This blog post is painful for me to write because I have been an avid swimmer since the age of 5, when I took the water wings off and made it to the other side of the pool on my own. As I wrote in my post 10 Things I Do to Beat Depression Every Day, swimming has been one of my most powerful weapons against the ever-suffocating energy of depression. Exercise, in general, is one of the best ways you can naturally boost your mood. In a study led by James A. Blumenthal, Ph.D., a professor of medical psychology at Duke University in Durham, N.C. it was reported that three sessions of vigorous exercise were approximately as effective as daily doses of Zoloft, when the treatment effects were measured after four months. Swimming is particularly effective as a mood stabilizer because of the combination of stroke mechanics, breathing, and repetitiveness. It’s a whole-body meditation in motion.
However, for those of us with unhealthy guts—with bacteria overgrowth or imbalances in our microbiome—spending an hour or more in a chlorinated pool a few times a week is one of the worst things we can do for our mental health.
Let me backtrack for a minute and explain for those who aren’t familiar with the gut-brain connection, that within our digestive tract, we have about 10,000 species of microbes, invisible creatures that, according to David Perlmutter, M.D., “participate in a wide variety of physiological actions, including immune system functioning, detoxification, inflammation, neurotransmitter and vitamin production, nutrient absorption, signaling being hungry or full, and utilizing carbohydrates and fat.” In other words, these little guys run the show in our bodies—possibly even more so than our central nervous system!–determining our metabolism, our mood, whether or not we get sick, even our thoughts. Remember that 80 to 90 percent of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin is manufactured in the gut.
Most people don’t pay that much attention to them; however, I have been battling digestive problems ever since I was born. The last two years I have been so bloated after eating that I am continually asked if I’m pregnant. (This does not feel good for a woman who was anorexic as teenager.) The last time someone asked me (Memorial Day), I came home and spent hours on the computer researching my gut; I also ordered Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain – for Life by David Perlmutter, M.D.; and I made an appointment with a gastrointestinal doctor.
My doctor is almost certain that I have an overgrowth of bacteria in my intestines which is causing the bloating. From my own research, I am almost positive it is candida. In her post, 10 Signs You Have Candida Overgrowth & What To Do About It, Amy Myers, M.D., bestselling author of The Autoimmune Solution, explains that candida is a fungus that helps with digestion and nutrient absorption; however, when overproduced, it’s more like a wet gremlin, permeating the wall of the intestines so that toxic byproducts get into the bloodstream causing all kinds of problems, including depression.
Here are the 10 common candida symptoms she lists:
Skin and nail fungal infections (such as athlete’s foot or toenail fungus)
Feeling tired and worn down or suffering from chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
Digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, or diarrhea
Autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Ulcerative colitis, Lupus, Psoriasis, Scleroderma or Multiple sclerosis
Difficulty concentrating, poor memory, lack of focus, ADD, ADHD and brain fog
Skin issues such as eczema, psoriasis, hives, and rashes
Irritability, mood swings, anxiety, or depression
Vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, rectal itching or vaginal itching
Severe seasonal allergies or itchy ears
Strong sugar and refined carbohydrate cravings
Unfortunately, the two worst aggravators of candida are also two things I adore: sugar and chlorine (swimming).
Candida expert and author of the Ultimate Candida Diet Lisa Richards explains that Candida feeds on sugar. In her post “Why Does Candida Really Need Sugar?” she writes: “Organisms like Candida Albicans need organic, carbon-based compounds to provide them with energy. In practice this means sugars like glucose, fructose and sucrose. They use this energy to grow and to build their cell walls, which are comprised 80% of carbohydrates.”
Perlmutter names chlorine throughout his book as one of the major forces against healthy microbes, and having detrimental effects on the gut bacteria. This doesn’t surprise me given that the chlorine in the pool I swim kills the eye-brows of most of the regular swimmers. And I rarely have to shave my legs, because that hair is fried, as well. So I suppose it’s destroying even more things inside.
Richards outlines some steps to reducing chlorine in her post, “Chlorine And Its Effects on Your Immune System.” She mostly talks about the chlorine in the water we drink. It’s best to find an entire house filtration system that removes it before it enters the house – so not only the drinking water but also the shower and bath water, and the water with which you do the laundry are protected. She also advises against buying chlorinated bleach and to check the list of ingredients in laundry supplies and cleaning products, as chlorinated bleach is often an additive.
Now for the three lines I didn’t want to read: “Public pools and hot tubs contain high levels of chlorine to kill bacteria from multiple users. You should really try to avoid these as much as possible. A refreshing swim in the sea or fresh water is a much healthier option.”
I am on my second week of withdrawal from the pool. I decided to swap swimming with hot yoga because I still get wet and can use a towel.
My belly is already less extended, and no one has asked me if I’m pregnant since Memorial Day.
Most importantly, I feel good.
So I’m thinking my inner critters must be happy too.
Originally published on Sanity Break.