It sounds okay, doesn’t it? Water is the very best thing for all of us to drink. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense that water that has been filtered is even better for us, right?
For a number of reasons, that isn’t always the case. The issue of what really is the best water to drink needs unpicking, so let’s start at the beginning, with what filtered water actually is and why some people choose it.
Recent years have seen an explosion of stories in the news about contaminated tap water. Closer to home, local water issues are also becoming commonplace. The upshot is that people have become both aware of toxic water, and wary about how clean and ‘pure’ the water that comes out of the taps at home or work really is.
Think about what you might have already experienced yourself. Sometimes, the taste of your tap water can change, or you develop a dislike for the taste of the water that you’ve been drinking without complaint for years.
Neither of these things should be ignored. Why has the taste of your water changed? What’s in there that wasn’t there before?
It makes sense to find out what’s in your water, so you can be more precise about what you’re hoping to filter out of it. Finding the answer to the question of what’s in your water also helps with deciding what kind of filter you should be looking at. Should you opt for a filter that literally ‘sieves’ out impurities? A chemical version that ‘cleans up’ your water as it passes through the filter? Most filter systems work by using activated carbon, that attract and hold on to impurities. Carbon filters remove some, but by no means all, of the contaminants in your water supply.
There are also lifestyle considerations. You need to think about whether you want a filter that is fixed on to your tap, or a simple, cheap jug filter that you fill and chill in the refrigerator. So far, so good. But what about the dangers?
As always, the devil is in the detail. A jug-type version usually works by the tap water passing through an activated carbon filter. With this type of product, any bacteria ‘captured’ by the filter will remain trapped there (the filter will not kill bacteria) and will not be removed until the filter is replaced. The average lifespan of a jug filter is up to 6 months, which means that the trapped bacteria will remain there for a long time.
If you choose to use a filter jug then it is important to keep the jug refrigerated. By doing this, you can prevent the trapped bacteria from multiplying to levels where your health is likely to become affected.
If you don’t always keep the jug refrigerated, and it is kept at room temperature, then those conditions are perfect for allowing the unchecked microorganisms to thrive.
Some – but by no means all – jug filters contain anti-bacterial silver nanoparticles in the filter, which can help to prevent bacterial activity. It is up to the consumer to check whether this is included with the filter.
The other important fact to remember is that pour-through jug filters are frequently designed and purchased with taste and smell in mind, rather than filtering out all the undesirable elements that you’re perhaps trying to avoid. When your water tastes and smells fine, it’s easy to think that it’s safe. It’s worth remembering that some of the deadliest contaminants in tap water – lead is one – cannot be picked up by any of your senses. Lead has no taste or smell, nor can you see it.
There’s more of that devilish detail: although many filters remove the majority of chlorine, by and large, they do not remove the chlorine by-products Trihalomethanes (THM), a group of four toxic chemicals that can be harmful to health.
The Environmental Protection Agency is unequivocal about the potential risk if more than the maximum contaminant level (MCL) is consumed.
The real-life risks are significant: this report links ingestion of excessive levels of THMs with birth issues, low birth weight and miscarriage.
The other option is an under-counter or counter-top filter that is plumbed in line with your water supply. That means that all the water that comes out of the tap with the filter attached will pass through an activated carbon filter, and sometimes a second filter. One vital point to bear in mind: most filters are designed to be effective where the water supply is a municipally treated one, and not from a private well or an unknown source. Well water requires a different set of safeguards to ensure that it is fine to drink.
Although fitted water filters do a more thorough job than a filter jug when it comes to removing contaminants, as with most things, all plumbed-in water filtration products are not created equally.
The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) has a helpful search function that enables consumers to enter in the details of a particular filter to see if the product meets the minimum requirements to be certified certified under NSF standards.
To do so, a product must – among other things - be sound in a structural sense and demonstrate that the system is able to reduce levels of lead in the water supply from 15 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb or less.
Some products advertise themselves as ‘meeting NSF safety standards’ or ‘tested to NSF standards,’ which is, arguably, a somewhat misleading claim.
Being a certified product means that the NSF has vetted it and that the filter has been tested and met the NSF standards. It’s worth using the searchable database to find out more about particular filter models before you buy.
There are so many products on the market now that it’s not possible to give any more than a ballpark answer to this question. Water filters need to be replaced with variable frequency. Some filters must be replaced within a few weeks, while others last for months. How effective the filters will be as they near the end of their life is something else that will need your careful research before parting with any money, as the different brands and products vary a great deal.
Some types of filters have a warning system that alerts you once the filter is beginning to become ineffective, and others rely on you checking yourself. Either way, for a filter system to continue to be effective in removing impurities and making your water safe to drink, the filter itself needs to be checked and replaced on a regular basis. All fine, but it is something else that needs to be factored into the cost of buying a filter system.
It’s easy to assume that in a country like ours, you should be able to turn on the tap and feel confident that the water that flows out of it is safe for you and your family to drink. That should be the case, but it isn’t.
There have been so many high-profile news reports on toxic water during the last few years for the message to get through that in fact, America’s tap water isn’t guaranteed to be safe to drink.
