Early exposure to household cleaning products may lead to changes in gut microbiota, weight gain in kids

One thing all parents have in common is the determination to keep their children safe. While cleanliness and sanitation are part of healthy living and almost expected in the germ-conscious society we live in today, many parents wonder about the effects of their household products on their children’s well-being.

A Canadian study explores how exposure to household cleaning products might be the culprit for changes in the microbiota of children, which may lead to unhealthy weight gain. Researchers are looking into the plausible and possible link between obesity due to microbial changes in the gut and how early exposure to household disinfectants and cleaners may contribute to that connection. 

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Aspects of the Study

The research study looked at the flora of the gut microbiome in 757 infants ranging from 3-4 months old while tracking infant weights at 1-year old and 3-years old. The study also compared each child’s contact with household cleaners such as detergents, disinfectants, and eco-friendly cleaners.

The researchers that conducted this study used reports and data on microbes and fecal matter from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) birth cohort. Growth charts and body mass index (BMI) scales from the World Health Organization helped researchers interpret the study findings.

Results of Research

The study found that infants with the most significant changes to the gut microbiome and flora were those living in homes using disinfectant cleaners on a regular basis. This group of infants also displayed less Haemophilus and Clostridium bacteria in the gut while having a higher concentration of Lachnospiraceae bacteria in the gut microbiome. 

Luckily, these same gut bacterial changes did not occur in infants living in homes using eco-friendly cleaners. A further study of this particular infant group showed that these children possess different gut flora and have a lesser likelihood of becoming overweight in the toddler years. Researchers are currently uncertain if this correlation is due to the usage of eco-friendly cleaners contributing to healthy gut flora or the results of healthier eating habits contributing to a healthier flora in the gut microbiome. 

“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,” explains Anita Kozyrskyj in a statement. Kozyrskyj is a pediatrics professor at the University of Alberta and the principal investigator on the SyMBIOTA project, which studies how changes in the gut microbiome of an infant affect wellness. 

While the change in the types of bacteria in the gut microbiome of the children in this study shows an evident association between usage of certain household cleaners and future weight gain in children, there is a need for more scientific research to rule out other possible contributing factors. Further research in these areas will also aid in dissecting the specifics of these correlations and factor out limitations of the initial study. 

This study is published in Canadian Medical Association Journal 

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