Erectile dysfunction

Updated 12 December 2014

Could your soap really cause erectile dysfunction?

You may not think that common household products can cause erectile dysfunction but there is evidence to suggest that certain chemicals may do just that.

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While singing in the shower, have you ever stopped to think that the soap you’re using may be affecting your erections? Probably not, but the truth is that chemicals common in many antibacterial soaps may affect your ability to produce or maintain an erection.

Benefits largely unproven

Many of us fear the unseen bacteria lurking almost everywhere. Because of this, we often look for "antibacterial" labels on products while shopping in the hope of keeping ourselves and our children healthy. Much of this fear has been created by the producers of these commercial goods, with advertising insisting that we need these products to avoid becoming ill. The truth of the matter is that the benefits of using antibacterial products are largely unproven, according to a statement by the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA).

Read: Antibacterial soaps may be ineffective

Manufacturers need to add certain chemicals during the production process to make products "antibacterial". Such chemicals can be found in many consumer products such as soap, toothpaste, kitchenware and even toys, but may actually be more harmful than we think.

Triclosan is one of the chemicals used for antibacterial properties. Beyond Pesticide explains that it is predominantly absorbed through the skin, from soap, body washes and lotions or through the lining of the mouth, from toothpaste or food exposed to the chemical.

It has been linked to an increased risk of allergies, eczema and asthma in children. It is also considered to be a potential endocrine disruptor. This means that research has indicated that it could potentially affect hormone functioning in the human body.

Bacterial resistance to triclosan has been shown during research although further studies are needed to show what effect it would have on bacterial resistance in a normal environment, The Encyclopaedia of Earth explains. The FDA states that certain antibacterial ingredients such as triclosan may actually be linked to bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Read: Popular toothpaste brand linked to cancer

Triclosan and male sexual health

The results of 2008 study published in the Oxford Journal of Toxicology Sciences, suggest that exposure to Triclosan can affect certain hormone levels. The study exposed rats to triclosan at a concentration of 5ml per 100g body mass. The researchers found that the rats exposed to triclosan had significantly lower testosterone levels than the control group.

Another study into rats conducted by The Indian Institute of Technology’s Department of Biotechnology showed that exposure to triclosan over a 60 day period resulted in lower sperm production.

While researchers are yet to conduct similar studies in humans, experts are advocating the removal of triclosan from consumer products because of the multiple risks it could pose to our health.

What effects can lower testosterone have?

Testosterone is the main male sex hormone and is responsible for sexual function. Low testosterone levels can have a number of effects on a man. Some symptoms are poor sleep, irritability, depressed mood, poor muscle tone and increased body fat, especially around the stomach.

Sexually, it can result in a lower sex drive, shrinking testes, abnormal sperm production and erectile dysfunction, a Health24 article states.

Should I change my soap?

The FDA is conducting further research into triclosan to determine what effects the chemical could have in humans, so for now, the decision lies with you really.

Locally, Johnson & Johnson South Africa and Reckitt Benckiser have decided to phase out the chemical from their products. Both Woolworths and Clicks do not use triclosan in their house brand products, according to an article by Bizcommunity.

Legally, manufacturers using triclosan are required to list it as an ingredient on the product’s label. If you are worried about chemicals and your health, simply avoid purchasing products that contain it.

Just as many people are neurotic about germs, it is easy to become similarly anxious about chemicals. Unfortunately in today’s world we simply are exposed to many more chemicals than the generations before us. It is possible to reduce your exposure by adopting an organic lifestyle but even then, chemicals cannot be avoided entirely. 

Read more:
Exposure to antibacterials may affect foetus growth
Chemicals in plastics may lower male sex hormones

Antibacterial ingredient in soap found in fish from contaminated water

Image: Man washing soapy hands in bathroom from Shutterstock

 

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Ask the Expert

Erectile Dysfunction Expert

Dr Kenny du Toit is a urologist practicing in Rondebosch, Cape Town. He is also consultant at Tygerberg hospital, where he is a senior lecturer at Stellenbosch University. He is a member of the South African Urological Association, Colleges of Medicine South Africa and Société Internationale d’Urologie. Board registered with both the HPCSA (Health professions council of South Africa) and GMC (General medical council UK). He has a keen interest in oncology, kidney stones and erectile dysfunction.http://www.dutoiturology.co.za

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