Are you drinking reverse osmosis (RO), distilled, or bottled water? If so, read on to discover why you may need to make a change for the sake of your health and wellness.
For a while, my family and I were happily drinking reverse osmosis (RO) water thinking we were not only doing the eco-friendly thing by not drinking bottled water, but also doing what was best for our health, too. What we didn’t realize at the time was that we were slowly damaging our bodies by drinking “dead” water — i.e., water void of minerals essential to our health, such as calcium and magnesium. I knew this was the case for distilled water, but was surprised that RO was just as bad. Then I found out that some bottled water is even made using RO water!
That left me wondering what was best for my family’s health. Should we modify the RO water somehow? Drink mineral water? Supplement? Just use a carbon filter for tap water? What exactly? If you’re wondering the same thing, read on to discover what I found out after doing a little in-depth research.
What kind of water do you get with a reverse osmosis system?
Well, RO systems appear to do a pretty decent job of removing chemicals, harmful minerals, and contaminants from your tap water. Most have a sediment filter that removes things like dirt and rust, a carbon filter that removes chlorine and odors, and a RO membrane filter that removes metals, salts, and harmful contaminants, such as percolate, radium, cysts (e.g., Giardia and Cryptosporidium), lead, and arsenic — the latter two of which are notorious endocrine disruptors as described in this post. RO systems also remove about 70 – 80% of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) according to this article by Freshwater Systems, an on-line store specializing in water treatment systems.
But did you know that in addition to those harmful things, it also removes what’s good for you — i.e., healthy macro and micro minerals (aka trace minerals)? According to the Premier website, a leading manufacturer of reverse osmosis and other water systems, the filters reduce calcium and other minerals by 99%!
So, what you end up with is water with both the “bad” and the “good” removed — rendering it essentially lifeless in my opinion. You can taste it, too. It seems flat and dead. My cats won’t even touch it! Also, freshwater fish don’t do too well living in RO water either, which is why many companies offer remineralizing products for aquarium owners. Therefore, if fish and animals can’t survive with RO water, how can we?
What about distilled water?
Bottled distilled water is often made from the steam of RO water, so it might be perfect for your iron or steam machine, not just for you unless you enliven it with minerals. For a very detailed in-depth look at what distilled water is and all the pros and cons, check out this article by Jon Barron, Founder of the Baseline of Health Foundation.
What about bottled water?
Many bottled water manufacturers — and most likely some flavored beverage manufacturers — may use reverse osmosis to purify their water as well! So, your favorite bottled water or iced tea brand may be missing essential minerals, too. But many manufacturers do enhance the taste of their water with minerals. The problem is the FDA doesn’t require them to reveal the source, content, or processing method, so you often don’t know what you’re drinking unless the manufacturer is transparent. You’d be surprised at how many of the top brands don’t state what’s in their products. Also, bottled water is an obvious waste of resources and tons of plastic bottles just ends up in our landfills, so it’s not a very green option at all.
Is having water without minerals really that big of a deal?
Yes! When water doesn’t have any alkalizing minerals like calcium in it, the water is left slightly more acidic. Pure water normally has a pH of 7 and is considered a neutral. Anything below 7 is considered to be more acidic and anything above more alkaline according to this article by Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., About.com Chemistry Expert. Also, drinking water compared to pure water does vary quite a bit with a pH of 6.5 to 8.5, because of the minerals and gases in it. Helmenstine considers any drinking water below 6.5 to be acidic.
Considering RO water typically has a pH somewhere between 5 – 6 according to Pure Tap Water Systems, a supplier of RO systems, you are definitely drinking acidic water if you are using a RO system at home or drinking non-remineralized bottled water that was created using an RO system.
Many RO manufacturers claim this pH issue isn’t a big deal, because the acidic water ends up in our stomach, which is an acidic environment. But they’re missing the point — our body needs certain minerals to function optimally — and those minerals are what also make the water more alkaline. Plus, minerals are very bioavailable when they’re in water and may even enhance mineral uptake when drunk in conjunction with a meal as this article on magnesium-rich water that was published in the American Journal of Nutrition concluded.
The World Health Organization (WHO) would agree that having water completely stripped of minerals isn’t a great idea. According to this 2009 book, “Calcium and Magnesium in Drinking Water: Public Health Significance,” by the WHO, drinking water should contain a minimum of 25–50 mg/l of magnesium and daily recommended allowances for magnesium should be met so that we have “healthier bodies, less cardiovascular diseases and longer lifespans.” Calcium is essential as well and the WHO states that “high-calcium water (and calcium from other sources) is beneficial to bone health by suppressing bone resorption.”
