In a new study, researchers found evidence that triclosan—an antimicrobial found in many soaps and other household items—worsens the fatty liver disease.
The study also details the mechanisms by which triclosan disrupts metabolism and the gut microbiome, while also stripping away liver cells’ natural protections.
The team says triclosan’s increasingly broad use in consumer products presents a risk of liver toxicity for humans.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.
In a 2014 mouse study, the team found triclosan exposure promoted liver tumor formation by interfering with a protein responsible for clearing away foreign chemicals in the body.
In the current study, the researchers fed a high-fat diet to mice with type 1 diabetes. As previous studies have shown, the high-fat diet led to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
In humans, NAFLD is an increasingly common condition that can lead to liver cirrhosis and cancer. Diabetes and obesity are risk factors for NAFLD.
Some of the mice were also fed triclosan, resulting in blood concentrations comparable to those found in human studies. Compared to mice only fed a high-fat diet, triclosan accelerated the development of fatty liver and fibrosis.
According to the study, here’s what’s likely happening: Eating a high-fat diet normally tells cells to produce more fibroblast growth factor 21, which helps protects liver cells from damage.
The team discovered that triclosan messes with two molecules, ATF4 and PPARgamma, which cells need to make the protective growth factor.
Not only that, the antimicrobial also disrupted a variety of genes involved in metabolism.
In addition, the mice exposed to triclosan had less diversity in their gut microbiomes—fewer types of bacteria living in the intestines, and makeup similar to that seen in patients with NAFLD. Less gut microbiome diversity is generally associated with poorer health.
The study shows that common factors that people encounter in every-day life—the ubiquitous presence of triclosan, together with the prevalence of high consumption of dietary fat —constitute a good recipe for the development of the fatty liver disease.
The new findings will help researchers better understand risk factors for NAFLD, and give them a new place to start in designing potential interventions to prevent and mitigate the condition.
One author of the study is Robert H. Tukey, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Pharmacology.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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