BREAKING MEDICAL NEWS
by Mark Salamon, January 8, 2017
We are privileged to live in a time in history when we all have access to the miracle of modern medicine. Human beings no longer have to die from the common cold or become completely disabled by arthritis. All we have to do is sign up for an affordable, easy to understand insurance policy, search the internet to find out what kind of doctor to go to, spend an hour on the phone with a friendly automated voice recognition scheduler, go to the doctor, go to a specialist to find out what, exactly, the first doctor told you, and hire a lawyer to figure out the easy to understand bills you keep getting.
Despite all this, I have done some investigative reporting and found, incredibly, that there are still people out there who are having a difficult time with this system. So I have dedicated this space to tackling some of the most serious issues in health care, starting with one that I know is weighing heavily on the minds of many Americans: soap. In case you have been living in a cave, let me fill you in. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued a "final rule" stating that over the counter antiseptic wash products (soap) containing certain antibacterial ingredients can no longer be marketed. Nineteen specific ingredients were named, including triclosan and triclocarban, which are the most common chemicals found in antibacterial soap. Janet Woodcock, M.D., who is the director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, stated "consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water. In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long term." This harm can include bacterial resistance and hormonal effects.
To put this all in context, let me give you a brief history of soap. Believe it or not, soap was first invented in 2800 BC. During excavations of ancient Babylon, researchers found clay cylinders containing soap-like material, and the formula for this material was found inscribed on clay tablets from 2200 BC. Antibacterial chemicals were not used in this early soap for the obvious reason that bacteria had not been invented yet. But despite this handicap, the ancients far surpassed modern humans in their ability to generate B.O. that would disintegrate human body hair, which led to the genetic evolution of humans as the only mammal not completely covered in hair.
This went on until the 1940's when the United States Government, which was also known by the common nick-name "giant chemical companies", decided that we should at least keep a little bit of our hair so that we didn't all look like giant fetuses. So the Dial Soap Company started putting hexachlorophene into their soap to kill bacteria and make us all smell a little better. This went well for about thirty years until they discovered that, whoops, hexachlorophene causes brain damage in infants.
So we all had to go back to using regular soap that didn't make us smell nearly as good until luckily, in 1984, two pioneering scientists named David Poshi and Peter Divone patented the recipe for antibacterial soap containing triclosan, another chemical that killed bacteria with the added advantage of not being on the market long enough for anyone to realize what kind of brain lesions it might cause.
And now, more than thirty years later, we have come full circle. Thanks to the FDA, we can rest assured that if you are still old fashioned enough to be using 4000 year old soap, you will smell just fine and will not continue to lose body hair. If you are skeptical of this ruling and want your antibacterial soap back, just do what I did and become a health care professional. I don't mean to brag, but health care professionals are not included in this "final rule", so we are free to continue, in fact we are required to continue, to slather ourselves with chemicals that may or may not cause us to grow genital warts the size of igloos.
QUESTION OF THE MONTH
What is your favorite piece of medical advice that was later proven to be wrong?