What is the Best Water to Drink?

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40Update to original blog post (5/17/20)
Shortly after posting the article below, I found another great water purification system from Living Waters that is less expensive than the ones I originally recommended and meets all the recommended purification requirements discussed below – most importantly, taking out most all contaminants, including chlorine and chloramine. (The chloramine factor is becoming more important as more municipalities are changing from chlorine to chloramine each year.) In addition, there is no holding tank and no waste water. Check out this system from Living Water, which as of 2020 also includes a hydrogen cartridge, which provides additional health benefits. (If you decide to purchase, mention my name or Life Design for Health and they will extend my 10% discount to you.)

Original blog post (8/31/14)
During exercise or hot weather, even more quality water is needed. Many are walking around dehydrated and do not realize it. Not only does dehydration affect you physically (think headaches and constipation), but it can affect how you perceive a difficult task, your concentration, and even your mood.

So, what is good quality water? That is a loaded question. We can start with what is not good quality water. It is NOT tap water. It is NOT bottle water (or vitamin water). It is NOT Britta water or filtered refrigerator water. Even well water is suspect since much of the ground is contaminated by long term use of pesticides and other environmental pollutants.

When my son was first born, I spent over two years researching what makes good quality water and the best types of filtration systems. At the time, all the research pointed to reverse osmosis purifiers as the best option, but it still had some drawbacks. Now there are even better systems available. Read on to find out more.

Stop Drinking Your Tap Water
Before we get into options for good quality water, lets talk about tap water. Once you have a better idea of what is hiding in your tap water, you will understand why good water filtration is so important. Do you want to be drinking water that contains microorganisms, chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides, and even pharmaceuticals?

Pathogenic microorganisms: Harmful microorganisms like bacteria (E-Coli), viruses, molds, algae, amoebas, parasites, and cysts are common in our water. Many are killed (or reduced) by the chemicals added at the water treatment facility, but not all. Cryptosporidium and Giardia, for example, are two microorganisms that typically survive the chlorination process. Other microbes are picked up as the water moves through the city pipes.

Chlorine, Chloramine, and DBPs: Chlorine has been used by water treatment plants for years to kill the bacteria and other pathogens that occur in tap water. However, chlorine is considered a toxin, and the allowable levels of chlorine have increased over time.

Even more dangerous are the chlorine disinfection byproducts (DBPs) that are produced during the chlorination process. DBPs (such as trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids) are many more times toxic than chlorine and some are known carcinogens. Only a few of the many DBPs created are monitored by water treatment plants.

To avoid DBPs, some water treatment plants have replaced chlorine with chloramine to removed pathogens from the water. Chloramine is a mixture of chlorine and ammonia, creating a different chemical process but one that is just as hazardous to your health as chlorine. And, different filters are needed depending if chlorine or chloramine is in your tap water.

Fluoride: There is really nothing good to say about fluoride in our water. The United States is one of the few developed countries that still adds fluoride to its drinking water. It has been marketed for years as a way to make teeth stronger. However, if you go back and research, fluoride was first added to drinking water as a way for the phosphate fertilizer industry to get rid of their manufacturing wastes. The fluoride added to water is not pharmaceutical grade quality.

Studies confirm that fluoride can:

  • Reduce IQ in children (similar to lead poisoning).
  • Cross the blood/brain barrier, especially in infants.
  • Cause enamel damage to teeth, known as dental fluorosis (seen as pitting or spots of discoloration on the teeth).
  • Cause thyroid issues, making hypothyroidism even more common in the United States. (Fluoride was actually used to suppress hyperactive thyroid in Europe in the 1940s and 1950s. The doses used then are similar to the exposure the average person now gets in their drinking water.)
  • Cause bones to become more brittle, increasing the risk of bone fracture. (The symptoms of skeletal fluorosis are very similar to rheumatoid or osteoarthritis, so much so that in the early stages it is difficult to differentiate.)
  • Displace iodine in the body, causing iodine deficiency (another key component of thyroid health).
  • Increase the body’s uptake of aluminum.