America's Aging Pipelines
It isn’t a secret that the many thousands of miles of pipes that weave underground, coast to coast, have been there for a very long time. Parts of the water system are over 100 years old. In many areas, the water supply was first built to provide for only a few hundred, or a few thousand people. As the population grew, and towns and cities expanded, the pressure on those aging water pipes increased. The pipes were laid for a very different America of 100 years ago.
One of the most frightening stories to have emerged is the presence of lead in drinking water. In Flint, MI, the story that the town’s water contained dangerously high levels of lead hit the headlines. And yet Flint is not alone, by a long chalk. The water-bearing infrastructure across the whole country is in serious trouble, and the cracks are – literally - starting to show.
'Buried No Longer'
In 2012, the American Water Works Association published a fascinating and worrying report, ‘Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge.’
A number of key findings in the report brought home the scale of the problem.
‘Investment needs for buried drinking water infrastructure total more than $1 trillion nationwide over the next 25 years,’
American Water Works Association
This report is over 10 years old. It’s safe to say that the problem is even worse now. The estimated aggregate cost of replacing the 700,000 miles of water bearing pipework totals over $2.1 trillion.
Aging pipes corrode and leak. Repairs have – unbelievably – been carried out using lead solder. The corrosion and solder are two ways that lead ends up in the water supply and flowing out of our taps. There’s chemical and polluted groundwater contamination to consider, which is predicted to increase as a result of fracking. Agricultural runoff, pesticides, insecticides, antibiotics used to treat livestock: it’s all there in the water.
Killing with Kindness?
In addition to all of this, there’s also the major problem of the stuff that’s put into our water, that’s designed to protect us. Chlorine is added as an all-purpose disinfectant which neutralizes pathogens. But it’s not that simple. Chlorine reacts with organic waste particles and produces a toxic stew of by-product chemicals called trihalomethanes (THM). These chemicals are dangerous and harmful to our health. They have been linked to cases of rectal and colon cancer, bladder cancer and incidents of miscarriage.
The statistics are alarming. In a report from the Environmental Working Group, it was found that in controlled testing involving 201 water utilities, serving 100 million people, all of the test samples contained THMs.
Another concern, already mentioned above, is the effect that increased agriculture has on our water supply. Chemical fertilizers and manure runoff can contain phosphorus and nitrate. These elements can lead in turn to both direct health issues from consumption of nitrate in particular; and the need for further chemical water treatment to eliminate algal blooms due to excessive levels of phosphorus.
In terms of water quality, our world is a very different place to the one occupied by our grandparents and great grandparents. Massive scale agriculture didn’t exist in the same way. The highly toxic pesticides sprayed over miles of land had yet to be invented. Herds of livestock were not treated with the antibiotics and medications in use today.
All of these things end up in groundwater, and therefore – because of the dilapidated water infrastructure – in the water supply.
All in all, tap water cannot be considered the safe option that it once was.
Patching Up the Problem
There’s not enough money in the pot to fix America’s water problems, and so repairs and replacement pipes are fitted on a piecemeal basis. Before the scale of the problem really took hold of the public’s attention with beleaguered Flint, some $6 billion was set aside by Congress to help the water crisis, in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. That’s a lot of money, but nowhere near enough.
It’s safe to assume that water quality on a wholesale basis isn’t going to improve anytime soon. What you can do is find out about your own water supply and whether it gives you cause for concern. To access information about current local water quality, you can apply for a report from American Water.
Where Do We Go from Here?
You may still wish to continue drinking tap water. After all, there is nothing more convenient than turning on the tap, and there is an argument that if you pay something (which you do, whether that’s direct or indirect), then you should be able to use it.
If that’s the case, then there are steps you can take to make drinking tap water safer.
Often, advice is issued to boil tap water, but it’s a tricky one. It’s absolutely true that boiling water will remove biological contaminants like bacterial parasites and viruses (in fact, they are often eliminated at a lower temperature). However, boiling water CANNOT remove deadly contaminants, including:
In fact, boiling water can actually increase the dangers posed by these contaminants. When you boil water, you reduce the amount of liquid, but not the contaminants. That means that the act of boiling water actually concentrates the number of contaminant particles present in the water.
There’s no doubt that being able to buy a bottle of water is pretty handy. Those smaller-sized ones are particularly convenient to stow away in a bag for long journeys, quick wipe ups, or hand over to the kids.
How dangerous is bottled water for your health? When you consider the cost to the earth and how that impacts our lives, and the legacy that we’re blithely handing to our children; you start to understand why drinking bottled water is really very dangerous.
What's in The Bottle?
To begin, what is bottled water? Sometimes it’s carbonated and mineral rich. Sometimes it’s just regular filtered water. In many cases, the water is drawn from municipal supplies. The problem is really about what the water is packaged in.
Plastic bottles are among the planet’s worst enemies, simply because of the sheer number of them. Our plastic footprint rivals our carbon one for the immense harm it wreaks on the planet. And the numbers are astonishing. It’s estimated that Americans use around 50 billion plastic water bottles each year.
