Water Week Part 2 – Beware: Don’t Be A Human Water Filter
Hungarian Biochemist and Nobel Prize winner Albert Szent-Gyorgyi has notoriously said that:
“Water is life’s matter and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.”
Years ago, this statement would not caused much confusion as to which type of water drink. That’s because drinking water was typically obtained from the tap, and bottled water was used for emergencies or special occasions. And just about everyone trusted their municipal tap water and drank it without questioning its quality.
But all that has changed. Nowadays, most health-conscious people pay attention to the water they drink, and I’m sure you’re no exception.
So today, in order to help you make informed choices, I’ll review the most commonly available types of drinking water.
Tap Water: The Festering Faucet
If you live in a large metropolitan area, chances are you receive a yearly water report from your city. My town’s water report claims its water is so good, that certain stores in the downtown area actually sell it as bottled water!
What the report doesn’t reveal is that lurking in what appears to be crystal clear liquid there are chemicals purposely added to the water. Supplementation of municipal water serves two purposes: to prevent contamination and cavities.
Chlorine, and more recently chloramine (chlorine mixed with ammonia), are used to disinfect tap water. But there are unintended – and inevitable – consequences tied to this method. Toxic disinfection by-products known as trihalomethanes (THMs) are formed when the chemicals react with organic matter. Chloramines also induce the corrosion of lead and copper pipes, leading to contamination with heavy metals.
Treating tap water with chlorine hasn’t lived up to its expectations. According to Consumer Report:
“Dangerous contaminants such as lead, chloroform, arsenic, nitrate, nitrite, radon, and E. coli bacteria are common in tap water.” 1
And water fluoridation has also added to the already heavy toxic load of modern times. Fluoride is supplemented in most U.S. cities and in many countries around the world for the dubious purpose of cavity prevention. Ironically, a large percentage of children suffer from dental fluorosis, a sign of excessive fluoride that mottles teeth with brown spots and uneven enamel.
Ingesting fluoride is ineffective at improving dental health, and effective at increasing health problems. The observed remineralization of tooth enamel takes place with topical fluoride application. There’s a good reason why all fluoridated toothpaste tubes include a disclaimer warning against swallowing it and to call a Poison Control Center if you do.
So it is not surprising that ingested fluoride is treated by the body like a toxin. The kidneys, liver, and sadly, even the brain bear the brunt of it. One sad example I can give you is from a recent systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies revealing that:
“Children in high fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low fluoride areas.”2
But that’s not all. Fluoride accumulation in the skeleton can mimic arthritis symptoms, inhibit the immune system, and induce hypothyroidism. Also, a slew of studies have shown the negative effects of fluoride ingestion on bone health. This is all covered in great detail along with an extensive bibliography in The Missing Link, which is part of the Save Our Bones Program.
And last but not least, if you drink water straight out of the tap, you may be inadvertently ingesting over-the counter and prescription drugs – albeit in small quantities. According to an Associated Press investigation:
“A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans.”3
The most unpalatable part of this is how the drugs get into the water. Even though wastewater is treated and cleaned before it enters the municipal pipes, the chemicals used are not designed to remove drugs.
More recently, there have been reports of brain-eating amoebas in tap water that ultimately killed two neti pot users trying to clean their sinuses.4
How to Get It
Home faucets have access to municipal water sources.
It’s a shame that this convenient method of getting water has turned out to be so inconvenient for those who wish to stay healthy! Even if you live in a non-fluoridated area, you should never drink from the tap without first using filter pitchers such as Zero Water, PUR, or Brita. They help remove impurities and other organic material (including dissolved lead) but not fluoride and lead particles.6
Also, pay attention to the containers you use to store water – they should be either BPA-free or glass. And remember to change the pitcher filters often, since they could contaminate the water with bacteria.
The Bottom Line
Before you drink water from your faucet, make sure that you live in a non-fluoridated area. Once you’ve confirmed this, always use filter pitchers to ensure water cleanliness and improved taste. And make sure you stay on top of your local news, in case there’s a boil water advisory in your area.