In addition to tap water, fluoride is also found in many other products. These include toothpastes and mouth rinses, processed foods made with water (such as soups, sodas, infant formulas), pesticides, green tea, Teflon pans, and certain prescription drugs. If you are using or consuming a number of these products, you and your family are receiving even higher doses of fluoride on a daily basis. (Here is an eye opening video. For those that would like to see more facts, here is a list of studies.)

Heavy Metals: Heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium become toxic to the body when they are not metabolized and then accumulate in the soft tissue. These and other toxic heavy metals get into our water supply in a number of ways, including from:

  • Dumping of manufacturing wastes into bodies of water. (Although much more regulated now, many of our water ways have been polluted from long-time use.)
  • Gases emitted by manufacturing plants that produce products like x-ray equipment, electrical cables, pesticides, batteries, alloys, textile dyes, and steel – gases that eventually end up in the soil and in bodies of water.
  • By-products of mining operations.
  • Old plumbing pipes put in place before 1940 containing lead and/or other metals that leach into the circulating water.
  • Drainage from rain water washing over city dumps and runoff from yards and farms using pesticides.
  • Human excretion and urine from those with heavy metals from polluted foods, amalgam fillings, etc.

Pharmaceutical Drugs: All sorts of medications are found in our water supply, including traces of contraceptive pills, Viagra, chemo drugs, just to mention a few. These can enter the water system through human excretion and urine. Many people also flush their old medications down the toilet, which directly enters the water supply.

Other Contaminants: Tap water contains sediment, like sand and clay, which need to be removed. Examples of other more dangerous contaminants in the water include radioactive elements, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as solvents, fuel additives, flame retardants, and pesticides, and PCBs. Some of these are known “endocrine disruptors,” which disrupt normal hormone function in both males and females. The list is quite extensive and many of these contaminants are not regulated by the EPA. We are already exposed to many of these in the foods we eat and the air we breathe. If we can at least remove them from the water we drink, we have a better chance of staying healthy.

The Problem with Bottled Water
Unfortunately, bottle water is not much better than tap water and is actually less regulated. Not all bottled water goes through a purification process (some are straight tap water) and because they are stored in plastic there are other toxins to consider.

BPA (bisphenol A) and other toxins in the plastic leach into the water, especially when the bottle is in a heated environment, such as the back of a delivery truck or stored in the garage or trunk of your car. One study found a huge increase in urinary BPA levels after one week of drinking from plastic water bottles.

Even if the bottle says, “BPA-free,” it is not safe; the plastic still contains a number of other chemicals. Some companies also use additives in their bottled water to make the water taste better. (See the EWG report for the better bottled water brands.) If you have to drink bottled water, buy a brand in a glass bottle whenever you can. Better yet, purchase and reuse your own containers (preferably glass) and refill them yourself at a local store with a purified water dispenser. 

Selecting the Right Water Purification System
Your body, especially your kidneys and liver, has to work extra hard to filter out all the contaminants and impurities found in tap water and bottled water. Some toxins can stay in your body and cause health issues over time. That is why a good water filtration system is so important.

However, not all filters or filtration systems are created equal. Each removes different contaminants and impurities. For example, only reverse osmosis, distilled, KDF and alumina types of water filters will remove fluoride from tap water. And, only reverse osmosis, KDF, and distillation claim to remove cadmium. Below are the pros and cons of some of the most common types of filters and water purification systems.

Carbon Filters: A carbon filter is the most basic type of filter. It is used in many refrigerators with water dispensers and in filtered pitchers and faucet connections like Britta and Pur. Carbon filters are good at controlling bacteria and removing some heavy metals and other particulates. However, if not changed often enough, the filter can act as a breeding ground for microorganisms. A carbon filter will also reduce the chlorine, which is the main reason the water tastes and smells better than tap water, but many of the other contaminants discussed above, including the fluoride, are left in the water.

