What is chlorine and why do we use it?

Chlorine is a disinfectant commonly used in water treatment facilities as well as pools. The benefit of chlorine is that our drinking water is free of potentially deadly bacteria and pathogens, and our swimming pools are not the petri dish of germs they would be otherwise.

Is chlorine safe?

There is a cost to this level of sanitation. As it turns out, when chlorine reacts with pathogens and other compounds found in pool water such as urine and residues from bodycare products, volatile organic compounds are formed (VOCs). VOCs are lung and eye irritants (think about being at the indoor pool) and are thought to increase the risk of cancer. (Note: VOCs are also present in water treated with bromine and saline to different extents.) Chlorine also reacts with your skin and hair and stays with you for days despite regular bathing, further oxidizing hair and skin. Additionally, consuming chlorinated tap water is linked with an increase in reproductive risks for pregnant women.

What you can do to protect yourself and your family from the negative effects of chlorine

While a perfect solution is not available, there are many easy things you can do to protect yourself and your children from the harmful effects of chlorine:

  • Use a carbon filter or better for your drinking water. They are readily available, inexpensive, and easy to maintain. For more information, see the Environmental Working Group’s Water Filter Buying Guide.
  • Swim in fresh open water in the summer if you have access to a clean, safe watering hole.
  • Choose an outdoor pool when that feels like a good option, because the VOCs dissipate more readily outdoors.
  • Shower and use the toilet before entering the pool. The VOCs aren’t from the chlorine, but from the chlorine reacting with bodycare products and urine in the pool. Train your kids to get out of the pool to pee ;-).
  • When done swimming in any pool water, use Swim Spray, a vitamin C spray that washes away the coating of chemicals left on your skin after swimming in treated water. (Note: As with any spray products, be careful not to inhale it or get it in your eyes or mouth.)
  • Know that we are better off swimming in treated pools than in a petri dish, or even not at all. Swimming is an iconic summertime activity and can be an excellent form of exercise year-round!

Be safe and have fun!

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Vitamin D has gone from a little known alternative medicine subject to mainstream with lots of research supporting its functions and our need for it in the last 10 years. Vitamin D is unlike other vitamins as it actually acts like a hormone in the body. It is vital to overall wellness, and specifically is involved in bone, muscle, heart, lung, brain, and immune system health. The list of conditions with associated vitamin D deficiency is exhaustive, and includes a variety of cancers, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, impaired immune function, cognitive impairment and depression.

Where does vitamin D come from?
Your body manufactures vitamin D through a series of biochemical reactions stimulated by sun exposure. You can also get it from supplementation. You can only get very small, insignificant amounts from foods you eat, such as egg yolks and fatty fish.

But sun exposure causes skin cancer!
Yes, this can also be true, but it is really sun over-exposure that becomes problematic. Due to public health efforts, many folks cover up and use sunscreen before ever entering the sun. While this may be a good strategy to prevent sunburns and potential skin cancer, it leaves a person deficient in vitamin D. Remembering that vitamin D deficiency is linked to impaired immunity and many cancers, this might not be the safest choice.

What should I do?
As with everything, I suggest an individualized approach. Ask yourself what your personal risk factors are: Do you have a family history of skin cancer, light skin and eyes? Do you have a family history of osteoporosis or autoimmunity? Do you experience any chronic inflammation? Think about your risks and your goals and proceed with thoughtfulness. Living in Colorado, you will likely need to supplement vitamin D, at the very least during the winter months depending on your occupation. In my opinion, a combined approach of supplementation and sun exposure is best.

Combined supplementation and sun exposure approach
I encourage my patients to get moderate sun exposure. Exposing broad areas of the body such as the front and back torso is more beneficial than simply the face and arms, for instance, due to surface area. You can intentionally sunbathe for 5-10 minutes a day, or if you are going to be outside anyway, wait 5-10 minutes before applying sunscreen and/or covering up. The key is to never get burned. Additionally, I supplement vitamin D based on test results, and retest at different times of the year in order to adjust supplementation.

For more information on vitamin D, visit The Vitamin D Council.

Check back soon for my upcoming post on Sunscreens.

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