Disinfectants, detergents, and other cleaning products are commonplace in our homes, and yet do we really know what effect they’re having on our family’s health? New research shares some surprises on how our homes can influence our children’s weight. 

By Sofia Popov

Infancy is vital for the development of our microbiomes, dramatically shaping our microbial communities during our first year of life. By age 3, we have established our microbial signature, one that remains relatively stable throughout our lives. Nevertheless, our lifestyle and environment continues to impact our microbes. Now, a new Canadian study shows that our household cleaners could actually be causing our kids to become overweight.

Cleaning products modify your child’s microbes

In the study, researchers looked at the gut flora of 757 infants at age 3-4 months, as well as their weight at ages 1 and 3 years. They also noted the children’s exposure to disinfectants, detergents and eco-friendly products used in the home.

Children growing up in families where household cleaning agents were used frequently had higher levels of Lachnospiraceae – a microbial pattern also commonly found in children with eczema or diabetes.

After controlling for several factors that may affect gut flora, the authors found that the composition of the gut microbiome at 3-4 months depended heavily on the type of cleaners used. Children growing up in families where household cleaning agents were used frequently (everyday or at least weekly) had lower levels of the bacteria Haemophilus and Clostridium, but higher levels of Lachnospiraceae – a microbial pattern also commonly found in children with eczema2 or diabetes3.

What about eco-friendly cleaning products?

Well, the researchers found that exposure to more eco-friendly products led to a reduction in Enterobacteriaceae – a bacterial class which includes several pathogenic bacteria like Escherichia coli. When all the kids turned 3, the researchers re-visited them to find out happened. Turns out, the increased Lachnospiraceae that arose from frequent disinfectant use was actually leading to them being overweight. On the other hand, for the kids in eco-friendly households, obesity was not an outcome. The researchers couldn’t link this to the reduced Enterobacteriaceae counts; instead, they speculate it’s the result of an otherwise healthy family lifestyle. 

Overuse of disinfectants is clearly a no-go.

The researchers are now trying to elucidate the mechanisms behind the use of household disinfectants, altered gut compositions and resulting overweight risks. These findings have illustrated the importance of minimising use of chemical cleaning products. Instead, try opting for natural alternatives – think apple cider vinegar, bicarbonate soda and other home-made recipes. It’s clear: we must pay attention to the familial environment we create, the health of our offspring depends on it. 


References:

  1. Mon H. Tun. et al. Postnatal exposure to household disinfectants, infant gut microbiota and subsequent risk of overweight in children. 
  2. Zheng H, Liang H, Wang Y, et al. Altered gut microbiota composition associated with eczema in infants. PLoS One 2016;11:e0166026
  3. Qi CJ, Zhang Q, Yu M, et al. Imbalance of fecal microbiota at newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes in Chinese children. Chin Med J (Engl) 2016;129:1298–304.