March 5, 2011

027 Chlorine and Heart Disease [1 September 2009]

Many possible causes of arterial plaque – and therefore most heart attacks – have been theorized. These include high cholesterol, saturated and trans fats, processed foods like refined sugar and flour, homogenized milk, stress, and (facetiously) speaking English.

The first recorded heart attack occurred in England in 1912. Shortly after that, medical students performing autopsies started finding arteries lined with a strange thick white coating they had never seen before. By the 1930s this finding became common in many countries around the world (with the highest rates in English speaking countries, hence the joke). What had changed to affect so many people over so short a span?

One suspected culprit, trans fats found in shortening and margarine, wasn’t commonly used until later. Same for homogenized milk which first appeared in 1932. There is no research to back up the case for processed foods. Our grandparents in the 1800’s ate diets high in saturated animal fats, and who are we to say they had no stress! And there is little research to back up the case for processed foods.

A credible case has been put forth for chlorine in our water supply. The timing fits. Water chlorination was developed in England during a cholera outbreak in the 1850s and its use spread quickly. By the 1920s it was widespread in municipal water systems across North America. Curiously Roseto, a small town in Pennsylvania which used a mountain spring for water so didn’t chlorinate, has an exceptionally low heart attack rate; when people moved away their heart attack rates became “normal”. More convincing are controlled studies with chickens and pigeons showing that birds given chlorinated water developed elevated cholesterol, atherosclerosis and heart disease; the other groups given unchlorinated water were disease free. Poultry producers have learned to feed their chickens unchlorinated water; the lesson has yet to be applied to humans.

In our bodies, chlorine creates free radicals, and destroys vitamin E and essential fatty acids. Chlorine reacts with cholesterol in the blood to form yellow fatty deposits. Chlorine also attaches to arteries where it is attacked by white blood cells which then attract calcium and fat to form plaque.

Unquestionably chlorine is effective as a bacterial control in the water supply, so what can we do? One strategy is to replae it with a system using hydrogen peroxide, ozone or ultraviolet. Another strategy is to filter it out prior to use. Unfortunately chlorine is absorbed as much by showering and bathing as by drinking, so the entire water supply must be filtered. Either way adds to the expense of water treatment, but what hs been the cost of a century of chlorination?

This article is intended for educational purposes only; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

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