The human body is between 50-80% water, depending on which part is being measured. Water and fat are what make the blood liquid. Water is what helps move food through the digestive tract and remove wastes from every cell and tissue.
Naturally, the quality of water that we drink, cook with, and even bathe in is a very important—but often overlooked—determinant of health.
Unfortunately, public drinking water routinely contains contaminants that the body does not benefit from and that are sometimes downright toxic. These may be naturally occurring or synthetic. They may be water treatment by-products, agricultural pesticides, industrial waste or medication residues.
The net result is that in far too many communities, the life-giving properties of water thus get “watered down” and become life-threatening.
Here are the top 5 types of contaminants commonly found in municipal water that we would be better off without:
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): e.g., benzene, formaldehyde, tetrachloroethylene, toluene, xylene, methylene chloride
- Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs): This class includes lipid-soluble pesticide residues, solvents, and drug metabolites, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), Dioxins, and DDT. These are often hormone disrupters
- Toxic metals that deplete essential nutrients
- Mold that burdens immune defense and impairs repair systems
- Radioactive isotopes, such as radon, that also deplete protective essential nutrients
People wishing to learn about what’s in their local water can find a lot of useful information in the tap water database maintained by the Environmental Working Group.
This is a well-researched resource that provides general contaminant levels for any zip code. Some local agencies also provide information on what’s in their municipal water.
I recommend confirming the quality of tap water with routine testing through a reputable company. Such comprehensive testing can typically be done for under $100. I strongly advise skipping the $20 home testing kits that yield little to no reliable information.
With all these pollutants lurking in our taps, what can we do to improve the quality and healthfulness of the water that we, and our patients, use?
A quick internet search yields numerous water filtration systems promising clean, safe water. Selecting the right system requires considerable homework.
Here are some tips regarding the most common systems based on my research:
- Reverse Osmosis: This is a water purification technology that uses a semi-permeable membrane to remove ions, molecules, and larger particles from drinking water. While RO seems great, it comes with problems. It usually needs multiple filters and expensive membranes. Some brands are prone to break down. RO is also costly, both financially and resource-wise. It requires about 50 units of untreated water to yield one unit of good water. So it is not a great option for arid or drought-prone regions.
- Charcoal Filters: Unlike RO systems, charcoal filter units are inexpensive. There are many varieties. Some contain filters that include silver, while others do not; Some are under-faucet or faucet mounted, while others are pitcher-based systems for use with relatively small amounts of drinking water. For the most part, these systems work fairly well to eliminate many common toxins---until those carbon blocks become saturated! Then, the toxins leach back out from the charcoal into the water! Failure to replace the carbon filters regularly will nullify any benefit originally obtained.
- Whole-House Filtration Systems: These usually feature a 3-cartridge mechanism that not only filters the water, but also sterilizes it. While a high quality whole house filtration system is effective, the downside is the high initial cost, typically well over $10,000. These systems may also have high recurring costs. And they’re not a particularly good option for renters who do not own their homes.
- Distilled Water: While distillation removes all impurities and toxic elements, it is devoid of many of the life-giving minerals in water. It is a very cumbersome and wasteful process to boot. Some call it “dead water” and reports show that distilled water has the capability to actually leach minerals from the body.
My personal preference and recommendation is to obtain well water from the 3rd aquifer, whenever and wherever it is available. The term “3rd aquifer” is familiar to technicians that dig and install wells. It refers to water that lies under the bedrock layer, and it is less susceptible to the sort of runoff pollutants that contaminate upper groundwater. Water from this layer also has a relatively high mineral content.
There is no magic number as to how deep these wells should be, since water tables differ based on geographic area.
For people whose houses are supplied with well water, I recommend testing the water every six months to ensure desired quality. The Water Quality Association website (www.wqa.org) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s website (www.epa.gov/privatewells/protect-your-homes-water) provide lists of certified professionals who offer this sort of testing.
For those who don’t have 3rd aquifer well water at home, some communities share access to artesian wells where people can fill up jugs to take home. In places where this is an option, community-managed wells can be a good and safer alternative to tap water, at least for drinking and cooking. As with private wells, these public springs should also be routinely tested for quality.
Many people have mineral water or high mineral content spring water (220 ppm+ dissolved minerals), delivered to their homes.
From a personal health perspective this is a good option, provided the 5-gallon containers are made of glass and not plastic. Ecologically, however, this strategy can have a negative impact. The growing demand for bottled water means that pristine aquifers and water tables around the globe are being rapidly depleted for global consumption.
Further, bottled water is shipped or trucked over vast distances, leaving a large carbon footprint. And, it’s an added expense on top of whatever water bills people may be paying for their tap water.
In a perfect world, we could all enjoy uncontaminated clean water right from our kitchen faucets. Unfortunately, in our reality, it takes effort to ensure the quality of the water we take in. But the effort is worthwhile, as pure water is the essence of life.