From Furniture To Shampoo: Common Household Chemicals Linked to Brain Damage

Disinfectant Spray

Researchers have discovered that common household chemicals can harm brain cells called oligodendrocytes, potentially linking them to neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis and autism. Analyzing over 1,800 chemicals, they pinpointed organophosphate flame retardants and quaternary ammonium compounds as harmful. These findings, which necessitate further investigation, highlight the urgent need for more scrutiny on the effects of these chemicals on brain health and the development of measures to minimize exposure.

New research indicates that chemicals found in countless household products can damage specialized brain cells.

A team of researchers from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine has provided fresh insight into the dangers some common household chemicals pose to brain health. They suggest that chemicals found in a wide range of items, from furniture to hair products, may be linked to neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis and autism spectrum disorders.

Paul Tesar

Paul Tesar. Credit: Case Western Reserve University

Neurological problems impact millions of people, but only a fraction of cases can be attributed to genetics alone, indicating that unknown environmental factors are important contributors to neurological disease.

The new study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, discovered that some common home chemicals specifically affect the brain’s oligodendrocytes, a specialized cell type that generates the protective insulation around nerve cells.

“Loss of oligodendrocytes underlies multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases,” said the study’s principal investigator, Paul Tesar, the Dr. Donald and Ruth Weber Goodman Professor of Innovative Therapeutics and director of the Institute for Glial Sciences at the School of Medicine. “We now show that specific chemicals in consumer products can directly harm oligodendrocytes, representing a previously unrecognized risk factor for neurological disease.”

Chemicals of Concern and Their Effects

On the premise that not enough thorough research has been done on the impact of chemicals on brain health, the researchers analyzed over 1,800 chemicals that may be exposed to humans. They identified chemicals that selectively damaged oligodendrocytes belong to two classes: organophosphate flame retardants and quaternary ammonium compounds.

Since quaternary ammonium compounds are present in many personal-care products and disinfectants, which are being used more frequently since the COVID-19 pandemic began, humans are regularly exposed to these chemicals. And many electronics and furniture include organophosphate flame retardants.

The researchers used cellular and organoid systems in the laboratory to show that quaternary ammonium compounds cause oligodendrocytes to die, while organophosphate flame retardants prevented the maturation of oligodendrocytes.

Implications for Human Health

They demonstrated how the same chemicals damage oligodendrocytes in the developing brains of mice. The researchers also linked exposure to one of the chemicals to poor neurological outcomes in children nationally.

Erin Cohn

Erin Cohn. Credit: Erin Cohn

“We found that oligodendrocytes—but not other brain cells—are surprisingly vulnerable to quaternary ammonium compounds and organophosphate flame retardants,” said Erin Cohn, lead author and graduate student in the School of Medicine’s Medical Scientist Training Program. “Understanding human exposure to these chemicals may help explain a missing link in how some neurological diseases arise.”

The association between human exposure to these chemicals and effects on brain health requires further investigation, the experts warned. Future research must track the chemical levels in the brains of adults and children to determine the amount and length of exposure needed to cause or worsen disease.

“Our findings suggest that more comprehensive scrutiny of the impacts of these common household chemicals on brain health is necessary,” Tesar said. “We hope our work will contribute to informed decisions regarding regulatory measures or behavioral interventions to minimize chemical exposure and protect human health.”

Reference: “Pervasive environmental chemicals impair oligodendrocyte development” by Erin F. Cohn, Benjamin L. L. Clayton, Mayur Madhavan, Kristin A. Lee, Sara Yacoub, Yuriy Fedorov, Marissa A. Scavuzzo, Katie Paul Friedman, Timothy J. Shafer and Paul J. Tesar, 25 March 2024, Nature Neuroscience.
DOI: 10.1038/s41593-024-01599-2

Additional contributing researchers from Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency included Benjamin Clayton, Mayur Madhavan, Kristin Lee, Sara Yacoub, Yuriy Fedorov, Marissa Scavuzzo, Katie Paul Friedman, and Timothy Shafer.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and New York Stem Cell Foundation, and philanthropic support by sTF5 Care and the Long, Walter, Peterson, Goodman and Geller families.

3 Comments on "From Furniture To Shampoo: Common Household Chemicals Linked to Brain Damage"

  1. Hottan Ixpozed | March 28, 2024 at 8:00 pm | Reply

    I am unaware of any flame-retardant shampoos. There may be shampoos using quaternary ammonium, but it probably doesn’t exist because that could cause blindness. Anyone using quats on their head has a serious infection and is using the wrong antiseptic.

    These chemicals need much more scrutiny than they’ve gotten. In the meantime, avoid eating your furniture.

  2. Hottan Ixpozed | March 28, 2024 at 9:42 pm | Reply

    Flame-retardant shampoo? A shampoo could use quaternary ammonium, but it probably not as it can cause blindness. Anyone using quats on their head for an infection is using the wrong antiseptic.

    Home chemicals need more scrutiny than they’ve gotten. In the meantime, avoid eating your furniture.

  3. Katherine Bhana | April 3, 2024 at 2:49 pm | Reply

    Sending you prayers, I was diagnosed in 2010 and seemed to go down hill quickly. In six years I could no longer work and had real problems with balance and joint pain. Brain fog was really bad sometimes. I took rebif and had a lot of problems and had to quit. I have been on techfadera (not spelled right) for a few years and have several side effects. I felt lost and decided to quit my meds due to side effects. Our care provider introduced me to Ayurvedic treatment. I had a total decline of all symptoms including vision problems, numbness and others. Sometimes, i totally forget i ever had MS. Visit Natural Herbs Centre web-site naturalherbscentre. com. I am very pleased with this treatment. I eat well, sleep well and exercise regularly. God bless all MS Warriors

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