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Is Bleach Bad for Your Liver?

Whether it’s in your water, hair dye, laundry detergent or toilet bowl cleaner, learn why bleach is not the most liver-friendly compound.

Containing the chemical sodium hypochlorite, bleach is a staple in many different parts of our lives. Easily purchased at any drug, food or convenience store, bleach purifies water, lightens hair, removes stains and disinfects many surfaces. Sodium hypochlorite’s wide range of applications and incorporation into most American household routines is independent of its high degree of toxicity. Unfortunately, those with liver disease are particularly vulnerable to bleach’s toxic nature.

As the organ primarily responsible for filtering toxins out of the body, the liver is tasked with preventing the buildup of poisonous substances in the blood. When someone has chronic liver disease, the liver’s job of detoxification is made even harder. Someone with an inflamed or damaged liver has fewer liver cells available to neutralize toxins – a situation that results in a backup of poisons. If those poisons are potent enough, the backup undoubtedly leads to even more liver inflammation and liver cell damage. To prevent a worsening of their condition, those with chronic liver disease must go out of their way to minimize the quantity of toxins their liver must process.

Unless interacting with concentrated, large quantities of bleach or mixing it with ammonia, there is little information directly documenting this chemical’s toxicity. However, further investigation into this cleaning/whitening agent’s capabilities reveals that those with a compromised liver are advised to avoid contact (via inhalation, absorption or, of course, ingestion) with sodium hypochlorite. Serving as a warning to those with liver disease, workplace safety data sheets warn that sodium hypochlorite may be a neurotoxin and cause liver damage.

When investigating the safety profile of bleach, most sources will include the following:

•    The main ingredient in chlorine bleach is sodium hypochlorite.

•    Bleach is irritating to the skin and can cause serious damage (including blindness) to the eyes.

•    Sodium hypochlorite can create a poisonous chlorine gas if mixed with ammonia or with vinegar.

One of the main hazards of sodium hypochlorite is that it can easily react violently with organic substances – not just ammonia. One of bleach’s components, chlorine is a building block for vinyl, pesticides, refrigerants and antifreeze. The primary concern regarding chlorine’s toxicity is its ability to form more toxic byproducts. Chlorine reacts with organic matter in drinking water to produce trihalomethanes, a group of chemical compounds believed to be toxic to the liver and carcinogenic (cause cancer).

Since it is a known aggravator of human health, the majority of studies on bleach’s health effects have been done on animal subjects. The following study demonstrates this chemical to be toxic to aquatic life. As published in a 2010 edition of the journal Chemosphere, Spanish researchers found that water treated with sodium hypochlorite proved to generate oxidative stress in the fish species Solea senegalensis. Oxidative stress is a catalyst for cellular damage – regardless of species. Therefore, there is sufficient reason to assume that what harms the cells of fish is fully capable of harming the cells of humans.

Trihalomethanes are a group of organic chemicals that often occur in drinking water as a result of chlorine treatment for disinfectant purposes. Trihalomethanes are formed when chlorine reacts with naturally occurring organic material found in water. As a result of chlorination, these four trihalomethanes are often found:

1.    trichloromethane (chloroform)
2.    bromodichloromethane
3.    dibromochloromethane
4.    tribromomethane

Of the four, chloroform is the trihalomethane most frequently found in chlorinated water. Besides chloroform’s known carcinogenic effects, this chemical is also a potent liver toxin.

There are many uses for bleach – in the home, in our water supply and on the body. Even though this is one of the most common household chemicals, it is not the safest compound for those with a compromised liver. Despite the lack of trials universally finding that sodium hypochlorite is a dangerous toxin, common sense and extensive investigation point to a need for people with chronic liver disease to find safer alternatives to bleach.

