The Weird Reason Your Dish Detergent May Be Messing With Your Gut
Research on the gut microbiome is burgeoning and the more we discover about this 4-plus pounds of symbiotic bacteria, yeast, and viruses lining the gastrointestinal tract, the more we realize just how sensitive it can be. As a naturopathic doctor with a special focus on gut health, I've seen firsthand how things like poor diet (too much sugar, not enough fiber), excessive stress, and chemicals in the food supply can damage the microbiome of my patients. And I believe that another potential threat to gut health could be sitting underneath our sinks.
How dishwashing detergents may damage the gut.
I've been curious about the link between detergents and gut health for a long time. Studies have shown that traces of dishwashing detergents are left over after washing and can enter your body with your next meal, and a lot of detergents contain harsh chemical surfactants. These surfactants work to break down heavy grease and oil, and anyone who has ever washed a greasy pan will know how powerful they are at cutting through this grime.
This makes me suspicious because the gastrointestinal tract is lined with mucus, to varying degrees. Your stomach, for example, has a thick layer of mucus, which is necessary to stop the hydrochloric acid from breaking down your stomach wall. Your intestines have a mucus layer that helps to protect the delicate, one-cell-thick lining from damage. If a dishwashing tablet can dissolve heavy grease and grime from your dishes with water pressure alone, there's some concern over what its leftover residue may do to these delicate linings.
Beyond just surfactants, triclosan is another agent found in antibacterial detergents (and antibacterial dish and hand soaps) that has been shown to affect the microbiome and cause colon inflammation1. Additionally, the synthetic fragrances in conventional detergents can contain chemicals including phthalates, which have been shown to cause an imbalance in the microbiome of various animals2.
How to choose a cleaner detergent.
This is not to say that you're destined for a life of dirty dishes. There are plenty of detergents out there that are safe and effective. Look for one that is 100% plant- and mineral-based product with no synthetic fragrance (if you opt for a fragrance, it should come from essential oils). For some options, check out the Environmental Working Group's Guide to Healthy Cleaning, which ranks dishwashing detergents and dish soaps from A to F, based on the safety of their ingredients.
While we still don't know how much of an impact dish detergent truly has on gut health over time, there's no reason not to switch over to a cleaner option.
Katherine Maslen, N.D. is a clinical naturopath, nutritionist, author, and podcast host living in Australia. She has her bachelor’s in health science, naturopathy, from the Endeavor College of Natural Health and is a regular voice in the media. She is well known for her podcast, The Shift, which features 25 world-renowned leaders in gut and overall health, including Vincent Pedre, M.D., Marvin Singh, M.D., and David Perlmutter, M.D..
In addition to overcoming her own personal health struggles, including domestic violence and heroin addiction, Maslen has personally seen over 4,000 patients. She is the founder of the international wellness company Shift, speaks internationally on health and wellness, and has also authored Get Well, Stay Well.