Dil­vin Yasa looks at some sci­en­tific facts and common myths be­hind th­ese of­ten de­bated prod­ucts. Plus, we trial some of the new nat­u­ral al­ter­na­tives on the mar­ket

Sunday Mail - Body and Soul - - HEALTH -

De­odor­ant and an­tiper­spi­rants have been part of our groom­ing reg­i­men for more than 100 years, but about 15 years ago, ques­tions arose about their “side ef­fects”.

One popular the­ory was the alu­minium in an­tiper­spi­rants pre­vents the body from ex­pelling tox­ins, which then clog up the lymph nodes and cause breast can­cer. While it’s true that sweat­ing is one way that your body gets rid of tox­ins, Kathy Chap­man of Can­cer Coun­cil NSW says it’s worth not­ing that “breast can­cer starts in the breast and spreads to the lymph nodes, not the other way around”.

Another the­ory was that the alu­minium is ab­sorbed by the skin, af­fect­ing the blood brain bar­rier and link­ing it with the on­set of Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

The sto­ries var­ied from source to source, but what the Can­cer Coun­cil claims be­gan as a hoax email soon trick­led down to web­sites and news out­lets, caus­ing wide­spread sus­pi­cion of th­ese prod­ucts, and that re­mains to­day. Alu­minium has been the common el­e­ment of con­cern. This was, in part, prompted by a 2007 study of women with breast can­cer that found higher lev­els of the chem­i­cal in ar­eas of the breast near­est the skin, prompt­ing the au­thors to pon­der a pos­si­ble link. Sim­i­larly, a se­ries of stud­ies in the 1960s sug­gested that alu­minium had a ten­dency to ac­cu­mu­late in the brain tis­sue of Alzheimer’s pa­tients.

Both ideas were soon dis­proved. The Alzheimer’s the­ory couldn’t be repli­cated in later stud­ies, and sci­en­tists con­cluded there was “no causal re­la­tion­ship” shown be­tween de­odor­ant use and the dis­ease.

The breast can­cer study was found to be flawed as not only was it based on just 17 women, but it didn’t com­pare lev­els of alu­minium in their breasts to other parts of their bod­ies or to lev­els in women who didn’t have breast can­cer. A larger study of 1606 women sat­is­fied re­searchers that de­odor­ant use didn’t in­crease the risk. Lab-based test­ing and an­i­mal mod­els have found that an oft-used an­tibac­te­rial agent in de­odor­ants, called tri­closan, can mimic or in­ter­fere with hor­mones. In one study, pub­lished in the jour­nal Chem­i­cal Re­search in Tox­i­col­ogy, re­searchers found it pro­moted growth of hu­man breast can­cer cells in lab dishes and breast can­cer tu­mours in mice, while other an­i­mal stud­ies showed it dis­rupted hor­monal func­tion, and re­duced heart mus­cle func­tion by 25 per cent.

While there’s no ev­i­dence yet that tri­closan has the same ef­fect in hu­mans, the EU has re­stricted its use in per­sonal prod­ucts. The US state of Min­nesota re­cently banned it en­tirely. It’s still in use in Aus­tralia and can be found in some de­odor­ants.

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