Q: I hear there's bad news about an antibacterial ingredient that's common in soap. With three kids under the age of 8, it's a germ festival around here. I want to keep things clean. What should I do? -- Becky F., Crawfordsville, Ind.
A: We've talked about this before, but now there's new info about triclosan, one of the most potent antibacterials found in loads of household products: It can affect how your heart and other muscles contract. That means it's time to sound the alarm -- again.
What's wrong with triclosan? The data isn't definitive, but in the lab, it disrupts hormones and can damage reproductive systems. In the environment, it pollutes water and then transforms into something much worse, the cancer-causing agent dioxin. Like all plentiful antibiotics, it promotes antibiotic resistance, and it's everywhere. Three-quarters of North Americans have triclosan residue in their urine; it's even common in breast milk.
The good news? Giving up soaps, cleaning products, clothing, paint, cosmetics, hair conditioners and toothpaste with triclosan in them won't increase your risk of infections. At home, plain soap and water kills germs on hands, kitchen surfaces and clothing just as effectively. (In hospital settings, its original venue, triclosan is sometimes the smart choice.)
More good news? All the outcry about triclosan (as well as harmful formaldehyde, dioxin and phthalates) has gotten corporate attention. Johnson & Johnson will phase out those chemicals in its products by 2015. Hope that others follow!
Our recommendations: Read labels and avoid products with triclosan. Think twice about buying toys, furniture or clothing made with it, and rely on additive-free soap and alcohol-only antibacterial hand sanitizer when soap isn't available.
Q: I cannot seem to shake my craving for sugar (I use five teaspoons in a cup of coffee) and, truth is, I also think I might drink too much. Can you help me? -- Anthony F., Bakersfield, Calif.
A: While "Celebrity Rehab" may make it seem glamorous to fight an addiction, Dr. Drew's roster of patients is struggling with the same difficulties as anyone who's hooked on medications, recreational drugs, food or alcohol: a web of physical and emotional ties that bind mind and body to the gotta-have-it substance.
New insights into opioid (heroin, oxycodone, morphine, etc.) addiction offer a revolutionary understanding of the role of your immune system in getting you hooked. Seems that it may be possible to turn off cravings by blocking receptors on certain immune cells. But even if medications can shut down the body's response (not yet a reality), you'll still need to change your behaviors, not just in relationship to your addiction but also to the people around you. To help you overcome addiction, we offer healthy-living and emotion-calming techniques that'll give you strength and optimism -- two powerful antidotes to the frustration and depression that can accompany an addiction and, initially, the struggle to beat it.
-- Ramp up your dopamine reward system with physical activity and meditation. Dopamine is the feel-good brain chemical that's hijacked by addiction so that it delivers the goods when you take in ever-increasing amounts of food, drugs or alcohol. You can reset the system with physical activity that removes toxins (everything from fat cells to drugs) and offers a healthy way to feel up.
-- Reduce bodywide inflammation that comes with addiction. The fastest way? Eliminate saturated and trans fats, added sugars and sugar syrups, any grains that are not 100 percent whole, and processed foods from your diet. Embrace fruits and vegetables.
(Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Submit your health questions at www.doctoroz.com.)