One of the most frequently asked questions that I receive and that I see on other health pages is which drinking water is healthiest? What's the best way to filter drinking water? So I set out to review the options, the health research, and the products to finally answer the question once and for all.
Before we begin, it's important to address the problem of chronic dehydration that is so prevalent today. We live in an age full of caffeine (which is a diuretic, causing people to lose more water than they consume), hundreds of unhealthy drink options, and chronic health problems related to chronic dehydration.
For instance, the majority of Americans do not have the amount of regular, frequent bowels that they need to have for good health. Additionally, many Americans suffer from repeated urinary infections which could be helped by adequate hydration. And lest we forget that our joints need hydration to function well, we could alleviate many problems with arthritis-type symptoms just by drinking enough water.
These are just a couple examples of the problems created by chronic dehydration! Unfortunately, some health circles circulate the myth that this old adage of drinking enough water is false, thereby leaving many people to continue suffering from chronic dehydration.
Of course, the water that we do drink is important! Some water can cause health problems for us as well, so we need to address this issue.
Dangers of Tap Water
Unfortunately, those of us who live in the city cannot just drink our tap water and get healthy hydration. Most of us are aware of the dangers of tap water, including:
We are told that this toxic industrial waste product is put in our water to benefit our teeth. Unfortunately, the damaging effects of fluoride far outweigh any alleged benefits. For starters, did you know that Nazis gave prisoners fluoride in order too make them more docile and less resistant.?
Fluoride has been proven to have a negative impact on IQ, cause infertility, and it is also very damaging to the thyroid gland, a big problem considering we live in an age with skyrocketing rates of thyroid disease.
It is toxic to our brain, our kidneys, the reproductive system, and just about every other part of our body! For more info about the dangers of fluoride, check out Cheeseslave's article: The Top Ten Dangers of Fluoride.
While fluoride was used in World War 2, chlorine was used as chemical warfare in World War 1. One must ask herself why there are chemical warfare agents in our drinking water?!
Specifically, chlorine in drinking water damages the gut and anyone who has been on my page for a while knows that a damaged gut is the cause of many, many health problems including allergies, IBS, malabsorption, and nutritional deficiencies. Damage to the gut from chlorine can also cause skin problems such as eczema and a weakened immune system (evidenced oftentimes in children who drink tap water as a constant runny nose).
Furthermore, chlorine is carcinogenic (cancer-causing). That is why swimmers have a much higher rate of bladder cancer. For more on the dangers of chlorine, you can check out my post about chlorinated swimming pools which details the problems with chlorine.
"We know we are being exposed to other people's drugs through our drinking water, and that can't be good."
~ Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment of the State University of New York at Albany
If you've got a neighbor on chemotherapy, another neighbor on hormone medications, and another on anti-depressants, then you may very well be getting those things in your drinking water! Those drugs get in there both by the urine of patients and by drugs being flushed down the toilet.
"People think that if they take a medication, their body absorbs it and it disappears, but of course that's not the case." EPA scientist Christian Daughton.
Unfortunately, there are currently no federal regulations for testing drinking water for pharmaceutical residue and removing them from it.
Tap water contains many other harmful toxins including arsenic, benzene and other not-so-good things.
Deceptions of Bottled Water
Unfortunately, much of the bottled water on the market is simply tap water. So as we look above at the problems with tap water including chlorine, fluoride, and pharmaceutical drugs, these apply to most bottled water as well.
Dr. Mercola discusses the deceptions of bottled water in this article, including the dangers of drinking from plastic and the problem with paying for water: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/10/02/more-deception-about-bottled-water.aspx
So What's The Best Choice for Healthy Drinking Water?
We will first have to accept that there is almost no perfect water available to us in today's world. We can, however, find a few options for water that will give us the hydration that we need, as well as some other benefits if done right. In order of preference from the healthiest water we can get, here they are:
Fresh Spring Water
Ideally, we would all be able to get fresh water from an active spring away from chemically-treated farms, factories with toxic waste, etc. Fresh spring water from underground aquifers provides us with the healthiest hydration we could ever get.
To see if a fresh water spring is available in your area, visit http://www.findaspring.com/
Some bottled water is spring water, so when you are reaching for a bottle of water from the grocery store, grab one that is spring water.
People who do not live in city limits and have their own well water are pretty fortunate. Unless they live next to farm fields or golf courses that are treated with chemicals, that is. These chemicals leach into the well water supply within a matter of a few years, tainting the water supply. If you have well water and are fortunate not to live next to chemically-treated land, you will get the benefits of drinking water full of natural minerals, minerals that will vary depending on the location. You can (and should) have your water tested to see if there are levels of various minerals that are either too high or low to make some adjustments in your own diet/supplement protocol. Be sure to test the level of arsenic in your well water also, because well water tends to be higher in arsenic sometimes than even tap water. You will also want to test it to make sure the levels of things like iodine, copper, maganese, etc. are good.
