By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Water. It makes up almost 75 percent of our bodies, and it’s the single most important and most life-giving substance that we consume.
Making sure that you’re getting the best drinking water you can is, I believe, one of the most overlooked paths to better health. Yet, most of us take for granted that the water we drink every day is safe, clean, and healthy, and nourishing to our body.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Is Tap Water Safe?
As the people of Flint, Michigan have tragically discovered over the past year, the water flowing through our drinking fountains and household taps may not be as pure and healthy as we would like to believe it is. There, residents are struggling with lead contamination—but that’s just one pollutant we may be swallowing in our H2O.
A three-year study by my favorite consumer watchdog organization, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), in 2009 found evidence of 316 different pollutants in tap water across 45 states. Of those 316 pollutants, 114 are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and 202 are not (i.e. there aren’t any safety standards in place to make sure maximum levels are not exceeded). The possible silver lining here is that, 92 percent of the time, the 114 regulated pollutants did not exceed maximum acceptable levels (that being said, what the EPA deems “acceptable” is often more than what I think is okay ). As for the 202 unregulated chemicals, well… there are just too many unknowns on the table here for me to accept that tap water is safe, even by the EPA’s standards.
EWG’s senior vice president for research, Jane Houlihan, was quoted in Scientific American magazine, saying, “It is not uncommon for people to drink tap water laced with 20 or 30 chemical contaminants. This water may be legal, but it raises serious health concerns.”
What pollutants are known to be in tap water? Industrial solvents, refrigerants, pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, pharmaceutical medications, and biological waste from the water treatment facilities themselves, to name a few. (To see how your city ranked on the scale of healthy drinking water, read EWG’s complete rankings of water systems serving populations of 250,000 or more).
I find these results alarming—though they reaffirm my long-held opinion about just how vital it is to know where your drinking water comes from, and to make sure your water is as healthy as possible.
What Makes Water Healthy?
To start, healthy water is water that’s free of as many contaminants as possible. But the healthiest water is also vibrant, living water, full of minerals.
Picture water flowing down a mountain, tumbling over rocks as the sun shines on it. Provided the stream doesn’t have any parasites or contaminants in it, that water, to me, is the healthiest water. It’s alive and energy-charged.
Many years ago, when my sons were both teenagers, we took a father-son fishing trip to Alaska. While we were on the boat, we looked at some ice—which had just broken off a glacier—floating in the water and said to each other, “That would probably taste good to drink.” Our host was gracious enough to bring some aboard. We melted it, drank it, and felt fantastic for the rest of our vacation.
Now compare those images to the reclaimed and reprocessed water that is churned out by most water treatment facilities. Yes, that water may come from clean sources—but it’s just as likely to come from a nearby river that’s full of agricultural runoff and possibly byproducts from other water treatment facilities upstream. Once decontaminated, the water may be stored in dark underground tanks before being pumped to your home.
How to Make Sure Your Water Is as Healthy as Possible
I realize that the vast majority of people don’t have access to a mountain stream or a glacier, so we need to look for other ways to ensure our drinking water is as healthy as it can be.
One option is to buy bottled—but absolutely not the plastic bottled water that you can get in bulk at the grocery store. Most of those waters in plastic bottles are reclaimed, reprocessed, and not significantly different from plain old tap water. In many cases, they are more mysterious than tap water. A separate report by EWG found that 9 of the 10 bestselling brands failed to disclose information on at least one of the following questions:
- Where does the water come from?
- How is it purified?
- Have tests found any contaminants?
There also is the issue with chemicals from the plastic bottles leaching into the water, as well as the environmental challenges the bottles present.
Instead, look for water sold in glass bottles, and make sure that the manufacturer clearly discloses where the water comes from and how it’s purified.
My personal search for the best drinking water has lasted more than 20 years. I’ve attended conferences on the topic, and have tried a list of products as long as my arm. Currently, though, some brands of water I really like are Aqua Panna, which is imported from Italy, Saratoga Springs Water, and Mountain Valley Spring Water.
Use the Best Water Purifier You Can Get to Make Tap Water Safer
If you’d prefer not to continuously buy your drinking water, there are some options for further purifying the water available from your tap. They all have some drawbacks, but all will render cleaner drinking water than what comes directly from the water treatment facility.
This is the easiest and most inexpensive way to filter tap water, though carbon filters like Brita® won’t remove most pollutants. These charcoal water filters are most effective at removing chlorine and certain bacteria that are too large to pass through them. Still, this water is far healthier than straight tap water or most bottled waters.
These systems combine carbon filtration with a semi-permeable membrane capable of removing much smaller particles from water, including salts. While these systems are among the best water purifiers because they’re so effective at removing impurities, they also remove a lot of minerals from water—taking away some of the health benefits that healthy water provides. I have a reverse osmosis system in my own home, and I like to add an electrolyte mixture to the water before drinking it. The mix restores the minerals lost during the purification process.
This requires boiling water to release the pure hydrogen and oxygen molecules and then re-condensing those molecules into water. Contaminants, which have much higher boiling points are left behind and thus removed. Unfortunately, like reverse osmosis, distillation also removes healthy minerals from water. Adding an electrolyte mix is also advisable if you take this approach.
To learn more about my favorite electrolyte mix, check out my formula on drsinatra.com. Electrolyte mixes are also available at health food stores or in the supplement aisle of your favorite supplement retailer.
- Luntz, T. “U.S. drinking water widely contaminated: EPA finds 202 unregulated chemicals in 45 states.” Scientific American. 14 Dec 2009. Accessed July 28, 2016.
- Falk, D. “This new study found more drugs in our drinking water than anybody knew, and no one’s doing anything about it.” New Republic. 11 Dec 2013. Accessed July 28, 2016.
- Environmental Working Group. 2011 Bottled Water Scorecard. 2011. Accessed July 28, 2016.
- Environmental Working Group. National Drinking Water Database: Executive Summary. Dec. 2009. Accessed Aug. 16, 2016.
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