It is amazing how one of the most basic human practices has become exceedingly complicated. The act of drinking water is no longer simple, but rather yet another decision we have to make. As if our lives were not complicated enough, now we have to make decisions about water. From how much water to drink to what type of water to drink, water is no longer just water. Bottled, filtered or tap water? What’s healthiest?
Drinking enough water and the right kind of water is one of the most basic rules for great health. It is the first thing I tackle with clients and the first thing we need to make sure it perfected before moving onto more exciting health tools. It is something that most of us overlook, but if we really want to feel good, we need to get back to the basics of water. Just like ensuring you are breathing clean air (check out this post to make sure you are), making sure you are drinking clean water is essential. The problem is that most of us are not. That is why I decided to start a series on water, which started with “How Much Water Should I Be Drinking?” Once you figure out how much water you should be drinking using the water calculator, it is time to make sure you are drinking the right kind of water.
What type of water should I be drinking? Bottled, Filtered or Tap Water?
It is amazing that this is even a question! There has become so many options, it has become a health question in of itself! Bottled water, alkaline water, electrolyte water, spring water, ice water, warm water… yikes!
The best water to drink is either filtered water (with the right kind of filter) or spring water, and from a non-plastic bottle or glass. Water should also be consumed at room temperature. Now let’s unravel the details…
Hot, cold, warm or ice?
To start, I recommend that the majority of the water that you drink is at room temperature. Not cold water or ice water. This is a foundational rule from Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine and is based on the idea that cold water causes the constriction of blood vessels and nerves in the stomach. Digestion calls for heat and metabolic energy (yang), and cold inhibits this process. Cold water leads to improper digestion and weakened organ function. So every time you drink cold water, you constrict the body and reduce its ability to function at its optimum.
In addition to drinking room temperature water, drinking warm water first thing in the morning is also a great practice. Drinking warm water, especially with a squeeze of lemon (just remember to drink out of a straw to save that enamel!) in the morning promotes a cleansing of the system, especially of the bowels. This practice is especially helpful if you have trouble with bowel regularity.
Bottled, filtered, alkaline, spring or tap?
Filtered or spring water.
First, check to see if you have a spring nearby using the Find a Spring website. Collecting and drinking your own spring water is the first best choice. The reason being is that natural spring water comes from water that flows to the surface naturally, and from a clean underground water source. It also contains a rich level of minerals, making it neutral or slightly alkaline, which is very beneficial to health. Finally, spring water is alive, unlike bottled or tap water. This means it is full of oxygen. Oxygen-enriched water has many benefits including boosting immunity, improving athletic performance and recovery, promoting detoxification, and preventing the growth of harmful bacteria. For these reasons, on-site collected spring water is the best.
Since collecting our own spring water is not going to happen for the majority of us, the second best option is to buy a water filtration system for your home. There are many opinions on what the best type of water filters are, but my opinion is to find one that eliminates the most impurities. Tap water is contaminated with a host of pollutants that increase your risk of serious health problems, making it so important to ensure you are drinking contaminant-free water.
Potential Tap Water Contaminants:
- Disinfection byproducts
- Pharmaceutical drugs
- Heavy metals
- Pathogenic bacteria, viruses, cysts and parasites
- Herbicides and pesticides (nitrates)
- Organic solvents
- Radon 222
What is the best Water Filter?
There are quite a few options to choose from in terms of filters, and your choice will come down to whether you want to install one or buy an over the counter filter.
If you want to install a filter, which is best to purify all the water in the home, look for a reverse osmosis system. Reverse osmosis filters get rid of chlorine, arsenic, inorganic, and organic contaminants in your water while removing about 80% of the fluoride and most DPBs. You can also add on various extra steps to customize the purification process to your needs. The only drawback with RO water is that removes minerals as well. So if you are going to use an RO system, just make sure to add minerals back into the water. A great liquid mineral product is Fulvic Minerals by Onnit.
Berkey Water Filter
If you are renting or not ready to commit to an installation, buying an over the counter filtration system is a great option. My personal favorite and the one that I have at home is the Berkey Water Filter. It is a stainless steel filter that is easy to put together, easy to refill, and sits on the countertop. It is also affordable for how effective and long-lasting it is. The Berkey system removes pathogenic bacteria, viruses, cysts and parasites entirely and extracts harmful chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides, VOCs, organic solvents, radon 222 and trihalomethanes. It also reduces nitrates, nitrites and heavy metals such as lead and mercury. You can choose to add a fluoride filter, which I highly recommend. I have had numerous water filters and this has been my favorite. I have the Big Berkey which is perfect for a family of two, but they have many options depending on your water needs.
Zero Water Filter
The final choice, which is not nearly as thorough as the Berkey or RO system, but is still good at cleaning water is the Zero Water Filter. This is like an upgraded Brita with a 5 stage filtration system vs. a 2. It comes in a pour pitcher, and for some of us this is all that we can commit to. It focuses solely on clearing metals, inorganics (chlorine, chlorite, fluoride, nitrate, nitrite), pesticides and VOCs, but does a really good job. Unlike Brita filters, it eliminates some of the most harmful contaminants such as arsenic, nitrites, nitrates and fluoride. To learn more about what ZERO filters and what is filtered with BRITA, head over here. The only issue with the Zero filter is that you have to change the filters quite often. So while the initial purchase price is low, it becomes more expensive over time. That is why the investment for the Berkey water filter is so worth it.