There is more than one type of carbon filter. The most common is the granular carbon filter. A carbon block filter is more expensive and usually removes more contaminants than the granular version. There is also a catalytic activated carbon filter specifically designed to remove chloramine (rather than chlorine) and a special bone char carbon filter that is designed to remove fluoride.

KDF Filters: A KDF filter is a natural copper/zinc mineral media that creates an electro-chemical reaction where electrons are transferred between molecules and new elements are created. Some harmful contaminants are changed into “harmless” components. For example, the typical “free” chlorine is changed into a water-soluble chlorine that is considered harmless. KDF filters also remove a number of heavy metals and help to control microorganisms. These filters are often used in conjunction with other filters for maximum effect.

Activated Alumina Filters: Alumina filters are made of a synthetic aluminum oxide, similar to the substance found in sapphires and rubies. Activated alumina has a very high surface-area-to-weight ratio with many tunnel-like pores that run through it. When tap water runs over this surface area, the filter uses a mixture of absorption and chemical reaction, attracting fluoride, arsenic, and other heavy metals. Over time, the fluoride coats the surface of the alumina and the cartridge needs to be replaced. The water also needs to be acidic for the filter to be most effective. Alumina filters are typically used in conjunction with other filters.

Alkaline (Ionized) Systems: The typical alkaline (or ionized) water system uses a carbon (charcoal) filter and ionization to purify the water. After the water passes through the carbon filter, it goes through a chamber fitted with electrodes coated with an inert metal (like platinum) where the water becomes charged. This restructured water is more alkaline and claims to be more hydrating.

The biggest drawback of an alkaline system is the quality of the filter. Alkaline (ionized) water systems need the minerals to remain in the water because that is what is used to create the alkalinity. The carbon filter leaves in the minerals but, unfortunately, also leaves many other toxins in the water, including heavy metals and fluoride, which end up getting concentrated in the filter over time and can cause other health problems. (Some alkaline/ionized water systems do provide additional external filter options, but these filters are still leaving in quite a few impurities so that the minerals remain.)

Other drawbacks of an alkaline/ionized water system include:

  • The amount of waste water produced. (This waste water is carrying away the removed toxins.) However, alkaline water companies claim this acidic waste water has multiple benefits and can be used for other things in the house.
  • The alkalinity of the water that comes out of the faucet only lasts for so long. As it sits in your drinking glass or container, it becomes more acidic over time. If you do not drink the water soon after it leaves the purifier, usually within 5 to 10 minutes, much of the alkaline benefits are lost.
  • Drinking alkaline water long term to keep your body alkaline is not as healthy as it sounds. Your digestive system actually requires acid for it to break down and digest your food. If you are consistently thwarting this natural process, other health issues will arise over time. (The ions in the water may also cause health issues long term.)

If you are using alkaline/ionized water to detoxify your body, short term usage may be beneficial. As the name implies, it provides water that is more alkaline than other water purification systems. Some will produce water with a pH as high as 9.5.

Reverse Osmosis (RO) Systems: A good RO system will remove most of the contaminants described above. RO systems typically have four filters that the tap water passes through: a particle filter, an activated carbon filter, a reverse osmosis membrane filter, and a second activated carbon (polishing) filter.

Many RO systems advertise that they will remove approximately 95% of most impurities. It may be less for some systems. Smaller viruses, cysts and some hormones may also slip through. However, the efficiency will depend on the quality of your tap water and how diligent you are about replacing the filters. Some systems may loose their efficiency over time, especially when it comes to the fluoride removal.

