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Common toothpaste ingredient may promote gut inflammation, colon cancer

The bacteria-killing compound triclosan, commonly found in household products such as toothpastes, detergents and mouthwashes was recently linked to gut irritation and researchers believe the chemical may promote the development of colon cancer.

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That’s according to new research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which collaborated with 13 other universities to explore the effects of triclosan in mice.

Researchers found that the chemical caused low-grade inflammation in normal, healthy mice. When the mice were fed triclosan at concentrations reported in human blood plasma, the colon inflammation worsened.

“The chemical also accelerated the development of colitis—inflammation that leads to rectal bleeding, diarrhea, abdominal pain, abdominal spasms in humans—and the growth of tumors,” researcher Haixia Yang wrote in a public article. “In one group of mice, it reduced lifespan.”

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The compound’s harmful effects are likely due to disruptions in the gut microbiome. Exposure to the bacteria-killing chemical, Yang said, lowered populations of Bifidobacterium, or so-called “good bacteria,”

Because triclosan is considered one of the most commonly used antimicrobials, found in more than 2,000 consumer products, Yang said the study suggests health officials “must reassess regulation of triclosan for its effect on human health” as it’s impossible to avoid contact with the chemical.

More research is also needed to understand the impact of the chemical on humans and other species.

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Inflammatory bowel disease affects about 3 million Americans, many of whom are diagnosed with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Colorectal cancer, cancer of the colon and rectum, is also the second leading cancer killer in the country.

Read the full Amherst study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, at stm.sciencemag.org.

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