Spring Water: Incognito Inorganics
Minerals are necessary to perform a myriad of crucial biological functions, including bone and connective tissue growth. So it’s not surprising that drinking water with minerals in it may sound like an easy and attractive way to get important nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium – to name a few. Unfortunately, it’s not so. In fact, inorganic minerals are detrimental to our health since our cells don’t recognize them and are therefore treated as unusable substances, not much different from toxins.
Organic minerals are bound or chelated to carbon-based molecules, and this is how the body can utilize them. Not surprisingly, minerals present in foods are organic.
Spring water and mineral water – the latter containing at least 250 parts per million of total dissolved solids – are both from a well or spring where water flows naturally to the earth’s surface. Artesian water is under enough pressure so the water rises above the aquifer. All three contain only inorganic minerals that can neither bring life nor health to our cells. In fact, excessive accumulation of inorganic minerals can wreak havoc in the body, such as hardening of the arteries, bone spurs and kidney stones.
Bottled spring, mineral, and artesian water are typically sold in plastic bottles. Fortunately, most well-known brands confirm that they use Bisphenol A-free plastic, but recent studies have found phthalates, another endocrine disruptor, in some bottled water most likely made from recycled plastic.5
How to Get It
Grocery stores typically sell a variety of bottled spring, mineral and artesian bottled water.
Try to stick to the well-known brands, such as Nestle’s, since they are BPA-free.
It’s important to check if the plastic bottles could leach toxic chemicals. As a general rule, the recycling symbols number 1, 2, 4 and 5 are fine. Just make sure never to re-use bottles that have the number 1 recycling symbol, since they’re made for one time use only. Stay away from all bottles with the number 7, since they may leach BPA.
As with tap water, you might want to filter out excess minerals by using a filter pitcher to prevent unwanted inorganic mineral accumulation and heavy metals in your body.
Bottled water prices vary greatly and if you use it for cooking it can substantially increase your grocery budget. Fortunately, the larger packages are a better deal and you’ll end up spending less per bottle. To avoid back injuries, make sure you lift the large packs by using your leg muscles and not your back.
The Bottom Line
Inorganic minerals should be removed from the body and not reintroduced, so if you opt for bottled water, check the label so you can select the ones with the lowest mineral content. Also, make sure the brand you get uses BPA-free plastic and use a filter pitcher before drinking it. You might want to stock up on large gallon containers for cooking and to make coffee or tea.
Well Water: A Calamitous Cocktail
If you rely on a private well to get your running water, as do over 15 million U.S. households, you already know that you’re responsible for its maintenance to prevent contamination, mechanical problems, and to keep the water as clean as possible.
While the absence of municipal supplementation with chlorine and fluoride may give well owners a reason to celebrate, other issues can plague well water – literally. According to the CDC, the five top pathogens linked to well water contamination are:4
- Hepatitis A
- Giardia intestinalis
- Shigella spp.
- E. coli 0157:H7
- Tied for 5th: Campylobacter jejuni and Salmonella serotype Typhimurium
And as is the case with municipal tap water, undesirable chemicals such as arsenic, lead, nitrates, agricultural pesticides, and viruses such as enterovirus and rotavirus can be commonly found in tested well water.5 This is a partial list, mind you. Nor is well water immune to the presence of drugs, per the previously mentioned AP investigation.3
So in addition to the maintenance, well owners would do…well… or a lot better, if they test the water regularly.
How to Get It
The well is connected to your plumbing, so simply use your faucet.
In view of the potential for contamination, I discourage anyone from drinking directly from the well. You might want to install a permanent under the sink filter, but if you do, remember to change the filters as recommended and to maintain the system clean at all times. Or you could also use a filter pitcher. When in doubt, boil the water, until you can get a sample to your local laboratory.
The Bottom Line
While the good news is that well water is free of any municipal supplementation, there are enough contamination concerns that further complicate drinking well water straight out of the faucet. A secondary filtration system as well as ongoing water testing is the best way to prevent toxicity and contamination problems.
