Is "processed" water as dangerous as processed food?
Answered on August 19, 2014
Created March 27, 2010 at 1:22 AM
Given that the human body is about 60% percent water, it seems to me we should be as concerned with the source and quality of our water as we are with that of our food.
I began drinking reverse osmosis (R.O.) water last summer and continued to do so for about six months, at which point I decided to try well water straight from a local artesian well, which I have been hooked on ever since. The filtered water often seemed incapable of quenching my thirst and I would commonly go through a gallon of it every two days. So far, I have not had this problem with the well water, and a gallon of it lasts me four or five days because I am no longer as thirsty. My diet then, as now, was 100% real food, and because my thirst when drinking filtered water did not noticeably decrease in the fall and winter, I can rule out seasonal influences as an explanation for the discrepancy.
Toward the end of my R.O. drinking days, I visited a local water filtering company which supplies ultra-filtered water (combining R.O., UV sterilization, deionization, and other methods) to many co-ops in my area. I got to talking with the owner (a very bright man with some impressive credentials, and an apparent trailblazer in the field of water filtration) and after a half hour or so, he offered to take me into the "back room" for an impromptu tour of their water processing facility. I obliged, and was led into a noisy, warehouse-like room littered (and I do mean littered) with innumerable large and ominous-looking tanks and tubes made of metal and plastic which one would think--by the sight and sound of it--were engaged in anything but the production of a beverage fit for human consumption, but that's precisely what they were purported to be doing (making an already "fit" beverage even "more fit," in fact!).
The owner was very proud of the machinery, having personally designed much of it himself, as well as masterminding the company's unique algorithm for stripping water of absolutely every last little measurable thing. I think he expected me to be impressed, but in fact, I was slowly, silently horrified. Because suddenly it hit me that filtered water is processed water. And ever since, I can't help but suspect that processed water is to real water what processed food is to real food. It can't be the same. After all, we thought we understood food well enough to process it--thought it didn't make any difference what we took out as long as the calories were left in--and look where that got us. Why should things be any different with water? I suspect we understand it even less than food. Why shouldn't destructured, demineralized water react differently with the body than mineral rich water straight from the earth? And obviously paleo man never drank filtered water, for what that's worth.
Now, granted, the aforementioned company's approach is a little more extreme than your average home carbon filter, but even if you don't employ equipment like they do, your municipal water provider probably does, and I wonder if in processing out the bad stuff, we also process out all the good stuff to a counterproductive degree. In other words, as bad as tap water with added chlorine and fluoride is, perhaps completely processed, "pure" water is even worse. Maybe "pure" water is actually "dead" water, just as "pure" pasteurized milk is "dead" milk. A google search on the dangers of R.O./deionized/distilled water reveals much disagreement on the matter, but when even the World Health Organization is sounding the alarm on filtered water, you really have to think twice about consuming it (though I guess you could also make the counterargument that if they have an opinion, it's probably wrong... but in this case, I think I side with them).
I was blown away by the lecture on water presented by Gerald Pollack (from my own University of Washington) at last year's Weston Price conference. To reduce a nuanced and rigorously research-supported presentation to a cheap soundbite, water acts as a battery which receives a continual charge from incident light. The talk had nothing explicitly to do with filtered water, or what water to consume, but many implications for these could be teased out (and were, in the Q&A session following the talk) from Pollack's findings. How much of a charge could be held by filtered water with a total dissolved solids count of 0? Not much. More than anything, Pollack's presentation made me realize that there is far more to water than meets the eye, and our understanding of it is really quite limited. Sound familiar?
When confronted with the inadequacy of present knowledge, where questions of health are concerned, I try to default to what worked for our ancestors. And they drank water straight from the earth, not water "made safe" by the government with chlorine and fluoride, or by companies (however well intentioned) selling purification systems to refine the hell out of it. Of course, I realize even natural spring or well water carries some risk due to the potential presence of environmental contaminants, but for now, I'll trust in the self-ordering wisdom of nature over the historically under-informed interventions of men. Water is so seemingly simple and (when abundant) inconsequential, that I think we often tend to underestimate its complexity and importance. If I had to drive three hours to get to a well, I'd probably settle for a good carbon filter, but having found one just twenty minutes away, I think it's well worth quitting the tap. As has been pointed out elsewhere on this site, findaspring.com is a great resource for locating nearby wells, at least in the US. Here in my backyard, the University of Washington offers free water quality testing (which I have not yet solicited, but plan to); you might seek out a similar organization nearby to avail yourself of if you're concerned about contamination.
