May 2, 2011

Is the water you’re drinking healthy? ~ James P. McMahon

Photo: Ben Newcomer

A review of your water quality report may override concerns about minerals in your drinking water.

There’s an authentic debate among wellness professionals about the type of water that is healthiest to drink. Some people, including myself, advocate water that has naturally occurring minerals. Others suggest drinking low temperature distilled water which is void of minerals. The unique conditions affecting your water will determine the type of water filtration you need. Physical characteristics and contamination present in drinking water vary widely. This article will help you weigh the importance of minerals in your water in contrast to the information contained in the water quality report published by your water provider.

The issue of minerals in water is complex. The scientific principle of osmosis is that water will move from an area of lower (solute) concentration to an area of higher (solute) concentration. In other words, water that is void of minerals is more hydrating because it will more readily cross the cell membranes in your body. This idea is endorsed by Dr. Mohsen Hourmanesh, a naturopath based in Santa Cruz, CA, who suggests that the role of water is to hydrate and not to provide minerals. Dr. Hourmanesh is an advocate of drinking low temperature distilled water.

Photo: Yogendra Joshi

You may have heard that distilled water and water produced by reverse osmosis are ‘dead,’ due to the intensity of the processing and the lack of minerals. However, following an experiment in which he measured the energy of reverse osmosis water, Chris Niesen disputes this argument suggesting that the water from his reverse osmosis system contained more energy than his untreated well water. The notion of ‘dead’ water is a misnomer that you should disregard. This is one of those silly internet rumors that has no basis in fact.

Water has been demonstrated to have a healthy condition and it may be true that water’s physical condition, specifically the angle of the bonds between water molecules, is affected by transport in pipes and by filtration. Another objection to drinking either distilled or RO water is that both will be acidic. This is easily countered with the addition of a filter to raise pH. Numerous water treatment salespeople claim to ‘remineralize’ RO water but tests show a rise in pH only and no significant increase in mineral content from any of these filters.

Some wellness professionals advise drinking spring water. Spring water has minerals and is thought to be naturally vibrant – if it has not been conveyed in a pipe. Mineral content has been show to be beneficial by a number of independent studies funded by the World Health Organization. These studies indicate that people who drink water containing minerals suffer lower rates of heart disease than people who drink water lacking minerals. One such study was published in the August 2005 issue of Science Magazine.

Spring waters can vary widely in water quality and mineral content. Mineral content is measured as total dissolved solids (tds). EPA suggests an upper limit for tds of 500 ppm for drinking water. This is because a high mineral content affects taste but another effect of high tds is that the water is not hydrating.

Photo: Carnie Lewis

Thus we may conclude that lower tds water is more hydrating and that minerals in water are a health benefit. Minerals should be present in relatively low amounts, however, far less than EPA’s limit of 500 ppm. I like to drink water with a tds between 30 and 200.

Other considerations are just as important as minerals. For instance the presence of contaminants in your water may have serious health effects. When looking at your water report there is a section which identifies your specific water source. If your water source is a river and there are cities upstream of your location then your water will contain a dangerous mix of contaminants.

Recent studies by the Associated Press and National Geographic show that the water provided to 43 million Americans contains pharmaceuticals such as hormones, pain killers, and other drugs. Following up on this finding, a study by Italian poisons expert and biologist Francesco Pomati shows that even trace amounts of these chemicals can have serious health effects.

In a recent article in Water Conditioning & Purification, Dr. Kelly Reynolds points out that of all the treatment technologies available only reverse osmosis has been shown to consistently remove these contaminants.

What does all of this mean for you? One thing it means is that there are no blanket statements about which type of water filter or purifier is the best. In order to determine which water filter is most appropriate for your home you must first review the water quality report for your location and find out what contaminants are in your water. This will enable you to make an informed decision about type of water filtration system will be effective in removing the contaminants present in your water. In many cases the contaminants in your water and the need to remove them will far outweigh the benefit of mineral content.


James P. McMahon studied ecology at the University of Illinois and deep ecology at Naropa University. Jim started Sweetwater LLC in September 2002. He works from his home overlooking the Santa Clara River in southern Utha. You can learn how to make your water healthy at www.cleanairpurewater.com.

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