The Reality of Recycling
But we recycle, right? So that must help.
Well, yes. But the rate of recycling just can’t match those figures. The national recycling rate is around 23 percent. Those figures mean at that rate of consumption, around 38 billion water bottles go into landfill every single year. That can’t go it, can it?
And what does ‘going into landfill’ actually mean? It's one of those phrases that is often repeated, but maybe it’s worth lingering for a moment on what actually happens to those billions of plastic bottles once they’re unceremoniously dumped.
Plastic in landfill sites takes up to 1000 years to decompose. As it decomposes, it can leak pollutants into the soil, into the groundwater, and right back into our water supply. We can keep looking the other way, but the way we live has a habit of catching up with us.
Aside from landfill, plastic bottles are helping to destroy the natural environment elsewhere. Over two decades, scientists at the remarkable Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) and the Sea Education Association (SEA) have analyzed plastic debris from the surface of the Atlantic Ocean and concluded that there are literally millions of tons of plastic floating on our seas
Plastic bottles can fill with water and sink to the ocean floor. Marine life is known to try to feed on discarded plastic, and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum issued a recent report which claims that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the sea than there are fish.
It’s not easy to recycle plastic as there are different types, with different chemical compositions, sometimes requiring different recycling treatments. In order for recycling to happen, the different types of plastic must be separated, which on the kind of scale we’re looking at as a nation, is incredibly challenging.
What is a 'Plastic Bottle'?
In fact, when we start to consider the different types of plastic, it leads to another concern when it comes to drinking bottled water. What exactly are plastic water bottles made from?
Most bottles are made out of polyethylene terephthalate. This isn’t an inherently dangerous composite material; except when the bottles are stored in warm or hot temperatures (and let’s face it, when do we usually buy bottled water?), scientists believe that the chemicals from the plastic can leach into the water itself.
The levels are currently considered to be below that which is likely to cause harm, but the situation continues to be monitored by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Plastic isn't Fantastic
Another chemical that the FDA is monitoring for its impact on human health is Bisphenol A (BPA), present in the manufacture of some water bottles. For now, the FDA is not issuing any warnings, although it did go as far as making the following recommendations, ‘for consumers who want to limit their exposure to BPA,
Plastic containers have recycling codes on the bottom. Some, but not all, plastics that are marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA.
Do not put very hot or boiling liquid that you intend to consume in plastic containers made with BPA. BPA levels rise in food when containers/products made with the chemical are heated and come in contact with the food.
Discard all bottles with scratches, as these may harbor bacteria and, if BPA-containing, lead to greater release of BPA.
With the environmental time-bomb that plastic bottles heavily contribute to, and the potential health issues that are raised by drinking water contained in disposable plastic bottles, it’s hard to give a green light to bottled water as a ‘safe’ option.
And finally, even if you can shrug off concerns about the future of the planet, and the risk of chemicals leaking into your water from the bottle, a German peer-reviewed study published in 2013, revealed that in 18 brands of water, an astonishing 24,520 suspect chemicals were found.
“We have shown that antiestrogens and antiandrogens are present in the majority of bottled water products.
…Bottled water from six different countries has been found to contain estrogenic, antiestrogenic, and antiandrogenic (this study), as well as androgenic, progestagenic, and glucocorticoid-like chemicals. This demonstrates that a popular beverage is contaminated with diverse-acting EDCs.”
Martin Wagner, Michael P. Schlüsener, Thomas A. Ternes, Jörg Oehlmann
Many of us have heard of reverse osmosis water, but might not be completely clear what it actually is.
The process of producing reverse osmosis water is a vital one. Over the years, it has meant that people in dire circumstances across the world can drink clean water. Troops and civilians in battle-torn countries that have lost every semblance of organized infrastructure can use reverse osmosis to make pure, drinkable water.
But how? Exactly what is the process? Well, imagine that you’re in a situation where there’s only brackish or dirty water available to drink. Drinking untreated, contaminated water like that will temporarily slake your thirst, but will almost certainly expose you to the risk of water borne diseases.
How Does Reverse Osmosis Work?
Reverse osmosis works by forcing the impure water through a series of semi-permeable membranes which effectively ‘clean’ the water. It is the case that once water has been subjected to that process, it is very, very clean. Too clean, in fact.
Too clean? How can that be the case? After reading all about the dangers of toxic pollutants in the water, surely the best water for us to drink is water that’s completely unpolluted and pure?
In the case of reverse osmosis, the water really is too clean. The filtering process removes all of the contaminants; but it also removes the good things that we need for our bodies to thrive.
Are You Drinking Dead Water?
Essential minerals such as calcium and magnesium are removed, which are vital for healthy teeth and bones, among other things. As a result, reverse osmosis water is often referred to as ‘dead water.’ Many people report that it doesn’t even seem to quench thirst. The reason for this is the total absence of minerals and vital electrolytes – the elements in water that are needed by your body to actually hydrate you.
It’s not only the fact that the reverse osmosis water doesn’t deliver those things. The worst part – and certainly the most dangerous from a health point of view – is that the water itself becomes opportunistic and parasitic.