What about an alkaline filtration unit? Alkaline water can be a healthy choice in some cases. The positive aspects of alkaline water is that it encourages detoxification, may reduce free radical damage and encourage strong bones and teeth. The negatives are that long-term use of alkaline or ionized water reduce acid in the body. Low acid levels 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.
What’s Unhealthy about Bottled Water?
Well for starters 40% of bottled water is tap water. Dasani and Aquafina are two of those such bottled tap waters.
Bottled water is often simply bottled tap water, exposing you to countless chemicals, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, fluoride, parasites and bacteria. This can increase your risk for hormone imbalance, chronic disease, fatigue, allergies and cancer over time. Besides, why destroy the environment for water that is no better than tap?
Even if you were to get a high-quality, well filtered bottled water, there is one glaring issue. It is bottled in plastic.
The plastic from bottled water is very harmful to health.
Plastic leaches a chemical called BPA, Bisphenol A. BPA is a known endocrine disruptor that mimics the hormone estrogen. Exposure to BPA causes hormone imbalance that could lead to a host of health issues. These include conditions related to sexual development, fertility and hormone-related cancers, and testosterone levels. Exposure to BPA is of serious concern because it also has numerous other possible health effects. This includes its effects on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children, obesity, diabetes, problems with fertility and reproductive organs, susceptibility to various cancers and cognitive/behavioral deficits like ADHD, and increased blood pressure.
BPA from plastic bottled water can lead to:
- early puberty
- stimulation of mammary gland development
- disrupted reproductive cycles
- ovarian dysfunction
- stimulation of prostate cancer cells
- increased prostate size and decreased sperm production
- altered immunity
- increased fat formation and risk of obesity
- increased blood pressure
- behavioral deficits like ADHD
As if exposure to BPA was not enough, plastic bottled water also contains a chemical called PET, polyethylene terephthalate. This also has estrogen-mimicking effects, which can lead to hormone related problems and disorders as well.
Now that we’ve decided against plastic bottled water, the solution is to filter your own water at home and to carry it in a glass or stainless steel bottle. I personally love LifeFactory, Mira and S’well water bottles, but there are many to choose from. The good news is that there are now many water filtration stations where you can refill your bottle too. Many of the airports now have these water filtration systems. If you find yourself without water and no refill station in sight, only buy bottled water in glass. Voss, Panna, Mountain Valley and Topo Chico are a few great options.
*the Mira and S’well bottles are vacuum insulated so they keep beverages either really cold or hot. Perfect for storing hot beverages like tea, matcha or coffee too.
How to Test your Water for Cleanliness
Now that we’ve gone through all the details, how can we be sure OUR water is the safest and the cleanest? Perhaps you have your own well, or live in an area with clean tap water? Or what if you have a filtration system, like in your refrigerator, and want to know if it’s doing a good job?
First off, you can look up the water quality report. All tap water is tested and those reports are public. If you research online you can find them and see what is in your water and what scores it received. Each area has its own obstacles in terms of toxicity. Whether being runoff from agriculture and farming or mining, contamination from oil spills or fracking, or even residual contaminants from radiation testing, be empowered to learn what is in your water.
Second, you can always get your water tested. While there are some companies that you can send water samples to, I would bet that most of us would never go to so much trouble. A far simpler solution is to get an at-home testing kit. I personally use the Complete Water Testing Kit by Test Assured. For less than $30 you get an easy to use kit that gives you results for almost all the tests in less than 10 minutes. It allows you to test for lead, bacteria, pesticides, iron, copper, nitrates, nitrites and chlorine. It also gives you a reading for pH, water hardness and alkalinity.
Is being dehydrated really that harmful?
Now that we know how much water to drink and what kind of water to drink, the question is why drink water? Drinking water is essential for preventing dehydration. Staying hydrated is not only important in theory, but in practice as well. There are many side effects that manifest from dehydration, ranging from small to big. For example, staying hydrated keeps your skin looking young, plump and without wrinkles. Staying hydrated also keeps you at a healthy weight since dehydration and the desire to drink water is often misinterpreted for hunger pains leading you to eat more calories throughout the day. Furthermore, chronic dehydration can increase the risk for breast, colon, bladder and urinary tract cancer as well as urinary stone disease.
If you are thirsty, then you are already dehydrated.
Health effects of Dehydration
- Improper hydration causes short-term memory problems, anxiety, irritability, and depression
- Dehydration may cause sugar and caffeine cravings
- A 3% drop in water hydration causes a 10% drop in muscle strength and an 8% drop in speed
- Dehydration is the #1 cause of daytime fatigue
- Mild dehydration can slow metabolism
- Dehydration slows the elimination of waste and toxins from the body
- Mild dehydration is associated with acid reflux, migraines, constipation, fibromyalgia, and colitis. Severe dehydration is associated with diabetes, heart disease, allergies, high blood pressure, asthma and cancer
- Dehydration can increase risk of breast, colon, bladder and urinary tract cancer
- Dehydration is often misinterpreted for hunger leading to overeating and weight gain