References:

http://des.nh.gov/organization/commissioner/pip/factsheets/ard/documents/ard-ehp-13.pdf , Trihalomethanes: Health Information Summary, Retrieved January 7, 2012, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, 2012.

http://lesstoxicguide.ca/index.asp?fetch=household#blea, Household Cleaners, Retrieved January 7, 2012, Environmental Health Association of Novia Scotia, 2012.

http://www.chicagolivinggreen.info/doc_common_hazardous_ingredients_2.pdf, Common Hazardous Ingredients in Household Cleaning Products – Part 2, Retrieved January 7, 2012, chicagolivinggreen.info, 2012.

http://healthychild.org/issues/chemical-pop/chlorine/, Chlorine, Retrieved January 7, 2012, Healthy Child Healthy World, 2012.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20022624, Biomarker responses in Solea senegalensis exposed to sodium hypochlorite used as antifouling, Lopez-Galindo C, et al, Retrieved January 7, 2012, Chemosphere, February 2010.

  • eduardo zeval

    it is very simple chlorine is good to kill germs, however is very dangerous for humans, stay away from it

  • Deb

    I use baking soda white vinegar dr bronners soap and orange concentrate

  • http://dnspaint@gmailai darrell smolley

    Painter by trade,pressure wash with bleach. Noticed I was feeling bad a couple days afterwards. Read this warning, bingo the damages done but thankful for the info.
    Just lets us know never take you’re gaurd down.
    Thanks natural Wellness

  • Terry Reed

    OMG! A few months ago, my liver surged up in size, and I had a really HIGH viral load – and I had been using bleach like mad at the hostel all late summer and fall. I was using a 50/50 mix of bleach and water to spray down the bathroom at night because so many different people used it, especially fishermen – who, when away from the wife, do not exactly keep themselves or their surroundings very clean! If they could just aim better … Anyway, I had NO idea until well after my first ever biopsy performed (which was botched, btw) that bleach was harmful. I learned it, not from my doctors or any nurse, but from an internet article someone sent me! I now have more evidence and have made poster for my doc’s office! They loved me for it but why hasn’t some association come up with more professional posters to let the public know? If Hep is more common than we know, and we already know it IS fairly common nowadays, why am I seeing banners for adult shingles vaccinations and not simple warnings to stay away from bleach?! Hmm .. big oil & chem and big pharm … two entities that would rather we NOT know? Well, another biggie, the AMA, could get some of its luster back by supporting posters like that! Right?

  • http://liversupport.com Tana

    That’s interesting, I just finished 1 year of hepc treatment. I use bleach to clean my white sink. You would think the Dr. would let you know !

  • pam

    Bleach? Toxic? Why don’t our Drs. know & tell us these things? I have Hep C & these are things we should know! I should think a pool chlorinated with bleach would be terrible! It could just soak through every pore of your body, couldn’t it?

  • annette

    Trihalomethynes would b just a few chems in water,eh? Local councils should be able to provide comprehensive analyse to public. Would definately shock the general person. Thanks for a good article.

  • dashna

    How to solve drinking water problem, contaning the chloride?

  • Alison

    I am 3 year clear from having Hep-C; my question is this. The chlorine found in pool is this just as harmful and toxin to a person with an enlarge liver and enlarge spleen?

  • Jess Mcleay

    That is very interesting as I have just recovered from glandular fever and i had a very damaged liver, not aware of this i have been using proactive skin care products for a while now which is benzyl peroxide, straight onto my skin, now i think i know why i still don’t feel very well after having this infection and why the dr was so shocked at my liver levels. thanks

  • http://relocationMexico.net Suzanne Molina

    Chlorine bleach has long been outlawed in European countries. They are usually way ahead of us on the american continent as far as toxins to the environment and to our bodies are concerned. In a poor country such as Mexico, it is used for practically every cleaning job.
    I would truly appreciate if you would let me know of a substitute. Thank you. Ms. Suzanne Molina.

    • eduardo zeval

      try hydrogen piroxide, filters water, and you can wash your vegetables with small amounts, and is not toxic to humans

  • mike kowalchuk

    very informative,i didnot know bleach was that toxic,just to be arownd it breath it in ext,i will not have it in the house anymore thank you.

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