That sounds like a dramatic description but the picture it paints is accurate. It’s a complex process, but reverse osmosis water is unstable. It wants to remineralize and stabilize itself. To achieve that, once it’s inside your body, it will start to actively seek out and leach minerals from you, in order to enrich itself. The result? More minerals lost to natural bodily functions such as urination and perspiration, and none are delivered by your drinking water.
“Demineralised water that has not been remineralized, or low-mineral content water – in the light of the absence or substantial lack of essential minerals in it – is not considered ideal drinking water.”
Frantisek Kozisek, National Institute of Public Health, Czech Republic
When it’s done taking the available minerals and the water is passed by your body, the minerals are lost. If you drink reverse osmosis water over an extended period of time, there is a real risk that you would experience mineral deficiency as a result. And we’re not talking about after years of drinking low-mineral water; the effects would make themselves known after only a few months.
It’s not only drinking reverse osmosis water that can impact on your health. Cooking with low-mineral water can cause the food to lose over half of its essential nutritional elements.
“Since most nutrients are ingested with food, the use of low-mineral water for cooking and processing food may cause a marked deficiency in total intake of some essential elements that was much higher than expected with the use of such water for drinking only.
The current diet of many persons usually does not provide all necessary elements in sufficient quantities, and therefore, any factor that results in the loss of essential elements and nutrients during the processing and preparation of food could be detrimental for them.”
Frantisek Kozisek, National Institute of Public Health, Czech Republic
There are other risks; reverse osmosis water carries a greater risk of bacterial infection, and because of its inherently unstable nature, low-mineral water can have a dissolving effect on metals. This means that any pipes, holding tanks or containers for reverse osmosis water can become corroded by the water, with dangerous metals – including lead in some reported cases – leaching into the water; which is then consumed.
What The World Health Organization Thinks
Reverse osmosis water is very acidic, without any minerals to provide alkalinity. It is possible to treat the water with minerals to stabilize and remineralize the water, which should increase its alkalinity. This is frequently achieved by the addition of limestone. However, the mineral composition of limestone is itself variable, with quantities of calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate as well as other minerals. The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously expressed concern in a report that the minerals used for stabilizing low mineral water are not always food-grade quality.
The WHO has previously made their advice plain, stating that reverse osmosis water, “has a definite adverse influence on the animal and human organism.”
Despite all of this, reverse osmosis water has enormous value as a short-term fix for millions of people who do not have access to clean water. But it can never be considered a long-term solution. The health risks are well-documented and impossible to ignore.
What exactly is distilled water? It sounds pure and clean at any rate, but how does it differ from regular water? Is it better to drink than tap water?
When any liquid is distilled, be it alcohol, perfume or water, it is boiled, evaporated and then made liquid again by the vapor being collected. The main point of the exercise is to leave behind any impurities in the evaporation process, so that the remaining water is pure and clean.
When it Works...
For the purpose of chemistry, laboratory research, perfume making, some food production processes and in a medical environment; distilled water is irreplaceably useful. In those areas, its purity is rightly valued; indeed, sometimes essential.
It is also the case that potentially harmful microbes are removed during distillation, but that’s not all. The process is quite an aggressive one, and along with any harmful elements, precious and essential minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, are also lost
… And When it Doesn't
It’s impossible to overestimate how vital minerals are to our overall wellbeing. If our mineral health is compromised then we put ourselves at risk of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, as well as many other serious health problems.
The World Health Organization (WHO) takes the issue of demineralized water very seriously. Low-mineral, or mineral-free water can mean water that has been distilled, forced through a system of membrane filtration (commonly known as reverse osmosis water), or water that has been treated by electrodialysis.
The WHO published a report on its website that looks at the various ways that demineralized water can have an adverse impact on our health. Far from hailing distilled water as a boon in supporting health with its pure credentials, The World Health Organization counsels against drinking any form of demineralized water long term, as to do so creates its own health problems.
What About Minerals from Food?
Fans of distilled water claim that minerals in drinking water are unnecessary if your diet is mineral-rich in the first place. It is probably optimistic, to say the least, to assume that everyone is able to eat a diet that provides them with a sufficient range of available minerals to keep them in peak health. Drinking enough water that also delivers essential minerals is vital.
Consuming distilled water instead of water containing minerals means that you are potentially depleting your body of essential amounts of sodium, potassium and magnesium.
There is a lingering belief in some quarters, from a brief faddish heyday with distilled water some years ago; that drinking it is good for your health. Many medical experts acknowledge the fact that at base level, distilled water will slake your thirst and also accept its purity, but equally know that minerals, absent from distilled water, are so vital for hydration and for health to thrive.
Stepping away from the points of view of doctors and the medical establishment for a moment, the widespread opinion from those who have tried distilled water as a drink is that it tastes somehow flat. Dead. If you can imagine the most tempting, delicious looking meal in front of you; your very favorite dish, looking spectacular; but there’s vital something missing. You can’t smell a thing.
You can see it, it looks wonderful, but without being able to smell it, that wonderful aroma of a fabulous meal, the whole tableau fails.
