy's "germs" were going to kill you they'd have done it already.  Don't get me wrong, there's a long list and some of them are nasty, but they're not the type of thing your going to normally run across unless you live in the wild.


jacob pritchard said...

This is great I completely agree with you. I wish more people would read this; great information.

jacob pritchard said...
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