Patrol Your Health When it Comes to What You Wear!

17 Nov

Our basic premise is that your body is amazing.  You get a do over. It doesn’t take that long, and it isn’t that hard if you know what to do.  In these notes, we give you a short course in what to do so it becomes easy for you, and for you to teach others. We want you to know how much control you have over both the quality and length of your life.

This month, we want to discuss the safety of antimicrobial and water-repellent fabrics.

Your favorite antimicrobial workout shirt or water-repellent hiking jacket may contain some surprising, and potentially toxic, chemicals. A recent Swedish study reports 10% of the 2,400 chemicals found in an analysis of such fabrics could pose a risk to human health — and less than 1% are regulated in the United States.

While a single piece of clothing may contain tiny amounts of potentially risky chemicals, the researchers note that exposure could add up over time. And work-out gear poses a special risk because sweat and movement may release more of these “bad actor” substances like phthalates, perfluorinated compounds, triclosan, and silver nanoparticles. In many cases, these chemicals may also pose a risk for wildlife as they’re laundered out of clothes and wind up in streams, rivers, and lakes. One 2012 European report even found cancer-causing chemicals and lead in soccer jerseys!

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). These chemicals repel water, oil, and dirt, and so are used in some waterproof jackets, pants, and shoes. But they’re also associated with health problems like low birth weight and prostate cancer. Many companies have stopped using them — including H&M, Levis, and Puma, while others are phasing them out.

Phthalates. These plasticizing chemicals are found in vinyl clothing and some printed fabrics.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reproductive problems and hormone disruptions have been observed when lab animals are exposed to these chemicals.  In a 2011 review, University of Pennsylvania scientists noted that phthalates can act as endocrine disruptors, interfering with hormonal systems in the body.

Alkylphenol Ethoxylates (APEs) are sometimes found in detergents used by textile manufacturers to wash fabrics.   They don’t break down easily and hang around for long periods of time. Some get washed out at home and go into local waterways. From there they accumulate in the bodies of fish and people, according to the Environmental Working Group. Some research links these chemicals with reproductive problems in fish.

Triclosan. Used in some antibacterial and antimicrobial fabrics, triclosan is better known as an ingredient in antibacterial soaps and body washes, kitchenware, and even toys. The Food and Drug Administration is conducting a review of the chemical, which has been shown to affect hormone regulation in animals. It may be a hormone disruptor for humans as well, and it doesn’t remove any more germs than washing with regular soap. And once it’s washed down the drain, triclosan can morph into the chemical dioxin, a strong carcinogen that’s been showing up in the mud at the bottom of American lakes.

Silver nanoparticles. These tiny, bacteria-battling orbs are used to make workout clothes and even hospital gowns resistant to smelly or infectious germs. They can also be absorbed into your skin when you sweat, as recent research shows. It’s unclear whether silver nanoparticles pose a threat to people, but the little metal balls do break down when clothing is washed with strong detergents containing bleach or bleach alternatives. That releases silver nanoparticles into the water system, where they may be toxic to aquatic organisms and beneficial for bacteria living in the soil.

Ways to reduce your exposure:

Wear clothes from companies that are phasing out toxins. According to Greenpeace, some companies — including Adidas and Puma — are taking significant steps to eliminate 11 toxic chemicals from clothing including APEs, phthalates, and PFCs. Others, the group says, have eliminated some but not all. Get the current lineup of Greenpeace’s Detox Leaders, Greenwashers, and Detox Losers at

Not sure what’s in your favorite athletic wear? Add a barrier. Slip an old cotton t-shirt under your work-out shirt. A nontoxic layer between your skin and your work-out shirt will help protect you.

Wash before you wear. It’s a good rule to follow with all new clothing. New fabrics may contain dyes and formaldehyde resins, which prevent wrinkling and discourage mildew but can also trigger a rash, even at safe levels.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to send questions—to, and some of them we may know enough to answer (we’ll try to get answers for you if we do not know).

Young Dr Mike Roizen (aka, The Enforcer)

NOTE: You should NOT take this as medical advice. This article is of the opinion of its author. Before you do anything, please consult with your doctor.

You can follow Dr Roizen on twitter @YoungDrMike (and get updates on the latest and most important medical stories of the week).  The YOU docs have tow newly revised books: The patron saint “book” of this column YOU Staying Young—revised and YOU: The Owner’s Manual…revised —yes a revision of the book that started Dr Oz to being Dr Oz.  These makes great gifts—so do YOU: ON a Diet and YOU: The Owner’s Manual for teens.  And, the new book by Dr Mike Roizen: This is YOUR Do-Over

Michael F. Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. His radio show streams live on Saturdays from 5-7 p.m. He is the co-author of 4 #1 NY Times Best Sellers including: YOU Staying Young.

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