It is a little like this with distilled water; it looks right, but it doesn’t taste right. That makes sense: it’s been stripped of the good things that make water a joy to drink, and what’s left is functional in the short term, but with little pleasure.
Distilled Water & Lead Poisoning
But really, that aspect fades to insignificance compared to the dangers associated with drinking it. It’s not only the lack of minerals; distilled water can be corrosive when it comes into contact with metals, for example. Inherently unstable, low-mineral water held in water tanks with metal fittings or solder might well become contaminated, sometimes with catastrophic results.
“Among eight outbreaks of chemical poisoning from drinking water reported in the USA in 1993-1994, there were three cases of lead poisoning in infants who had blood-lead levels of 15 μg/dL, 37 μg/dL, and 42 μg/dL. The level of concern is 10 μg/dL.
For all three cases, lead had leached from brass fittings and lead-soldered seams in drinking water storage tanks. The three water systems used low mineral drinking water that had intensified the leaching process”
Frantisek Kozisek, National Institute of Public Health Czech Republic
In Emergencies Only?
The process of distillation is a beneficial one, and distilled water has many extremely valuable uses – particularly in a medical setting. However, low-mineral water should not be consumed as the main source of drinking water over a significant period of time.
Following the assessment of global data, in 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that demineralized water “has a definite adverse influence on the animal and human organism.”
We don’t all have the benefit of being joined up to a municipal water source. For some people, for practical or geographical reasons, it’s not possible; and for others it’s a lifestyle choice. Many people like the idea of being self-sufficient and establishing their own water supply.
Across America, over 15 million people use groundwater-fed private wells, living off-grid and off the pipeline map that stretches across the country.
Ground water is rainfall that has moved downwards through the surface layer of soil and rocks until it reaches a layer of rock so dense that it can move no further. Some of the rainfall will be used by plants and tree roots, but what remains can be drilled for available ground water.
All sounds very natural and healthy, so where is the danger? After all, there’s no risk of aging pipework leaking lead or chemicals into your water supply, a worry which millions of Americans face every day.
Before we deal with that, let’s take a quick look at the three main types of well.
As the name suggests, dug wells are the most basic type of well and created simply by manually digging a relatively shallow pit (around 10 – 30 feet deep), and lining it with bricks, tiles or stones.
This is a deeper hole of up to 50 feet, and is usually made using light machinery.
The deepest type of well, these can be up to 400 feet deep with metal or plastic casing.
The shallower the well, the more likely it is to become contaminated, but no well is altogether safe from that risk.
Off Grid, No Rules Apply
While some local governments have safe practice or possibly some regulatory powers, owning a private well means that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates public water systems, has no jurisdiction over private wells. Some see this as a plus point, but the reality is that without water experts checking the water source and quality, the onus is very much on the owner of the well to ensure that their water is safe to use and drink.
What Might Contaminate Well Water?
There will always be unpredictable hazards, but the regular ones that well owners must guard against are:
In order help private well owners to drink safely from their wells, the EPA has an interactive map so that details of water well programs pertaining to different states can be easily accessed.
While there is guidance about how a well should be built, sited and maintained; with more and more reliance on fertilizers, pesticides and chemical treatments for livestock, the risk of groundwater becoming contaminated increases.
Private well owners must test regularly for pollutants, microbes, bacteria, chemicals, nitrate and acidity levels, among other things. Given the high stakes when it comes to whether the well water is safe to drink, it’s usually advisable to get an expert to carry out the testing. However, while there are cheap test kits available via the internet, people are tempted to cut corners, and save money.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has an index of water born contaminants and symptoms, which makes for sobering reading. From data gathered between 1971 and 2010, the most commonly reported outbreaks were:
Many of the contaminants found in improperly maintained wells can lead to gastrointestinal illness that might be extremely dangerous to someone with a compromised immune system, or the very young or elderly. Some toxins can result in reproductive or neurological disorders; and all of these ailments carry potentially catastrophic outcomes.
It’s also hard to simply look at a well and make a decision about whether the structure itself is safe and likely to keep both pollution at bay, and store the water safely until it is consumed or used. Again, expert help is needed to examine the structure and integrity of the components. For example, corroded metal or solder might leach harmful toxins into the water and any nearby construction work might also affect the well’s structure.
Times Have Changed, So Must We
Many people come from families that have lived ‘off grid’ for generations and might disagree with the recommendations that well water is filtered and boiled before drinking. However, in years gone by, there was no – or minimal – risk of pollutants, chemical pesticides and herbicides to contend with. There was no fracking, no deep-earth construction and landfill sites filled with millions of tons of manmade waste, releasing their decomposing elements into the earth; and ultimately into the groundwater that fills private wells across America.
As with the risks that we identify with tap water, so it is with well water. We live in different times, with new dangers that we need to respond to.
It’s surprisingly hard to find a drink that has no plus points at all, or one for which the negatives so far outweigh any benefits, that the positives are effectively negated.
Soda pretty much fits the bill though. Yes, it provides your body with a certain amount of hydration, but at what cost?
What's in the Can?