Other common drawbacks of RO systems include:

  • The amount of waste water produced, which is necessary to expel the toxins and keep the membrane clean. If the toxins were to remain in the filters, the filters would become less and less effective. (The amount of waste water in newer RO systems is relatively small if you compare it to the gallons used to take a shower or flush a toilet multiple times a day.)
  • The process of the water going through the filters, with the minerals being removed, ends up reducing the alkalinity of the water. How acidic the water becomes will depend on the pH of your tap water. You can use pH strips to test the water before and after. If your tap water is more alkaline, with a pH over 7.0, it is likely that a RO system will only drop it a few points and you will still be near 7.0. (See also “Adding Back Minerals” below. RO water will still be far less acidic than coffee, soft drinks, fruit drinks, and milk.)
  • The quality of the liner in the holding tank (usually located under the sink). Not all are created equal and some liners inside the tank are made of materials that may leach into your water. The final polishing filter will help with some of this, however,  over time the holding tank can become a breading ground for mold. (In some systems you can by-pass the tank and fill up your own glass bottles instead.)

Distillation Systems: Water distillation consists of boiling tap water so that the evaporated vapor is condensed and the resulting water droplets are collected, leaving the dissolved minerals and contaminants behind. Historically, distilled water has been known for its purity. However, this is not always the case, depending on the contaminants found in your tap water. Some of the toxins mentioned above, especially volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as DBPs, vaporize at a lower temperature than water so not only are they recollected with the water droplets, they are also in a more concentrated state. The distilled water then becomes more toxic than the tap water.

Other shortcomings of distilled water include:

  • Once water is distilled it easily becomes acidic when it comes into contact with air.
  • Minerals are removed with the other impurities, which may cause mineral deficiencies if you drink it long term. (See “Adding Back Minerals” below.)
  • Electricity is required to run the system.
  • Because the water is demineralized and acidic, it will pull contaminants out of the collecting container. If it is a metal container it will pull toxic metals (like nickel) back into the water. If it is a plastic container, it will leach the some of the plastic chemicals.

Like alkaline/ionized water, it may be good to drink distilled water for a week or two when purposely detoxifying your body. Based on my research, it is not a good daily, long-term solution.

Adding Back Minerals
In the process of purifying the water, some of the water purification systems discussed above also remove the minerals from the water. Many of these minerals are inorganic minerals, which are harder for our bodies to assimilate anyway. Optimally, it is better to get our minerals from our food; juicing vegetables is especially good. It is important to not get mineral deficient – not only are minerals critical for many body functions, they are also necessary to protect your body from heavy metals and man-made electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs). (Heavy metals such as mercury, aluminum and cadmium connect to the same cellular receptor sites as minerals.)

Minerals have the added benefit of improving your pH levels. For example, if you add liquid minerals to a glass of reverse osmosis water, it can be made more alkaline. You can also take a mineral supplement daily and get minerals from good quality salts like Himalayan salt or Celtic sea salt. In addition, there are coral calcium units that can be added to a water purification system to help re-mineralize and alkalize your water.

Combination Purification Systems
The best water filtration systems typically combine several of the technologies mentioned above. Ideally, you want to remove the widest variety of contaminants. The process should also structure the water as close to spring water as possible to produce water that contains quality minerals, good alkalinity, good hydration, etc.

One system from Radiant Life has a 14 step purification process that includes filters similar to a reverse osmosis system as well as two de-ionization purifiers, an ultraviolet light, along with other technologies to produce water that is alkaline, re-mineralized, restructured, and reprogrammed. A similar system using a 16 stage process is called 2 Pure H2O from Future Water Today.

Another combination water purification system that I really like is from Oxygen Ozone. It combines a seven stage process incorporating reverse osmosis, de-ionization, marine grade coral calcium re-mineralization, and coconut carbon filtration to produce very pure, alkaline water.

Which system to purchase will depend on the quality of your water and your budget. (See more below.)

Don’t Forget Your Showers and Baths
Some consider showering or bathing in tap water even worse than drinking tap water. Your skin is the largest organ of your body. When you are under a shower or in a tub, your skin absorbs what is in the warm water. You are also breathing in chlorine (or chloramine) vapors and related chloroform gas created as the hot water runs. (Similar chlorine vapors also occur when washing dishes and clothes, running the dishwasher, flushing toilets, etc.)

