Researchers found an antibacterial agent, called triclosan, hampers muscle function in animals and fish and may have implications for human health.
After testing the substance on mice and fish they found muscle strength was reduced, including heart function and fish were unable to swim as well.
The findings were published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Isaac Pessah, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and principal investigator of the study, said: "Triclosan is found in virtually everyone's home and is pervasive in the environment.
"These findings provide strong evidence that the chemical is of concern to both human and environmental health."
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In experiments the researchers exposed animals and fish to levels of triclosan equivalent to that which people may receive daily.
The team also found that triclosan impairs heart and skeletal muscle contractility in living animals.
Anaesthetised mice had up to a 25 per cent reduction in heart function measures within 20 minutes of exposure to the chemical.
Nipavan Chiamvimonvat, professor of cardiovascular medicine at UC Davis and a study co-author, said: "The effects of triclosan on cardiac function were really dramatic.
"Although triclosan is not regulated as a drug, this compound acts like a potent cardiac depressant in our models."
Bruce Hammock, a study co-author and professor in the University of California Davis' Department of Entomology, said: "We were surprised by the large degree to which muscle activity was impaired in very different organisms and in both cardiac and skeletal muscle.
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"You can imagine in animals that depend so totally on muscle activity that even a 10 per cent reduction in ability can make a real difference in their survival.
"Triclosan can be useful in some instances, however it has become a ubiquitous 'value added' marketing factor that actually could be more harmful than helpful. At the very least, our findings call for a dramatic reduction in its use."
Further studies are needed to establish the effect triclosan has on human muscles, the researchers said.
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