Also, it's important to note that if you have a water softener hooked up to you kitchen faucet, the mineral levels of your drinking water are completely off balance as the salt displaces the other minerals (which is how it makes the water soft).
Berkey vs. Reverse Osmosis
I had heard a lot about Berkeys in health circles so I was curious. These stainless steel countertop filters have been all the rage. Thankfully, Berkey was kind enough to let me test out one of their products--the Big Berkey. After using it for a couple of months, here are the pros and cons I discovered to it:
- It removes most of the same things as reverse osmosis that we don't want, such as chlorine, lead, etc.
- Unlike reverse osmosis, it does not remove beneficial minerals.
- It has visual appeal with its stainless steel design.
- Filtered and unfiltered water sits in stainless steel, as opposed to plastic reservoirs with the RO system.
- The water actually tastes great after being filtered by the Berkey!
- It's much easier to put together than the installation of an RO system!
- It does not filter the amount of water our family needs daily, especially when it comes to things like water for soaking/cooking beans.
- It filters fluoride and arsenic ONLY WITH the additional fluoride filter which costs an additional $50, and there is some concern that because it uses activated alumina, it may pose a conflict of interest for those who want to avoid aluminum.
- It requires counter space, a commodity some of us just don't have!
REVERSE OSMOSIS (RO)
Our family purchased an under-the-sink reverse osmosis system to install in our kitchen for drinking and cooking water a few years ago similar to Aquasana's (but unfortunately not as good :( ). We bought it for around $200 at our local home improvement store. Here are the pros and cons we've discovered with this kind of filtration (of course there would be more pros with the Aquasana system that are not listed here):
- Reverse osmosis has been found effective at removing virtually all pharmaceutical contaminants in drinking water. (This one is very important!)
- It is effective at removing chlorine.
- Reverse osmosis is also the only system available that removes fluoride (with the exception of the Berkey fluoride filter that may pose problems with aluminum.)
- It filters a much larger amount of water each day than the Berkey. I don't know the actual amount but it filters enough for all of our family's drinking water plus water to soak and cook beans, grains, etc.
- Costs slightly less than the Big Berkey.
- It is a bit complicated to install. (Fortunately, I have a very handy man for a husband!)
- It is said in health circles all over that because the reverse osmosis process also removes minerals, it leaves the water very acidic which can result in pH imbalance, as well as a deficiency of essential minerals. I have not been able to find substantial proof of this, but Dr. Mercola does not classify it with the much more acidic distilled water. Nonetheless, I recommend adding at least one of the following to reverse osmosis water:
- Alkaline drops
- Lemon water
- Liquid minerals
What About Alkaline/Ionized Water?
I was caught up researching ionized water systems during the formation of this post because the prospect of having an alkaline water that detoxifies and hydrates so well is very appealing! Other than the cost of these systems, however, some additional research stopped my search into these systems. To sum it up briefly, Dr. Mercola lists the main concerns with these systems:
Some people experience an initial "high" when they start drinking alkaline water. This can easily be attributed to detoxification, and the fact that they are likely just becoming better hydrated. Detoxification is about the only benefit of alkaline water, and this benefit is limited to very SHORT TERM USE (no more than a week or two). An additional concern is that many individuals have stomach dysfunctions like GERD or ulcers that are largely related to having too little stomach acid. Long-term use of alkaline or ionized water can interfere with your body's natural digestive process by reducing the acid needed to properly break down and absorb food. This could then lead to an upset of your body's good bacteria, which can then open the door to parasitic infection, ulcers and malabsorption.
Dr. Mercola has more in-depth information on these types of systems in this full report: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/09/11/alkaline-water-interview.aspx
The best choice for drinking water depends on many factors--whether you have well or municipal water, whether you have a local source of fresh spring water or not, whether you have a big family or not, etc. For our family of 8, the Berkey just isn't practical for our main source of filtered water. For small families or for couples who have well water but do not have a local spring water source, I think the Berkey would be their best option. For larger families living in the city and not near a source of spring water, the reverse osmosis with added minerals is their best option.
Whichever way a family chooses to get their water, the main thing is that they do it and drink enough water to be hydrated every day! The easiest way to know how much water each person needs is to take their weight (in pounds), divide it in half, and use that number as the amount (in ounces) that they need for water each day. For instance, a 120-pound adult would need around 60 ounces of clean water each day.
It's important to also keep in mind that consumption of caffeine (coffee, soda, etc.) causes the body to lose water (as well as essential nutrients), so factor that in if you drink caffeine.