A whole house water filtration system, as explained below, would eliminate some of the problem. You can also purchase filters to use at the source. For example, you can get a carbon filter for the shower head or tub faucet to at least absorb the chlorine. (See “What We Use in Our House” below.)

Watering Your Gardens
If you use tap water to water your garden, you are adding toxins from the water into the soil which gets absorbed by the plants. Filters are now available that attach to your garden hose, such as the one shown here, which can at least eliminate the chlorine.

Another thing to consider is all the toxic materials used to make the water hose. There are less toxic water hoses available such as polyurethane or natural rubber. In the mean time, at least run the water through the hose until cool, fresh water is coming out before watering the garden. The water left sitting in the hose (and heated by the sun) will be the most toxic. (Using a rain barrel is another option, but be sure to consider the source and material of the container.)

Whole House Systems
Whole house (or “point-of-entry”) water purification systems are also available. (These are different from water softener systems.) A whole house system is good for purifying water used for bathing, washing, and watering. However, the filtration is usually not as rigorous as that used for drinking water; it would be too expensive. You typically still need a separate filtration system for good quality drinking water (at the “point-of-use”).

What We Use in Our House
Based on my previous research, we came up with the following cost effective scenario for purified water in our house. Some day soon we hope to upgrade to one of the combination purification systems mentioned above, and eventually a whole house water purification system as well.

At our kitchen sink, we currently use a reverse osmosis system with an added coral calcium unit to help alkalize and re-mineralize the purified water before it comes out of the faucet. (We also use good quality salts quite liberally and often take a liquid mineral supplement.) Changing the filters regularly is also important. One of the best things we did was get a 3-gallon holding tank instead of the standard 2-gallon tank. We use the purified water for drinking and cooking as well as filling glass water bottles for work and school. (We take our own water with us everywhere we go!) There is always enough for our family of three.

In the shower we use a filtered shower head from Sprite. There are others available but they basically do the same thing and I do not particularly like the look of the filters that are attached at the pipe. This style incorporates the filter in the shower head and I can find the refills locally. There is also a shower hand-held version available. We don’t use our bathtub often, but I have used this “bath ball” faucet filter in the past.

You may be fortunate enough to live in an area where your water treatment facility is more progressive and uses alternate means to purify its water. For example, instead of chlorine (or chloramine), some treatment facilities are using ultra violet radiation, ozone, or hydrogen peroxide. Other water districts have stopped adding fluoride to their water, usually after much hard work to get the laws changed.

As you can see from above there are many water purification options depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Based on what I now know, I would recommend any of the “combination purification systems” discussed above. I no longer recommend a reverse osmosis system unless you really know how to monitor your mineral levels and/or you are juicing a wide variety of quality vegetables on a daily bases.

When you purchase your water purification system, the filtration company should ask you multiple questions before recommending the appropriate system and/or combination of filters. (If you want to test the water yourself, you can purchase a water test kit.) You should also check with your water supplier to see if they use chlorine or chloramines, since these require different type of filters too. The goal is to make sure that the system you purchase is removing the correct contaminants and impurities as well as enhancing your water so that it is as close to natural spring water as possible.

(Click here for more information on water contaminants.)

Life Design for Health is not affiliated with any water filtration company and does not receive remuneration from the systems mentioned above. It is for informational purposes only.

This article was written by Sharon K. Harmon, PhD, founder of Life Design for Health. As a “Health Designer” and an advocate for EMF safety she has a passion for helping people find their way back to optimum health by looking at the body from a unique perspective. Please contact her if you would like to know more. There is a great deal of health-related information in her blog articles and on her website, including a healing foods and pantry list and recipes that are gluten-free, dairy-free and GMO-free.

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