By Dr. Mercola
Two Louisiana residents have died after being infected with the so-called "brain-eating" amoeba, Naegleria fowleri.
The amoeba can lurk in contaminated tap water, which the victims used in a neti pot (a small, teapot-like pot) to irrigate their sinuses.
This gave the amoeba easy access to their brains, where it caused an infection that is lethal in 95 percent of cases.
Because tap water can be home to any number of contaminants, it is extremely important to use only sterile, distilled or boiled water (that is allowed to cool) for nasal irrigation.
How Common are Brain-Eating Amoebas in Tap Water?
Naegleria fowleri thrive in warm freshwater sources, such as lakes, hot springs, poorly maintained swimming pools, and rivers, typically in Southern states.
Most infections -- though rare -- occur when people swim in contaminated water and inhale or splash the water into their nose.
Once the amoeba enters your nose, it travels to your brain where it causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), which destroys brain tissue.
Initial symptoms, which usually begin within two weeks of exposure, include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and stiff neck. As the infection progresses, confusion, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations may occur, with death typically occurring within one to 12 days.
The infection is nearly always fatal, in part because the parasite forms a shielding "cyst" that protects it from your immune system. However, there's a lot left to be discovered about Naegleria fowleri, including why only a few people become infected from swimming in warm freshwater that millions of people use recreationally each year.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that from 2001-2010 there were 32 Naegleria fowleri infections in the United States, with 30 people infected from contaminated recreational water and 2 from a geothermal drinking water supply.
In regard to tap water, municipal treatment with chlorine is supposed to kill parasites like Naegleria fowleri, but some can remain. The amoeba generally do not pose a threat when you consume them in drinking water, but can be deadly if they get access to your nose, such as from a neti pot or, theoretically, by immersing your head in contaminated bathwater or inhaling the water through your nose in the shower.
Tap Water is Not Safe to Use in Neti Pots
Many may be frightened away from neti pots upon hearing this news, but let me make it clear that it is the contaminated water that is the threat -- not the neti pot, which is actually a useful tool for nasal irrigation, and not only for symptom relief when your allergies or sinuses are acting up, but also for routine "cleansing."
Originating in the Ayurvedic medical tradition, nasal irrigation or "jala neti" has been used since ancient times to help gently flush away irritants that cause allergy symptoms and sinus infections.
The goal of the nasal irrigation, which typically is made of a natural saline solution, is to reduce or eliminate the recurrent irritant so your body can be given a chance to heal itself. Oftentimes antihistamines, antibiotics or even surgical interventions are used to treat these conditions but do little to treat their underlying causes, nor their recurrence.
However, a number of studies have shown that nasal saline irrigation significantly eases symptoms of colds, allergies and more while lessening the need for medications like steroid nasal sprays.
Nasal irrigation has actually been a part of yoga health-oriented "cleaning rituals" for centuries, and practitioners use a neti pot to pour lightly salted sterile warm water into one nostril and then let it run out of the other. Some will also forcefully exhale the water to further cleanse their nasal passages.
It is crucial that you use only pure, sterile water for this purpose, as exposing your sinuses, and thereby potentially your brain, to contaminated water can be deadly. And although many regard their tap water as "pure," it is far from it. Tap water is not sterile -- in fact, it is often heavily contaminated.
What's Really Lurking in Your Tap Water?
If you live in a city and rely on the local water processing plant to provide you with clean water, I have some disturbing news for you: You simply cannot trust municipal sources or government agencies to keep your water clean.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. told ABC News that there are more than 140 chemicals in U.S. drinking water supplies that are not regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This includes gasoline, pesticides, rocket fuel, prescription drugs and more. Furthermore, more than 20 percent of U.S. water treatment systems have violated key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act over the last six years, yet fewer than 6 percent of the violations were ever fined or punished! This is to say nothing of the violations that go unnoticed in this time of budgetary restraints and lack of regulation and oversight.
There are also substances intentionally added to water supplies that can put your health at risk. Nearly every municipal water supply in the United States contains fluoride (a highly toxic poison) added during water treatment. Europeans have known for many years that fluoride is toxic and have long since removed it from their water supplies, but it still is used in the United States.
And then there are disinfection byproducts, or DBPs. If you have not heard of DBPs before, you need to pay close attention as it turns out that DBPs, not the chlorine itself, are responsible for the majority of the toxic effects associated with chlorinated water.
DBPs are formed when disinfectants (chlorine, chlorine dioxide, ozone, chloramines) react and combine with naturally occurring organic matter, man-made chemical contaminants, bromide and iodide during the production of drinking water.
