I'll spare you any of the hyperboles about the importance of water to the body. I'm sure we all know well how critical proper hydration is to vibrant health and well-being. The 8 cup/day figure is not a bad guideline (if you weigh like 120lb...). But I'll simplify it even a bit more: Just drink a lot of water. You should know what it feels like to be adequately hydrated...so just stay that way. It's very difficult to over hydrate (especially if you're drinking the right kind of water), so don't worry about erring on the side of over-hydration.
There is a second issue here, and one I view to be equally important to the quantity of water you drink. That issue, of course, is water quality. The function of water in the body pretty complex, so effect of water quality on the body can be huge. If you've been drinking low-quality water and you switch to a better water source, the impact on well-being over time is remarkable. I hate to be the bearer of bad news for some of you, but if your drinking water ever came out of a sink/tap (even if you filtered it), it's almost certainly not of the quality I consider to be worth drinking. Why?
The Big Problems With Tap Water - Chlorine and Fluoride
Almost every municipality in this country adds two things to your tap water that you don't want in your body: chlorine and fluoride. Chlorine is added to sterilize water, while fluoride is added (allegedly) because it slows the progression of cavities. Both are mildly-to-moderately toxic and neither is removed by average home filtration systems.
If chlorine sterilizes the water at the treatment plant, guess what it is going to do to your critical gut-flora? Yep, chlorine will absolutely kill those bacteria that live in your gut and are responsible for so many essential functions in the human body. Drinking chlorinated water will not kill off your gut flora entirely, but it will impact it negatively. We are learning more and more about what roles but flora play in our bodies. Already we know that they are responsible for everything from digestion to regulating stress response to modulating hormones. Clearly, gut flora are very important and not something you want to disrupt.
If you leave water out in an open container for a few hours, most of the chlorine will evaporate off. This treatment will, however, do nothing for the fluoride... (update: a reader has brought it to my attention that many municipalities have switched from chlorine to chloramine, an equally toxic chemical that will NOT evaporate out of water)
Fluoride in water has long been a source of controversy. It was heralded as a miracle in public health when it was introduced in the 40's, but has since come under scrutiny with many countries stopping the the practice decades ago. The list of negative effects correlated with fluoride is extensive. For me there are two effects that have been confirmed by research many times over that are the most disturbing. The first is the negative effect on gut flora. The second is the potential for fluoride to disrupt endocrine (hormone) function.
I will take this discussion a step further and say that I believe the fluoridation of water to be a conspiracy against the health of the populations of western nations. It is indisputable that fluoride is an industrial waste product (a byproduct of fertilizer production). With the fluoridation of water, not only do these companies not have to dispose of this waste product, they are actually able to make billions selling it to municipalities around the western world. This practice is allowed to continue in spite of well-documented evidence that water fluoridation is dangerous to public health.
That's Not All! ...More Problems With Tap Water
Chlorine and fluoride aren't the only things to worry about in tap water. Heavy metals and trace levels of pharmaceuticals have both been shown to be present in a large percentage of this country's water supplies. While home water filtration systems will remove some of the heavy metals, they do nothing for the trace levels of pharmaceuticals. Needless to say, you want neither of these in your body.
Problems With Bottled Water
Water bottled in plastic is generally filtered through sophisticated filtration systems that remove chlorine, fluoride, metals and pharmaceuticals -or- it comes from a spring which is naturally devoid of all of these issues. Unfortunately, the cheap soft plastic bottles come with their own issues. Studies of hundreds of brands of bottled water in dozens of countries have consistently shown that these bottles leech chemicals into the water over time. Some of the chemicals found to have leeched into the water are mildly toxic and some are known endocrine disruptors.
Water bottled in glass is generally excellent quality, often coming from a far-away, very-clean, mineral-rich spring. If you're going to pick up a bottle of water, try to make sure it's in glass.
