In my previous blog, I talked about the healing benefits of the ocean, and why everyone deserves a Hawaiian vacation.
Unlike the ocean, however, most swimming pools do not contain salty, beneficial minerals. Instead, swimming pools usually contain chlorine, which is “appreciated” for its ability to kill bacteria in water. Unfortunately, chlorine is also one of the most toxic chemicals in our environment.
A few weeks ago we stayed at a hotel in the Sacramento area for my daughter’s basketball tournament. After playing a hard game, the girls wanted to swim in the hotel pool, so we moms sat poolside to keep an eye on them and socialize.
Within a few moments, however, I started to cough. The smell of chlorine coming off of the pool and hot tub were unbearable. Because of it, we didn’t stay long at the pool, and in fact, the next day, two teenagers in our group who were staying at the hotel complained to the management that sitting in the hot tub for ten minutes discolored their bathing suits and tarnished their jewelry.
Chlorine is also added to municipal water supplies, either as chlorine or a “chloramine”, which combines chlorine and ammonia. When I was a kid and my mom taught me how to clean a bathroom, she was adamant that I never combine chlorine bleach with ammonia. Here’s why. And yet, now it is considered a “safe” addition to our water supply. (Just don’t use it for your fish or reptile tanks.)
Chloride vs. chlorine
Chloride, which generally combines with other minerals such as sodium to form a “salt”, is essential to human life.
Chlorine, on the other hand, is one of the most toxic chemicals in our environment. It is part of the halogen group of chemicals along with bromine (found in non-organic white flour and some hot tubs), fluoride (found in municipal water supplies, nuclear waste, and toothpastes, and the #1 reason for calls to poison control centers), and iodine (a trace mineral essential to the health of our endocrine system). We’ll be addressing the halogens more in-depth in future blogs and newsletters.
For now, though, I want to stay focused on chlorine, because it is so pervasive and can cause major problems in our bodies and our environment, as evidenced by thousands of peer-reviewed publications. Fortunately, just as there are for other environment threats to our health, so are there natural methods to heal from the damage it may have already caused.
Health effects from chlorine exposure
Chlorine gets into our bodies by three different mechanisms:
ingestion (drinking or eating)
absorption through the skin
Chlorine gets inhaled primarily in the shower or bath, a swimming pool or hot tub, or during cleaning with products containing bleach. The hotter the water, the more vapor produced, and the more chlorine you inhale. (A 2000 study found that a 10-minute shower in chlorinated water was worse than drinking a liter of the same tap water.) Repeated exposure to chlorine via inhalation is linked to allergic reactions and asthma; in fact, there is even something called “swimmer’s asthma,” when people who swim frequently in chlorinated pools become sensitive to the chlorine used to disinfect the pool.
We ingest chlorine when we drink any liquid made from chlorinated water, including unfilitered tap water, most bottled sodas and soft drinks, and even Starbuck’s coffee. Ingesting chlorinated water, whether through beverages or swimming, is linked to massive erosion of tooth enamel, though this is not well-known among many dentists.This would certainly explain some of my mysterious enamel erosion as a child, since I spent at least 2-3 hours in our family pool each day in the summer. Erosion can happen in as little as 2 weeks if pools are not kept properly within proper pH range.
If you clean with chlorine bleach, you should always wear gloves, because otherwise you could not only absorb the chlorine through your skin, but you could actually get a chemical burn. What happens when you drip bleach onto colored clothing? Right, it fades. Now, imagine the bleach eating away at your skin like that. Ouch!
Long-term chlorine exposure is linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and perhaps most importantly, chlorine is a carcinogen, meaning it can damage DNA to the point of causing cancer. The most common forms of cancer linked to chlorine are bladder, liver, and kidney cancers; this is because when we are exposed to chlorine, it binds to “organic matter” — such as vegetables, for instance, being digested in the gut — to form a chemical called a trihalomethane, or THM. Chloramines and bromine also form THMs.
Natural alternatives and how to reduce chlorine exposure
Luckily, there are many natural alternatives to products that contain chlorine as well as effective ways to reduce chlorine exposure.
- Swimming pools: Many families and community pools are changing from chlorination systems to ozone, salt, or UV light for disinfection. These provide environmentally-friendly options that, in my opinion, are worth the investment. Better yet, seek out natural swimming holes, lakes, rivers, oceans, etc. Some of my favorite swimming memories with the kids are at the ocean. My absolute favorite swimming hole, complete with water fall, is hidden away in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania.
- Water filters: Unless you have good well water where you live, most of us get our water from our town’s water supply, which uses chlorines and/or chloramines to disinfect water. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to disinfect our municipal water supplies. Until that’s the case, it’s important to make sure you are filtering the chlorinated water that you drink from the tap. Ideally, you could get a whole house filter, which filters all the water in the house and precludes other products you might need. That’s not a viable option for a lot of people, especially for renters or in high-density housing, so in that case, there are filters which can be installed at the kitchen sink, counter-top pitchers that filter water, and shower filters.
- Filtering bath water with vitamin C: While I’ve seen some good shower filters on the market, I haven’t found a bath filter that really does the job to eliminate chlorine, and I really like taking baths. The best alternative is to add a vitamin C salt to the bath water, which neutralizes the chlorine. I use Thorne Research buffered vitamin C powder, which, just like the ocean, contains calcium, magnesium, and potassium, so not only are you filtering out the chlorine, you’re adding in beneficial minerals as well. I throw in two scoops while the tub is filling.
- Cleaning products: The reality is, for general household cleaning, using chlorine bleach to kill mold, mildew, or germs is no more effective than vinegar and essential oils such as oregano, thyme, tea tree, and lavender. If mildew in your tile is a particular problem, you can apply baking soda to the grout, spray with a vinegar cleaner (see below), and scrub.
I make my own cleaning spray for mirrors, sinks, windows, counter tops, the shower, the toilet, pretty much everything that gets cleaned around here. It’s cheap and couldn’t be easier to make. You'll need:
- 1 spray bottle
- water, preferably filtered
- cheap white vinegar
- natural dish soap, such as Biokleen
- essential oils such as orange, lemon, tea tree, lavender, oregano, thyme, and peppermint
Fill spray bottle 1/4 full with filtered water, then fill almost to top with vinegar. Add a small squirt of natural dish soap. Shake to mix. Put in 5-10 drops each of as many essential oils as you want. (Orange and lemon are effect grease cutters, while tea tree, lavender, oregano, and thyme are powerful disinfectants. I use a little peppermint to keep the ants at bay.) Shake gently to mix.
See, could that be any easier?
Preventing and reversing damage caused by chlorination
In my previous blog, I detailed easy ways to to nourish your body through skin care, whole food supplements, and delicious foods that mimic the healthy benefits of the ocean. You can use those same solutions to help prevent and reverse damage caused by chlorination. You can download a pdf of those handy solutions right here.