I realize anecdotal evidence only goes so far (or not so far at all), but I was sold on avoiding filtered water pretty much once and for all when a former co-worker, who had previously worked for a water filtration company, shared the story of a simple experiment he conducted with petals taken from the same flower and then dropped in two separate cups of water, one filtered (by reverse osmosis) and one unfiltered (not sure if it was from the tap or a natural source). After a day or two, the petals in the unfiltered water looked more or less the same as before. The petals in the filtered water, on the other hand, were unmistakably shriveled, looking as though they had the floral equivalent of a muscle wasting disease. The story sounds a bit sensationalist, I'll grant, but it makes a lot of intuitive sense to me. If water is always seeking a kind of equilibrium with its environment, wouldn't it make sense for the water without minerals to draw out minerals from the flower petals? Don't we already know that demineralized water does the same thing to pipes, leading to their corrosion? Is there any reason to suppose these same forces somehow cease to apply when we combine the same water with our bodies? Though I haven't tried it myself, I'd be interested if anyone could duplicate these results carrying out the same experiment at home.
Well, that is all I have to put out there on the subject of "processed" water. What are other peoples' experiences and thoughts on the subject?
on March 27, 2010
at 08:28 AM
I would never drink RO water. I researched water filtration about ten years ago and came to the conclusion that RO water was 'dead' water. I have used a carbon filter in the past, to remove chlorine/fluoride from the local water supply, but now have natural spring water coming directly to my house, so do not need to think about water filtration.
Regarding what you say about: "Pollack's presentation made me realize that there is far more to water than meets the eye, and our understanding of it is really quite limited."
We have a 'sacred' spring well in our village (connected to an old Abbey and a saintly monk who was healed by the water) and the locals still use it in preference to their tap water (which is also spring water) as they say it has healing properties. You can see many of the older generation filling up gallon containers most days summer and winter, often struggling to get the bottles into their cars. I have often asked myself, 'Is it really worth all that effort?' and 'What do they know that we don't?'
great question, it has made me think.......
on December 06, 2011
at 11:39 PM
Reverse osmosis water killed my sister.
on June 16, 2014
at 09:41 AM
Good Stuff! Much informative.
Most city water supplies come from treated sewer water, the process of purifying the water takes out the harmful impurities. However, the filtration is not accurate enough to remove everything. So certain medications, antibiotics, and steroids top the list of those able to escape the purification process.
on August 27, 2011
at 11:23 PM
the other day I was wondering why I'm always thirsty and getting cramps from our reverse osmosis filter that supposedly re- minerals our water on one of the stages with a wholesome mineral bar? (maybe it does not work or maybe the minerals are not wholesome - I do not know what to think of this yet) well anyway, every time I got cramps I would have to take a sachet of electrolyte powder and add it to my RO water which would get rid of my cramps almost instantly (strange I thought) so what I did was I went and purchased a 10L tank of spring water drank that, and all it took was 1 cup to quench my thirst....when RO water never seemed to quench it (strange I thought - plus my urine with RO water was always yellow but with spring water all it took was 1-3 cups a day to keep it white...I know personal right lol) I came to the conclusion that RO water does not replace the electrolytes the my body has lost, and that I'm constantly running on empty in this area, which would explain all my health problems despite my mostly organic and or raw organic food diet and wholesome nutrition supplementation ( which should be making me feel awesome and in the past it had till I switched water? ) but because there was one thing was refined/dead/aggressive, that was the most important thing in the equation and that was all that was needed to ruin all my hard work at staying healthy! amazing in my opinion! anyway I will be taking notes at how well I recover from this change in water and will probably post another comment? considering I'm one big science experiment you guys might be interested in some solid reassuring data?
on April 01, 2010
at 05:37 AM
Interesting. Makes me glad we drink creek water when we are in Canada.
on March 27, 2010
at 03:15 PM
Commonly used rehydration solutions, in both sports and illness, contain sugar and minerals (salts). Rehydration solutions not only replace lost electrolytes and calories, they are also absorbed more rapidly and are less likely to induce nausea than pure water. Evolutionarily, this is not surprising to me. Distilled water was probably rare until recent times, so paleos used fruits, vegetables and mineral water sources for hydration. It makes sense that we find mineral waters more refreshing and thirst-quenching than distilled or RO waters. However, it would be a leap to say that distilled water may actually be harmful. If we're adapted to say 98% H2O, then 100% H2O is not much of a stretch for us. Contrast this with acetic acid. Vinegar contains up to 18% acetic acid, and is considered to be a healthy food. 100% acetic acid is a caustic poison. From 18 to 100% is a huge difference, but from ~98 to 100%, eh, no big deal.