Reverse Osmosis Water: Perilous Purification
The reverse osmosis filtration system uses osmotic pressure to push impurities through a membrane and carbon filters. As the filtered water enters the reservoir tank, dirt and impurities stay on the other side of the membrane. Most contaminants are filtered quite effectively, except for viruses and low molecular weight chemicals such as chlorine, trihalomethanes, and other. Hence the need for carbon filters. Fluoride filtration is quite effective, ranging anywhere from 50 to 95%, depending on the system.
Maintenance of RO systems is critical for optimal filtration capacity, since the membrane degrades with usage and the filters get clogged up by residue. If the membrane and the storage tank are not kept meticulously clean, bacterial overgrowth might ensue. For that reason, most large commercial RO systems also use ultraviolet light, as it effectively helps control bacteria.
Water testing is crucial when using this water filtration system, since there is no visual indication of membrane erosion or the presence of microscopic pathogens.
How to Get It
You can install your own reverse osmosis system either under the sink or by the main water pipe so the filtered water is available everywhere. The latter option, however, can cost several thousand dollars.
Alternatively, you can buy RO water (sometimes sold as purified water) either in bottles, gallon containers, or from dispensers installed in some supermarket chains. In all cases, check the type of plastic used for the bottles, and if you use the dispenser, make sure your bottles are BPA free or made of glass. Also, ask the supermarket manager if the company does fulfill its maintenance obligations, since, as I’ve explained earlier, the membranes must be cleaned on a regular basis.
Reverse Osmosis systems offer effective water filtration, albeit with intense maintenance that if not performed on schedule could potentially increase the presence of pathogens such as viruses and some bacteria and decrease the filtering effectiveness. The practical application of an RO system, however, is quite convenient, since it can be installed throughout the house.
The Bottom Line
Before you invest in an RO system carefully analyze the cost, including the yearly maintenance expenses. Getting water from supermarket dispensers is a good way to save, but the inconvenience of carrying bottles to and from your house can’t be ignored. Additionally, there could be issues with equipment maintenance that are completely beyond your control.
Alkaline Water: Digestion Disruptor
As you already know, maintaing the pH balance within the desirable alkaline range is critical to your bone health and to health in general. Perhaps that is why on the surface, drinking alkaline water could sound like a great idea. But that’s not so.
When water reaches the stomach, it immediately combines with stomach acid or hydrochloric acid, which has a pH of 1. It is so acid that it can dissolve a piece of wood in a few seconds. So you can say goodbye to alkaline water the minute it reaches your stomach!
In fact, drinking alkaline water, especially with meals, can decrease stomach acid and basically lead to incomplete digestion and a greater risk of bacterial infection. Improperly digested food caused by insufficient stomach acid can also impair the ability to achieve an alkaline pH. What’s more, alkalizing the stomach contents makes it harder to alkalize the blood because paradoxically, the acidic function of digestion in the stomach is what actually triggers a greater alkalizing reaction in the small intestine, and ultimately in the blood.
In other words, the lower the pH of chyme (the acidic digested food mixed with stomach acid) that flows into the small intestine, the larger quantity of alkalizing elements will be produced to ultimately alkalize the blood.
How to Get It
A variety of alkalizing and ionizing systems are available, such as Kangen, Jupiter, and Samsung, to name a few. Most can placed on the kitchen counter or installed under the sink. For the latter option, a plumbing expert might be a good idea. These systems work better with tap water than well water due to the possible presence of hydrogen sulfide in well water, which gives off a rotten egg smell. Well water may also have elevated iron levels.
These systems are quite pricey, ranging from $1,000 to around $3,000. Replacement filters add to the cost, since they need to be purchased regularly.
The pH of water does not affect the blood’s pH, since the water we drink is either mixed with food during a meal or rapidly enters the circulatory system through the intestinal walls. Bear in mind that the amount of water in our bodies is a very tightly controlled process to maintain both volume and the amount of dissolved substances, including ions. The water we drink is not the only source of water in the body; foods, and especially fruits and vegetables, are also an important source of water and alkalizers. Plus a good amount of water is produced from the oxidation of glucose derived from foods.