To consider the dangers, we need to break down the common ingredients in the average soda product. Some types of soda don’t contain all of these, but we’re looking at the component parts of what most brands do include in their formulations.
With that remit, many soda drinks contain:
What's Really in the Can?
These ingredients are so ubiquitous on labels these days that we barely see them, but let’s take ‘preservatives’ to begin with. Potassium sorbate is a common one and listed in the ingredients of many big name sodas. Long considered relatively benign, this colorless, odorless substance is ideal for keeping room-temperature products mold-free.
Another common preservative in soda and soft drinks is sodium benzoate, also known as benzoic acid, benzene and benzoate. Both of these preservatives are at the less serious end of the scale in terms of danger to health; merely causing allergic reactions and skin irritations in some people.
However, when sodium benzoate is combined with citric acid (another common ingredient in soda and ‘soft’ drinks), the highly carcinogenic substance benzene is produced.
Science of Carcinogens in Soda
Products found to exceed the benzene parts-per-billion (pbb) guidelines set by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are withdrawn from sale once identified.
“Benzene, a carcinogen, may form at very small levels in some carbonated soft drinks that contain both benzoate salts (added to inhibit growth of bacteria, yeasts, and molds) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C)…(The) FDA is working with the beverage industry to minimize benzene formation in products.”
American Food and Drug Administration
Alongside benzene in your drink, sits phenylalanine, present in many ‘diet’ or ‘low sugar’ brands of soda. Phenylalanine is a neurotoxin, and although natural forms of it are important to support healthy brain activity, it can trigger ADD/ADHD and behavioral disorders in some people.
But frankly, all of that isn’t even the worst news when it comes to drinking soda.
The Color of Danger
Looking at a label of soda ingredients, one that doesn’t leap out as being a particularly worrying one is the innocent sounding ‘coloring.’ In fact, the chemicals that color your soda are among the most controversial.
Caramel E150d is a very commonly seen, composite coloring in soda and one that you may well be familiar with. In 2011, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) submitted a petition to the United States Department of Health and Human Services Food and Drug Administration, entitled ‘Petition to Bar the Use of Caramel Colorings Produced With Ammonia and Containing the Carcinogens 2-Methylimidazole and 4-Methylimidazole.’
The petition was based on the scientific findings of extensive laboratory testing on mice and rats which concludes that caramel E150d is a potential carcinogen.
Unsurprisingly, one of the companies implicated, the mighty Coca-Cola, disputed the petition, saying that the not-for-profit public health watchdog’s petition ‘…maliciously raises cancer concerns among consumers.’
In attempting to appease public panic over the risk, Dr Fred Guenerich, professor of biochemistry at Vanderbilt University, said that he didn’t ‘want to exaggerate the potency,’ but went on to say:
"You're not going to get cancer if you drink a soda, once in a while, but you know the more you drink the greater the risk and there's no reason to accept any risk from a substance that's just coloring."
Dr. Fred Guengerich
Following on from the CSPI petition, in 2014, Consumer Reports filed their own concerns with the FDA.
For now, the drinks industry is able to continue using potentially harmful chemicals, purely for aesthetic (read profit-related) reasons. We strongly suspect the debate will not go away, and who knows? Perhaps the next attempt at more stringent regulation will prove to be the tipping point.
Risk of Type-2 Diabetes?
Aside from carcinogenic concerns, drinking soda is also associated with the onset of type-2 diabetes, as detailed in this research paper published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ)
“Under assumption of causality for the association of consumption of sugar sweetened beverages with incidence of type 2 diabetes, we provided efficacy estimates that over 10 years two million type 2 diabetes events in the USA and 80 000 in the UK would be related to consumption of sugar sweetened beverages.”
What Else Comes Free with Your Soda?
Soda is formulated with phosphoric acid to give a zingy, sharp flavor; and then packed with sugar to offset the acidic taste. If you ditch the sugar and go for a ‘healthy’ version, then you get phenylalanine, aspartame, acesulfame-k or sucralose, to name but a few of the guises that ‘artificial sweetness’ comes in.
A 2015 study led by the Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published by the American Journal of Public Health looked at the link between the consumption of diet drinks and weight gain, concluding that:
"Overweight and obese adults drink more diet beverages than healthy-weight adults and consume significantly more solid-food calories and a comparable total calories than overweight and obese adults who drink SSBs. Heavier US adults who drink diet beverages will need to reduce solid-food calorie consumption to lose weight.”
The Next Generation
You can argue that there is nothing to recommend drinking soda, but it remains one of the most heavily-advertised and aggressively-marketed products on general sale, with much of that advertising targeting young people and kids.
It’s possible to list many more negative side effects of consuming soda (talk to any dentist), and also a paper published by the American Journal of Health Education which gives a sobering overview of the “the availability of soft drinks in schools (“pouring rights contracts”) and its effects on the growing nutritional problems of American youth,” little of which makes uplifting reading.
DIET SODA AND DIET ENERGY DRINKS
As touched on above, the diet soda and diet energy drinks industry have long benefited from extremely good PR and slick advertising. The associations with being young or cool (or both) are well established, and many people seeking a tooth-achingly sweet fix without the sugar, or a guilt-free energy boost have reached for the low-cal option.
