Clean but not lean?

Could commonly-used, household cleaners be making children overweight? New study suggests that everyday disinfectants and surface cleaners might be altering the bacteria in their guts.

24 September 2018

Cleaning equipment. Cleaning service concept.

By Kevin Bailey, Technical Analyst at Jumpstart

Could commonly-used, household cleaners be making children overweight? New study suggests that everyday disinfectants and surface cleaners might be altering the bacteria in their guts. Kevin bailey, Technical Analyst at Jumpstart, look at the science behind the allegations.

Obesity is a major public health concern, which is becoming more prevalent in modern society. Although, traditionally linked to increased consumption of energy-dense foods and reduced physical activity, research has demonstrated links with genetic and environmental factors. More recently, analysis of faecal samples in mice and humans has revealed a correlation between obesity and alterations in the gut microbiota. Of the thousands of bacterial species-level phylotypes inhabiting the human gut, the majority belong to the dominant phyla, the Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. It has been shown that obesity is potentially linked to a reduction in Bacteroidetes and an increase in Firmicutes.

An article published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal[1] has presented us with another piece of the puzzle, establishing a link between obesity in children, gut microbiota and postnatal exposure to household disinfectants. In this study, it was shown that with more frequent use of disinfectants, Lachnospiracaceae, a family of bacteria in the Firmicutes family, became increasingly more abundant in faecal samples taken from 3- to 4- month old infants, and the top 30th centile of disinfectant use was associated with a higher BMI score at age 3 years. However, this change in gut microbiota was not observed with the use of eco-friendly disinfectants, which was associated with a lower BMI score and reduced odds of overweight or obesity at age 3.

It is clear that further investigation is required to characterise the impact of the use of household cleaning products on gut microbial composition, and how, in turn, this is linked to metabolic disease.


[1] DOI: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.170809