Besides the rather high cost of the product itself, the filters necessary to remove fluoride and other impurities found in tap water add to the ongoing cost.
The Bottom Line
There’s no need to risk digestive problems and to spend money on alkaline water. When it comes to blood pH, the pH of water is not an issue of concern. The best way to achieve the desirable pH is to eat a balanced diet that promotes alkalinity and good health.
Distilled Water: Condensation Conundrum
Steam distillation relies on the simple principles of evaporation and condensation. Unlike all other water filtration systems, distillation removes the water from the undesirable impurities rather than the other way around. Tap water is heated to boiling temperatures so that water molecules are turned into vapor steam, which then condense on the collecting reservoir, leaving all impurities and contaminants behind.
Some systems also have a carbon filter to ensure that any residual low molecular weight chemicals are caught prior to reaching the clean reservoir. This leaves nothing but pure H2O – water as nature intended. The end result of vapor distillation is pure water, devoid of anything else except what water is supposed to be: two Hydrogen atoms and one Oxygen atom.
The very same process that ensures the purity of distilled water – the condensation process – has been subject to criticism, since all impurities, including inorganic minerals, are removed from the drinking water. But that’s precisely what we should be looking for! I’ve already discussed the problems tied to ingesting inorganic minerals in the Alkaline Water section, so there’s no need to rehash here.
Also, there are claims claim that drinking distilled water causes minerals to leach out of the body. This statement is not based on true science. In fact, it’s a myth. You see, staying hydrated with pure distilled water is the best way since it’s unencumbered by minerals that cells can’t utilize, thus helping cleanse the body of potentially harmful substances.
Another myth about distilled water is that it acidifies the body because its pH is around neutral to acid. As I mentioned in the Alkaline Water section, the food we eat is a much stronger pH determinant than any amount of water we could drink.
How to Get It
Some grocery stores sell distilled drinking water, typically in one gallon jugs. As is the case with bottled water, make sure you check the recycling number. Also, some brands of distilled water made specifically for babies have fluoride and inorganic minerals added, so read the label carefully.
A convenient option is to get your own countertop distiller, so you don’t have to lug heavy water bottles and containers. Prices vary greatly depending on the quality of the product, but are typically a lot less expensive than water ionizers. A stainless steel-lined unit is ideal, since water gets heated to boiling temperatures, so it’s important to make sure that the containers are made of durable and safe materials that won’t leach chemicals into the water.
Vapor distilled water is a very convenient method to obtain pure and healthy drinking water. Distillation consistently eliminates all water impurities leaving you with clean and fresh-tasting water. Unfortunately, grocery stores mostly carry the gallon jugs and not the smaller bottles.
Countertop distillers are simple appliances that require practically no maintenance and are as easy to operate as a coffee maker. Replaceable carbon filters are inexpensive and need to be periodically replaced. A good quality distiller will have an indicator signaling when the filter has outlived its capacity. Additionally, having your own distiller can save you money in the long run, plus you won’t have to carry heavy bottles from the grocery store.
When you own a distiller, you’re in complete control of your drinking water’s quality, whether you’re connected to municipal water or if you have your own water well. And it can save you hundreds of dollars a year, depending on the size of your household. Alternatively, I recommend you buy distilled water from your grocery store.
The Bottom Line
Distilled water is easy to get if you make it yourself, which also saves you money in the long run. Plus only distilled water is absolutely pure, both bacteriologically and chemically. It is also great for cooking and making coffee or tea, since it doesn’t alter the taste of foods.
I distill my own water, and use it every day both for drinking (with a splash of lemon juice) and cooking. Vapor distilled water is what our bodies need and what our bones crave. I recommend it to all those who are serious about taking care of their wellness and their bone health.
Here’s to your hydration education!
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2 Choi AL et al. “Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Jul 20. [Epub ahead of print].
5 Sax L. “Polyethylene Terephthalate May Yield Endocrine Disruptors.” Environmental Health Perspectives. 118(4). April 2010.