When Water Becomes Dangerous to Your Health

September 18, 2009
Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Award-winning nutritionist and New York Times bestselling author.

Showerhead Alert!

12213276Dirty showers may be more frightening than Alfred Hitchcock’s classic scene in “Psycho.” New research finds that 30 percent of the “gunk” collecting in showerheads throughout the country has high levels of Mycobacterium avium, which can cause lung infections.

This bacteria forms a microfilm that clings to the inside of the showerhead. As it builds up inside, levels of M. avium in the shower can be 100 times higher than that found in typical home water supplies, probably explaining why the incidence of lung infections are increasing.

“If you are getting a face full of water when you first turn your shower on, that means you are probably getting a particularly high load of M. avium, which may not be too healthy,” says researcher Norman R. Pace, PhD, at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Water spurting from infected showerheads can distribute bacteria-filled droplets in the air. And they can easily be inhaled into the deepest part of the lungs.

People with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, and anyone with lung problems like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that involves asthma and emphysema) are most susceptible to infection. Symptoms include fatigue, persistent dry cough, shortness of breath, and just plain not feeling well.

Showers have also been identified in the spread of other infections, like the form of pneumonia known as Legionnaires’ disease. Without careful filtration, showerheads can also release other environmental toxins into your home.

Chlorine, for example, is a major toxic chemical in drinking water. Although it’s added to public water supplies to disinfect against bacteria, chlorine is not effective against all pathogens and doesn’t kill parasites, like giardia and cryptosporidium.

Even if you don’t drink chlorinated water, you can breathe it in while showering. And the skin is no barrier to this toxin, either.

Chlorine reacts with natural organic matter in water to form cancer-causing compounds called trihalomethanes (THM). One of the best-known and most thoroughly researched THM is chloroform, used as a general anesthetic.

Not only can Chloroform cause kidney, liver, and nervous system damage, lab studies have also linked it with cancer. That may explain why western European nations use ozone and ultraviolet light to purify their water supplies instead of chlorine.

Dr. Ann Louise’s Take:

Emissions from hot showers can dissolve 50 percent of the chlorine and 80 percent of other carcinogens like THM and radon in the water—only to have you and your family breath in (via the lungs) and absorb (via the skin) these dangerous substances.

I believe that chlorination should be the last—not the first—step in water treatment. In fact, I strongly advise against all chlorination of drinking water. I would like to see the increased use of granular-activated charcoal, ozone gas, and/or ultraviolet light treatments, like those used in Europe.

Fortunately, not every municipal water system in the U. S. uses chlorine. If that’s not a problem where you live, consider metal showerheads, which are less likely to harbor M. avium, according to Dr. Pace. Also change your shower filters often.

For safe, clean chlorine-free showers, my bathroom is equipped with the affordable and easy-to-install High Output Shower Filter which also removes toxic heavy metals like iron and lead. My home is outfitted with a whole house filtration unit to provide additional maximum elimination of contaminants. Contact Uni Key Health Systems at 1-800-888-4353 for more information on customizing a home filtration system specific to your family’s needs.


Related Articles and Podcasts

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty books including The Fat Flush Plan series and her latest book, Radical Metabolism. She’s been rewriting the rules of nutrition for more than 40 years and is internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field of diet, detox and women’s health issues. 

For a FREE daily dose of tips and strategies for maintaining healthy weight, conquering insomnia, and much more…check out my Radical Health Tips.

I’d like to meet and greet you on my Facebook groups, so won’t you check us out at the Radical Metabolism RevolutionFat Flush Nation, or my Inner Circle!


  1. Ray

    Re shower filter:

    No specs!!! What % of contaminants does it remove?

    Flouride removal???

  2. Adrienne

    Will chlorine filters protect against M. Avium?

  3. Julie

    OMG! How does swimming in a chlorinated pool harm us???

  4. Gail

    I have the High output shower filter now (altho I paid a LOT less), and I have also purchased it for other previous homes and was happy with it.

    I had a whole house filtration system in my previous home and wish I could have a system (any system) where I live now but ‘they’ all say it’s not possible because it’s a condo/townhome and the water main is at the street versus either in the garage or in my home. There MUST be a way to filter the water in my home, I just cannot believe that! The water is so bad – it smells like acetone of PhisoHex! – very ‘chemical-y’.

    Thanks goodness, as far as drinking water goes, I’m drinking Kangen alkaline water and LOVE that. But, that’s another topic and don’t want to get off-topic.

    Can someone offer any help with being able to do a whole house system when you live in a condo/townhome and your ‘main’ is at the streetside?

  5. Ann Louise Gittleman

    These are all great questions. I suggest you call UNI KEY and speak to a sales rep (Joel is especially knowledgable about water, etc) who can answer your questions. He can also facilitate a whole house system filtration based upon your particular situation. 1-800-888-4353. UNI KEY works directly with water filtration expert who can answer any question, if a rep cannot 🙂

  6. Ann Louise Gittleman

    Dear Friends:
    I would love to answer each and every single one of your queries, as I have done to the best of my ability, in the past. The popularity of this Blog has grown to the extent that I can no longer provide that service but I am in the planning stages of an Internet – TV show where you can call in and get those questions answered by me in person! Please stay tuned for this exciting development. I first must complete a new manuscript and then will make some exciting announcements. In the interim, may I suggest that if you have questions about products, call UNI KEY at 1-800-888-4353. The folks there are helpful and will direct you accordingly. If you are concerned about a particular health condition, then by all means check out the Testing Kits on my site which will help you to determine underlying causes. Please don’t let this dissuade you from posting. Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and interest!

  7. Jane

    After reading this post I’ve more eager to have my bathroom equipped with shower filter. I also hope to attain maximum elimination of contaminants in my home. Thanks Ann for this wonderful post!


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