Do you know what’s really in diet soda?
Diet Soda Hits the Headlines
Diet soda is in the news once again, and as is increasingly the case, the headlines aren’t positive ones. A recently published study indicates that aspartame, the ‘sweetness’ found in many so-called diet drinks, can actually make you feel hungrier and ultimately lead to gaining weight, rather than losing it.
We’re not talking about test-subjects imbibing ridiculous amounts of it either; if you have a fairly standard daily intake of aspartame, in line with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines, it’s still enough to increase your appetite.
Diet Soda & Diabetes?
If that’s not enough to put you off a ‘diet’ soda, then a report presented to the American Academy of Neurology in 2013 drew a link between drinking diet soda and an increased risk of depression.
Diet soda is simply all-round bad news. As well as actually hampering your weight loss attempts, it has also been linked to Type 2 Diabetes. Equally worrying, two ingredients, 2-Methylimidazole and 4-Methylimidazole, found in the caramel coloring of many soda drinks are known carcinogens.
It’s baffling as to why this stuff is sold so freely, with so few questions asked.
Diet Energy Drinks and Your Health
Diet energy drinks are barely different, except they have the additional veneer of being perceived as ‘healthy.’ This comes from claims that they boost your energy, as well as helping you to lose weight. In fact, a 2016 study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) concluded that consuming energy drinks caused or contributed to chronic liver problems in the 50-year old test subject.
With the World Health Organization (WHO) issuing warnings over diet energy drinks, it’s likely that they will come further under the microscope as more and more links between ill-health and consumption of them are drawn.
How is Tyent Water Different?
The good news is that you can both lose weight, support good health and boost your energy by drinking Tyent ionized alkaline water.
Packed with hydrogen that energizes your body at a fundamental, cellular level; and free-radical fighting antioxidants (neither of which you’ll find in diet soda drinks), Tyent Water is the healthy, safe way to feeling and looking better.
If you’d like more information about how a Tyent ionizer can help you to lose weight or boost your energy, then give us a call today .
Late night? Early morning? Got extra training and lacking the get-up-and-go? Reach for an energy drink, and you’ll soon feel back on top of your game, right? Well, it’s really not that simple, and more importantly, its not that safe.
Late night? Early morning? Got extra training and lacking the get-up-and-go? Reach for an energy drink, and you’ll soon feel back on top of your game, right? Well, it’s really not that simple, and more importantly, it's not that safe.
Energy drinks are a relatively new phenomenon, emerging from Japan in the 1960’s and gaining popularity in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Broadly speaking, they tend to promote caffeine, taurine and vitamins as the ‘active ingredients.’
Too Good to be True?
We’re going to get stuck straight into the science here by starting with a narrative review written by researchers at the World Health Organization (WHO) who considered the risks and adverse health problems linked to consuming energy drinks.
The review states that the primary risks are related to caffeine consumption with high-blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, palpations and miscarriage among the risks of imbibing more than guideline amounts. Since 2014, stricter labelling over caffeine content has been in force in EU countries and Sweden has banned sales of energy drinks to children, with other products only available through a pharmacy.
“The evidence indicating adverse health effects due to the consumption of energy drinks with alcohol is growing. The risks of heavy consumption of energy drinks among young people have largely gone unaddressed and are poised to become a significant public health problem in the future.”
Breda JJ, Whiting SH, Encarnação R, Norberg S, Jones R, Reinap M and Jewell J (2014)
Kathleen Miller, Ph.D. is a senior research scientist at the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions, and author of ‘Energy Drinks, Race, and Problem Behaviors among College Students.’ She believes that although low doses of caffeine aren’t inherently dangerous, but, “get high enough levels — and I’m not talking really, super high here, say 500 milligrams of caffeine, that’s the equivalent of five cups of coffee – and you run into what’s called caffeine toxicity.”
Energy Drink & Coffee
But what does that mean? After all, aren’t many of us guilty of relying on our favorite latte or espresso in the morning to get the day started? True, but while most of us won’t drink five cappuccinos in quick succession, some people do exactly that with energy drinks to get a fast ‘buzz.’
A Loophole in Key Regulation
Well, here’s a thing. Many of the energy drinks feature ‘natural’ active ingredients, with plant or herb extracts such as guarana and ginkgo biloba commonly used. By doing so, the manufacturers can market the product as a ‘dietary supplement’ rather than a food product.
Aside from the potential to tap into another lucrative market, that impacts on the product’s regulatory requirements. Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate dietary supplements, if an individual substance has been declared ‘safe’ and is generally recognized as being so by qualified experts, then it can be considered a ‘food additive’ and escapes FDA preapproval before being added to foods.
Therefore, those components in dietary supplements – such as energy drinks - considered to be ‘active ingredients’ require no FDA preapproval.
Smart? Sinister? Both? It’s one small hinge in a larger debate, but more people are becoming alert to big businesses concealing and minimizing risks. Let’s be real about this: when it comes to industry giants trying to duck regulations, it rarely means good news for the consumer.
