Common Household Chemicals May Cause Brain Damage, Study Warns



DLHA Staff Writer

Assorted common household cleaning and disinfecting products

Assorted common household cleaning and disinfecting products



A newly published study has warned that chemicals found in common household products might damage the brain's wiring network. The study was published recently in the journal Nature Neuroscience


These chemicals -- found in disinfectants, insecticides, pesticides, cleaners, hair products, furniture and textiles – have been linked to degenerative brain diseases like multiple sclerosis and autism, the study reports.


The chemicals were shown to specifically destroy or arrest the growth of specialised brain cells called oligodendrocytes.  


Oligodendrocytes have long been known in brain science to be responsible for the production of protective insulation found around nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord called myelin.


Myelin forms a sheath around nerve fibers allowing nerve cells in the brain to transmit electrical signals quickly and efficiently.


Damage to or loss of oligodendrocytes causes disorderly transmission or a slowdown of electrical impulses. This can cause such brain and spinal cord diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) and several other relatively rare neurological diseases.


Although the exact way by which oligodendrocytes are damaged in human MS and other demyelinating disorders has not been clearly identified to-date, current knowledge proposes that the body, for reasons unknown, mistakenly initiates a self-attack of the myelin covering nerve fibres to cause an autoimmune disorder.


The current study adds to a probable cause by showing that specific chemicals in common household products may directly harm oligodendrocytes. This represent a previously unidentified pathway by which the chemicals may cause neurological diseases.


For the study, researchers analyzed the effect of more than 1,800 chemicals on these brain cells in culture and in experimental mouse models.


The two classes of chemicals that damage oligodendrocytes include organophosphate and quaternary ammonium compounds.


Quaternary ammonium compounds are present in many personal care products and disinfectants, while organophosphates are found in many household insecticides, pesticides, electronics and furniture as flame retardants.


Lab tests showed that quaternary ammonium products kill oligodendrocytes, while organophosphates prevent the development of these special brain cells.


These classes of chemicals also damaged oligodendrocytes in the developing brains of lab mice, researchers found.


The study’s results are troubling because disinfectants containing quaternary ammonium compounds are extremely available worldwide and became more so during the Covid-19 pandemic, because of their known effectiveness at killing off viruses.


The researchers recommend that more investigation is needed to draw a direct cause-and-effect link between the chemicals and degenerative brain diseases in humans.




Cohn EF, Clayton BL., Madhavan M. et al. Pervasive environmental chemicals impair oligodendrocyte development. Nat Neurosci (2024). [Abstract]. Available from:



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Published: May 7, 2024

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