Updated: Oct 21, 2020
Having the great privilege of living in a first world country has meant for many of us that we don't have to think about the cleanliness or safety of our drinking water; that is until you become a wellness-minded clinician and you recognize our water is far from clean or healthy. If you are already part of this functional medicine or healthy living community then you are likely bombarded with messages about the safety and purity of the water you drink. We're in agreement that most people need to drink more water, but what consensus is there on the type and how to obtain it?
Let me just remind you why this is important - water is involved in almost every bodily function we have from circulation to digestion and absorption to elimination. It is the primary component of our tears, our blood and lymph, our digestive juices, urine, and sweat. Water carries our electrolytes and mineral salts that help convey electrical currents in the body and it flushes through our lymph system helping to rid our bodies of toxins.
Although many encourage eight glasses of water daily, there really isn't evidence to support this recommendation as our needs are very individualized. The climate we live in and our activity guides our needs, as does our metabolic processes, age, and size. Generally, about half our body composition is water. It certainly isn't just a glass of fluids either; water offers us a plethora of minerals that are absolutely necessary for life. When we think about clean and safe water, and where we should best source that water, we also need to think about how we are going to attain the most natural balanced minerals.
Flint Michigan brought to light the dangers of water contamination and that even communities in our privileged country are at risk, but it isn't just lead that seeps into our water. Most tap water in the United States is treated with chemicals such as chlorine, phosphates, and fluoride. Air pollutants, fertilizers, pesticides, animal waste products, and other contaminants including many pharmaceuticals are commonly part of our drinking water. The U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture published findings in 2008, that among the 28 metropolitan areas tested, 24 public had anti-seizures medications, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory drugs in their water systems.
Talk to Me about Bottled Water
Most all Americans today prefer to drink their water from plastic bottles. Oddly, many of them refill these plastic bottles with tap water and drink from them many times over. While this is better for the earth, it is far more toxic to your body. Bottled water was the second most popular drink in 2005, second only to carbonated soft drinks. More than half believe bottled water is safer and healthier than tap water.
Have you peeked at the label on your bottled water? Almost one-third of those bottles have no information what-so-ever. The FDA has established recommendations for the industry to process, bottle, hold, and transport bottled water under sanitary conditions. The FDA has also recommended bottled water manufacturers protect water sources from bacteria, chemicals, and other contaminants. They are suppose to use quality control processes to ensure the bacteriological and chemical safety of the water, and are also encouraged to sample and test both source water and the final product for contamination.
This really isn't exceedingly helpful in decreasing our toxic burden however, as most all plastic bottles contain polyvinylchloride (PVC) and bisphenol A (BPA), which have been implicated as carcinogens. These chemicals are leached into the water most especially when the plastic becomes warm, such as when they are transported in the back of a semi-truck in the summer. Many plastic bottles provide the warning that they are one-time use containers as these light, soft plastics break down and contaminate as they age.
An article came out just a year ago in which they quantified plastics in our environment and it showed that if we look at water consumption over a year, that if were to only drink from bottled water, we would get 90K microplastics annually. If we switch to tap water or non-bottled, that drops to 4K. Bottled water is not safe for us. If you do utilize this option though, recycle these containers instead of reusing them, if you must use them at all.
As more consumers become aware of these risks, more and more are demanding non-toxic, durable, food-grade water containers - either stainless steel or glass. These containers should be stainless steel inside and out, as many are stainless steel on the outside, but plastic on the inner surface. Peek before you purchase. Reusing water containers is inexpensive and convenient. A client of mine reuses her wine bottles by filling them with water from her home filtration system, and then sticks the cork back in place, adding them to her refrigerator door. I found several options for glass containers at TJ Maxx and IKEA which were only a few dollars each.
There are a few "safer" plastic bottles available which will have a "BPA free" label. Bottles stamped with the numbers three, six, and seven should not be drank out of at all. A Consumer Reports review on plastic bottles stated that polyethylene, which may be marked with recycling codes one, two, or four, and polyprophylene, which is stamped with a five, are potentially safe plastic options.
What about Well Water?
Even well water is becoming less safe as it comes from the groundwater supplies and so much of this is now contaminated by industrial toxins or farm run-off. Even contaminants from our automobiles run off the roads and into our water ways. Mineral content varies in well water, although Indiana has a history of being among the richest in its mineral supply. However, heavy metals can also be found so testing your water supply, if supplied from a local well, should certainly be a priority.
What Exactly is Spring Water?
Spring water is perceived as the "natural" option among our bottled waters. It is more generally the water found in underground springs, but near the surface of the earth. This water may be disinfected with chlorine, but otherwise is not processed. As mentioned, mineral content varies throughout the country so content depends on where your spring water is attained or shipped from, with the Midwest being the most plentiful. The unfortunate side of most all spring water available to us is that it comes in plastic water bottles which can be a carcinogenic exposure for us, as well as a hormone disrupter, and is incredibly bad for the earth. Spring water is best drank from glass.
Mineral water differs from spring water because it is found deeper in the earth from underground pools. Even though this water is naturally "bubbly," carbon dioxide is added to make it carbonated. Make certain that the water has been checked for contamination.
What is Distilled Water?
Distilled water is actually just tap water that has been boiled until the minerals have steamed out. It also may be highly filtered to remove all the trace elements. This is great for ironing and for some detoxification programs, but is not for every day use. Ironic that parents are encouraged to use distilled water to mix with their artificial breastmilk formulas, huh? The minerals are necessary for optimal health.
What Danger Might Tap Water Impose?
Tap water has been discouraged for pregnant women for more than a decade now as it has been identified as a teratogen, or capable of causing birth defects in the unborn. In my mind, this means my littles and the rest of the population should avoid it as well.
What is Filtered Water?
Filtered water has been treated with carbon filter to remove chemicals, metals and bacteria. The various options for home filtration seems endless. You can even add a filter to your main water system to filter the entire home's water, or add a filter to your shower head. The Allergy Buyer's Club has the greatest supply of options to the best of my knowledge. They also provide reviews on their filters and lots of really helpful information to help you decide on what may be best for your home.
What about Carbonation?
Soda water, tonic water, and seltzer water have historically been regulated as soft drinks. All of the newer flavored waters must also meet bottled water requirements, as well as those with added minerals. These additives must be identified on the label.