Energy Drinks -v- Sports Drinks
The advertising used to promote energy drinks is also open to accusations of being misleading, to say the least. Some products imply that by drinking them, you have energy to spare, you can go and play sports and so on. There is a sense that energy drinks have leapt onto the back of sports drinks in terms of advertising. Indeed, people often do refer to ‘sports and energy drinks’ in the same breath, when the two things are really quite different.
Caffeine is a diuretic and is pretty much the opposite of what you should be drinking if you’re playing sports.
Kathleen Miller comments on this as well, saying, “The general public in many cases doesn’t really get the difference between a Red Bull or a Monster on one hand, and Gatorade on the other hand. And they are doing the exact opposite things. Gatorade or Powerade, those are designed to rehydrate and bring back electrolytes into the system. They are designed for use with exertion. The others are really, really good things to avoid under the same circumstances.”
Do You Really Want to do This to Your Body?
In 2015, the American Heart Association published the researchers' findings following one of the association’s Scientific Sessions. The message was startling; just one single 16-ounce energy drink measurably raised blood pressure and doubled stress hormones in the young, healthy test subjects.
Indeed, shortly after that research was published, in the UK, an office worker in his 20’s tragically suffered a heart attack after drinking eight cans of a caffeine energy drink, in order to cope with a 60-hour working week. Sad cases like this one might not be commonplace, but the facts should make us sit up and take notice.
Drinking excess levels of caffeine also puts pressure on your liver to process it, diverting its energy away from the removal of other toxins.
The amount of sugar contained in the average energy drink is also bad news, with the equivalent of the sugar contained in two bars of chocolate. The spiking of blood glucose levels causes insulin to be released. One effect of constantly stimulating your pancreas to respond to the presence of glucose is the increased chance of developing type-2 diabetes.
Energy drinks are not good for your health in any sense. If you regularly feel tired, then try to get more sleep – or better quality sleep. Examine your diet and make mindful choices about how certain foods affect your energy levels.
Synthetic, potentially dangerous fixes such as energy drinks are not the answer and it seems, might seriously compromise your health.
Read more here:
Hypertension (2011) 57(4):695–701. doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.110.165456
Diabetes Care (2005) 28(3):566–72. doi:10.2337/diacare.28.3.566
Forensic Sci Int (2005) 153(1):67–9. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2005.04.016
Although it’s not as mainstream as other types of water, it’s gaining ground, and you’ve probably seen bottled alkaline water for sale. Maybe you’ve even wondered if it’s worth spending your money on (quite a lot of money, this stuff does not come cheap), or even whether it’s a viable alternative to owning a water ionizer.
How Does it Compare?
Bottled alkaline water is fine to drink if you don’t have an ionizer, if you’re away from home or simply prefer to avoid tap water or other types of the bottled stuff. However, it is not the case that bottled alkaline water can compare - in terms of the benefits it delivers - to a water ionizer.
The water will hydrate you, but in a way that’s more comparable to regular water, rather than ionized alkaline water, which is up to 6 times more hydrating.
Bottled alkaline water does not contain the antioxidants that are found in ionized water, nor does it offer the same, all-important high pH value. Depending on the brand, bottled alkaline water might have been cleaned by a disinfecting process, reverse osmosis or distillation, with all beneficial minerals removed as a result, only to be added back to the ‘clean’ water in the form of mineral supplements.
Plastic is Not Fantastic
Most alkaline waters are sold in plastic bottles, which continue to be scrutinized for their effect on our health. An increasing number of studies conclude that, yes, Bisphenol A (BPA, the substance found in most plastics) does leak out of the plastic itself to contaminate the contents. Often, packs of bottled water are stored in warehouses or on store shelves for unknown periods of time, and not always in controlled temperatures.
While some studies seek to assert that there is no detrimental effect on our health, we’re still learning about its long-term effects, and so far, none of it is great news. Consuming BPA on a regular basis isn’t something that many people feel comfortable with.
BPA is hard to avoid, as it can be found in so many everyday objects, but reducing the amount we consume makes good sense.
Better Than Other Bottles
There are many other types of bottled water that fall short of bottled alkaline water, and as we mentioned earlier, bottled alkaline water is a better option than many. Confronted with a refrigerator filled with several types of bottled water, alkaline water is the best one to reach for, despite its relative shortcomings compared with alkaline water from a water ionizer.
Unsafe Drinking Water is a Big Problem – Now Discover the Solution!
When did drinking water – or at least trying to drink clean, safe water – get so complicated? It seems that there is a problem with every type of drinking water out there.
Luckily, for every problem, there is a solution. Tyent Water Ionizers are plumbed in line with your water supply, so that you use the municipal water you pay for. Your Tyent Water Ionizer filters your water, removing over 200 deadly contaminants, including 99.9% of lead, and infusing it with naturally-occurring minerals and powerful antioxidants.
Every glass of Tyent Water will hydrate and energize your body while tasting fresh and delicious. Plus, you get the priceless peace of mind that you and your loved ones are drinking clean, safe water – and no more plastic bottles!
This blog has been previously published and updated for accuracy in July 2023