Because of the health benefits of calcium and magnesium, the WHO concluded that “there is a need to balance the potential beneficial aspects of those POU [Point of Use] and POE [Point of Entry] devices that concurrently remove trace contaminants against the potential negative effects of reducing the calcium and/or magnesium and fluoride levels to below the recommended levels in drinking-waters.”
What role do calcium and magnesium play in your health?
Calcium and magnesium are just two of the major minerals that our body needs to function at its best that are removed by RO systems and steam distillation, so let’s take a look at what they do.
Magnesium plays an important role in our bodies because it is involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body according to MedLine Plus, a website of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health (NIH). Magnesium comprises 50-60% of our bones and soft tissues according to this NIH Magnesium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals, so it definitely plays a key role in strong bone health and tissue formation. In fact, a recent study by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health showed just how significant magnesium is for bone health by showing that drinking water low in magnesium resulted in more hip fractures for both men and women; interestingly enough, they did not find that calcium levels related to hip fractures.
Magnesium also maintains healthy nervous system and muscle function, supports the immune system, regulates blood pressure and blood glucose levels; and plays a key role in energy production and making protein. MedLine Plus also points out that research is being conducted to determine magnesium’s role in preventing and managing disorders such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Calcium is a mineral critical to several bodily functions. In addition to giving structure and strength to bones and teeth, calcium also plays other important roles in the body, such as conducting nerve signals, making muscles move, aiding in the release of hormones and enzymes, and helping blood vessels circulate blood throughout the body according to NIH. For information on health benefits, dosing, supplements, and more, check out the NIH Calcium Fact Sheet for Consumers.
So, as you can see, we really need calcium and magnesium in our water and shouldn’t rely on only getting it from food and supplements. Steadily taking in these vital minerals by sipping on water is after all, the way nature intended it to be.
What about trace minerals?
RO systems remove 99% of all minerals, including trace minerals, which are also called micro minerals, because such small amounts of them are needed daily for optimal health and wellness. Many would advocate that you can get these minerals from food, but synthetic pesticides and poor soil conditions have stripped away many of these minerals, which is why eating organic is so important.
Trace minerals include things such as chromium, copper, flouride, manganese, molybdenum iodine, selenium, iron, and zinc. To see all the health benefits they provide, check out this About.com article.
So what should you drink?
My thought is that just drinking plain tap water isn’t the best option. Also, sometimes it’s not the tastiest or best smelling. Removing harmful contaminants and chemicals, such as chlorine, from your water is absolutely essential. A 2011 report on bottled water by the Environmental Working Group recommends you drink filtered tap water instead of bottled water, but it doesn’t indicate what kind of filtration is best.
So, at the very least I would recommend using a product with a simple carbon filter, but carbon filters may still leave some undesirable things in your water such as dissolved inorganic contaminants and heavy metals (e.g., antimony, arsenic, asbestos, barium, fluoride, mercury, nickel, nitrates, sulfate, thallium) according to this article by LiveStrong.com. However, there are some systems that use a fluoride reduction cartridge and ceramic cartridge in addition to a simple carbon filter that do a much better job. Therefore, that may be a better option.
But what about RO water? If you can add minerals to your water and make it more alkaline, I think RO is a viable option, because it does get rid of all the undesirables if maintained properly. However, some systems do waste a lot of water. Luckily, some manufacturers are now offering “zero-waste” RO systems, which are much more eco-friendly in my opinion and therefore a better choice. But that still leaves the question of minerals.
How can you add the minerals back into your water?
Stay tuned for my upcoming post on seven ways you can re-mineralize your water for better health. I’ll talk about how you can make your water “alive” again with life-supporting minerals essential to your health and well-being with a few products that have been around for a while, such as trace minerals drops, as well as some new and exciting products that you can use not only at home or at work, but also on the go.
Other Articles About Water You May Be Interested In:
- 7 Compelling Health Reasons to Drink Cucumber Water
- 5 Reasons to Add Lemon Water to Your Daily Routine
- Pomegranate Berry Spa Water Recipe
- Refreshing Cucumber Mint Medley Spa Water Recipe
Copyright © Karen Peltier and Well Gal, 2014 – 2015. All rights reserved.
Photos © Karen Peltier and Well Gal, 2014 – 2015