What We Do Want IN Our Water
Getting high-quality water is not as simple as getting everything out of your water. Ideally, our water will have spectrum of minerals. To start, it is the mineral content of water that gives it it's taste. There's a reason people (myself very much included) are willing to pay several dollars for bottles of mineral water coming from Germany or Italy. It's delicious.
More significantly, our bodies only absorb water properly when it has a balanced mineral content. Drinking water devoid of minerals (like distilled or deionized) will actually flush nutrients out of the body over time and push the body towards hyponutremia (electrolyte/nutrient deficiency). Calcium, sodium, potassium, sulfur and magnesium are common in most quality water sources, but a good spring water will have dozens of minerals present in trace amounts.
Moving a bit in the direction of the esoteric for a moment...there is also "je nais se quoi" to drinking a really high-quality, clean, mineral-rich water, particularly when it comes fresh from a spring. More new-age-leaning authors will speak of concepts like "water structure" or "living water." While I find all of these theories to be based on inconclusive science (at best), I will agree that there is something different to drinking fresh, exceptional-quality water. If you've ever been on a hike and stuck your bottle straight under a spring, you know that this water tastes and feels different. It is refreshing and rejuvenating like water rarely does elsewhere. This is the quality and experience I believe we should be aiming for with our water at home. Of course, it's not possible to drink straight out of a spring every day, but drinking the most nourishing and rejuvenating water possible every day will have a noticeable effect over time in the way you feel.
So now that we know what we want out of our water and what we want in...what are our options?
What's Not An Option
- Tap Water - There is no municipality in the country that I will drink the water from. Almost everyone chlorinates and/or fluoridates.
- Passive Home Filtration Systems - Brita, Pur, Aquasana, Culligan, etc. I'm talking about those pitchers with the disposable charcoal filters and the ones that attach to your sink also with the disposable charcoal filters. These will filter out bacteria and some metals, but they do nothing for chlorine, fluoride and pharmaceuticals. These do very little for water quality and are mostly a waste of time.
- Deionized or Distilled Water - As mentioned above, the body needs minerals in water for proper absorption. Both deionized ad distilled water will be almost entirely devoid of minerals (and anything else). The exception here is if you want to use deionized or distilled water and add in your own minerals, using himalayan salt or something similar.
- Bottled Water - The cheap soft plastic leeches into the water. See above.
The Best Options
- Collected Fresh Spring Water - This is the standard we hold all water to. If you can find a spring in your area, this is the cleanest, best-tasting, mineral-rich water we have available. You can search in your area at findaspring.com. The experience of drinking top-quality water on a daily basis makes this more than worth the effort. For our household of two, we collect 30 gallons at a time and it lasts about a month.
- Spring Water Delivery - This is an option available in most areas. Don't worry about the hard plastic 5-gallon bottles they are delivered in. These bottles are far, far less susceptible to leeching and the water is generally only in them for a couple months (at most) before you drink it. Prices out to about $30/month for a household of two.
- Reverse Osmosis Filtration - The only type of water filtration that removes chlorine, fluoride and pharmaceuticals. It will remove some of the mineral content as well, so you may want to add minerals back in with a bit of Himalayan or similar salt. Reverse Osmosis units can be installed at home for a few hundred dollars. Alternatively, most Whole Foods and natural food stores will have bulk water filling stations with reverse osmosis filtered water. Since I live about 45 minutes from the closest spring, I don't make it out there every month. When this is the case I bring my four 5-gallon bottles into Whole Foods and stock up for the month.
I'll be the first to admit that it can be a hassle making sure you have high-quality drinking water every month. But the unfortunate reality is - tap water is mildly toxic, and most filtration systems do little to improve the quality. Getting serious about the water you put in your body will have a significant positive impact over time. Over the course of months, the lack of chlorinated and fluoridated water will allow your gut flora to return to a healthy balance. This will be responsible for a lot of the benefit you experience. Of course, you really should be taking a probiotic supplement to support your gut flora as well, but that is a topic I'll take on in a coming post.
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