There have been at least 600 DBPs identified, and yet, toxicological studies that look at the combined effect of these chemicals have not yet been performed, despite the fact that millions are being exposed to them daily. So when you help yourself to a glass of water from your kitchen faucet, it may look much more pure than it actually is. Making this illusion even more powerful is the fact that most mass market water filters take out the taste, color and smell, but still contain as high as 300 ppm of dissolved solids, i.e. chemical and/or mineral contaminants. There is actually no safe level for these unseen contaminants in drinking water, including heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, hormones and DBPs.
The truth of the matter is it would cost the government trillions of dollars to provide truly clean water flowing directly into the pipes of your house, and while water filters help, many simply increase the aesthetic properties of the water without truly purifying it.
Even if you have well water, chances are your well water has been contaminated by some if not many toxic substances that have been dumped into the ground soil over the past many decades, including herbicides, pesticides, rocket fuel, hormones, drug residues and heavy metals. As such, testing and filtering your home's water is a must in the modern world, whether you get your water from a well or a municipal source.
My Recommendations for Water Testing and Filtering
If you would like to have your water tested, the most comprehensive test kit I recommend is from National Testing Laboratories. We have these test kits available at cost, a significant discount from the standard online price. If you're interested, you can purchase a test kit for Well Water or for City Water.
If you could only afford one filter there is no question in most experts minds that the shower filter is the most important product to buy for water filtration, even more important than filtering your tap water. This is because the damage you incur through your skin and lungs far surpasses the damage done by drinking water (which goes to your liver first, enabling it to detoxify contaminants before releasing it into your blood).
An even better solution to the problem of harsh chemicals and toxins in your home's water supply is to install a whole house water filtration system. This not only protects your body, but also your appliances as well.
There's just one water line coming into your house. Putting a filter on this is the easiest and simplest strategy you can implement to take control of your health by ensuring the water and the air in your house is as clean as possible. My advice for whole house filtration systems is as follows: Find a system that uses at least 60 pounds of filter media and can produce eight or more gallons a minute. When you are running two different showers, the dishwasher and the kitchen sink at the same time, you'll find out why these minimum levels are so important.
Now, this recommendation covers a home or apartment up to 3200 sq./ft, or in other words, a residence with about three and a half bathrooms. For more than that you will probably require two whole house water filtration systems.
You also need to look for a whole house water filter that has three separate stages of contamination removal:
- Stage one removes sediment
- Stage two removes chlorine and heavy metals
- Stage three should be a heavy-duty carbon filter for removing hormones, drug residues, chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides
You want to look for granular carbon in the carbon filter, not a solid block of carbon. The granular carbon allows for better water flow, which translates to more water pressure and better filtering properties as well.
How to Use a Neti Pot Safely
Getting back to the topic of nasal irrigation and neti pots, you can absolutely use this technique safely to cleanse your sinuses of irritants. However, be sure that you avoid tap water and only use water that is:
- Previously boiled for 1 minute (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for 3 minutes) and left to cool
- Filtered, using a filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller
The technique itself is very simple. To start, you'll need:
- All-natural Himalayan salt or sea salt (avoid using processed salt)
- Your sterilized water
- Neti pot or bulb syringe
- Towel or washcloth
The technique, outlined below, may seem unusual at first. However, once learned, you will quickly realize how beneficial it can be for sinus problems.
- Locate a workable container. The neti pot is specially designed with a spout that fits comfortably in one nostril. Alternatives you can use include a bulb syringe, a small flower watering pot, a turkey baster or just a teacup (though the latter will be messier).
- Fill the container with lukewarm sterile salt water. The salt-to-water ratio is 1 teaspoon sea salt to 1 pint (2 cups) water.
- Have some tissues within reach for this next part. Over a sink, tilt your head forward so you are looking directly down toward the sink. Insert the spout into your right nostril. It is important that you breathe through your mouth. Turn your head to the right and let water move into the right nostril and exit the left nostril. Normally, you will feel the water as it passes through your sinuses.
It is fine if some of the water drains into your mouth. Simply spit it out and adjust the tilt of your head.
- After using a cup of water, repeat the above procedure for the other nostril.
- To finish, expel any remaining water by quickly blowing air out both open nostrils 15 times over the sink. Avoid the temptation to block off one nostril, as doing so may force water into your eustachian tube.
- When you're finished, rinse the neti pot (or other device) thoroughly with sterile water (the same water you used to fill the pot), then leave it to air dry completely.
You can perform this nasal irrigation up to four times a day until your symptoms improve, which may take three to six months if you're facing a chronic sinus infection. Generally, however, if you follow the instructions carefully and continue the routine until all your symptoms resolve, it is a very effective, and safe, technique.