New Study Says Household Disinfectants Alters Gut Flora Associated With Weight Gain

September 20, 2018

My husband and I often discuss common dirt and how it may affect our daughter (who is now almost one!). We agree that exposure to dirt is probably good for her, so we tend not to stress if she reaches for a teether that just hit the floor. (“Eh? It will build her immunity,” we shrug.)

Naturally then, I haven’t altered my cleaning routine very much (other than possibly not cleaning as often or as thoroughly as I once did because I no longer have the time or energy–sigh.) A little spray of Mrs. Meyer’s* here and there–and I call the countertops clean. While I do own a few hardcore disinfectants (my mother-in-love sneaks them in, by golly!), I can’t recall the last time I’ve properly sanitized…

While I often bemoan the less-than-pristine state of my house, new research indicates that those of us who are too busy to constantly clean–or who prefer less aggressive home cleansers may have cause to celebrate–especially you have children!

How Disinfectants Can Harm Gut Flora

Disinfectants & Childhood Body Mass Index

Specifically, a study looking at the gut flora of 757 infants aged found that frequent exposure to common household cleaners (disinfectants, in particular) may alter a baby’s gut flora to the extent that the exposure increases their chances of becoming overweight between the ages of 1 and 3.

The problem? Infants in homes that frequently used multisurface disinfectant experienced lower levels of Haemophilus and Clostridium bacteria but higher levels of Lachnospiraceae, the latter of which is associated with higher body mass index:

“We found that infants living in households with disinfectants being used at least weekly were twice as likely to have higher levels of the gut microbes Lachnospiraceae at age 3-4 months; when they were 3 years old, their body mass index was higher than children not exposed to heavy home use of disinfectants as an infant,” principal researcher Anita Kozyrskyj explains.

In short, “Antibacterial cleaning products have the capacity to change the environmental microbiome and alter risk for [a] child [being] overweight,” the authors write.

What about eco-friendly cleaners?

The researchers did not find that eco-friendly cleaners or detergents to have the same effect on children’s gut flora. In fact, children growing up in homes that used eco-friendly cleaners were less likely to be overweight:

“Those infants growing up in households with heavy use of eco cleaners had much lower levels of the gut microbes Enterobacteriaceae. However, we found no evidence that these gut microbiome changes caused the reduced obesity risk.”

Safer Alternatives

How Disinfectants Can Harm Gut Flora

As it turns out, Mrs. Meyer’s may not be the cleanest cleaner in town. While the EWG considers the overall hazard of their products fairly low, the eco-friendliness of the products may vary depending on each product’s formulation. Here’s the EWG guide to the best and safest cleaners.

While I have loved Mrs. Meyer’s products since I lived on my own, I’ll probably be trying my hand at simpler options, including vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils. If you’re feeling inspired to go as natural as possible, too, consider these DIY sprays. Thanks to the essential oils, your home will smell heavenly!

Note: if you have a little one, be sure to do a bit of research to see which essential oils are considered safe for children. I have consulted this guide several times. Apparently, rosemary and eucalyptus are *not* safe for itty-bitties until they’re, like, ten!

At the very least, do your best to avoid true disinfectants. If a bottle of cleaner promises to wipe out 99.9% of bacteria, it’s probably not lying–but some of that bacteria may be the “good guys” or microbes that help build immunity. When it’s cold and flu season, practice properly and frequently washing your hands with warm water and soap–it will go a long way! (If your child has a compromised immune system, please talk to your pediatrician about the safest hygiene practices for your family.)

New Study Says Household Disinfectants May Alter Gut Flora Associated With Weight

What are your favorite eco-friendly cleaners? 

Related: Clear Your Mind & Clean Your Home With These 6 Purifying Essential Oils

Enjoy Hygge Hour Responsibly With These Toxin-Free, Sustainable Candle Tips

5 Best Uses For Castile Soap

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Peaceful Dumpling Beauty Editor and creator of Bisou du Jour, Mary Hood Luttrell lives with her husband in Corpus Christi, Texas. Mary is a freelance writer and writing and blogging consultant. A lover of whole foods, Mary delights in learning new ways to prepare vegan dishes. Mary also enjoys reading and writing poetry, art journaling, running, and practicing yoga and ballet. Follow Mary on her blog Bisou du Jour, Instagram and Pinterest.


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