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uilding Blocks of Nutrition
  • Choosing Your Drinking Water
  • So, What Do We Drink?
  • Water Requirements

  • Water is the medium in which all other nutrients are found. Three simple molecules, two hydrogen and one oxygen, bind together to form each molecule of water, the most abundant and important substance on Earth and in the human body. Pure water does not exist naturally on our planet; water is the universal solvent, and most other substances present on Earth dissolve in it to different degrees. The earth’s natural water varies in mineral content, as does the water found within our bodies.

    Our bodies are at least 60 percent water. It is the primary component of all the bodily fluids—blood, lymph, digestive juices, urine, tears, and sweat. Water is involved in almost every bodily function: circulation, digestion, absorption, and elimination of wastes, to name a few. Water carries the electrolytes, mineral salts that help convey electrical currents in the body; the major minerals that make up these salts are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and chloride. Water requirements vary greatly from person to person. The climate in which we live, our activity level, and our diet all influence our need for water.

    Water is fundamental to all life on Earth. Without clean water we cannot experience optimum health. Awareness of the urgent need to address the issue of water pollution is growing. Subsequently, healing our waters and providing safe and tasty drinking water are becoming a major industry—filtered water systems, international spring waters, designer water, flavored waters, juice waters, and more.

    Recognizing the importance of clean water, I wrote this chapter to offer you a synergistic collation of the most current, usable information; however, I am aware that it is not the final word. Much water information is purported as "fact" by business interests, yet scientific study is lacking. Surely this will change, so look for upcoming data on this crucial subject.

    Since water is an essential part of our basic life needs—life force if you will—we could spend more energy and dollars researching how to keep it safe for human consumption. My concern is that our governments will wait too long to correct our current water problems, much like modern Western medicine focuses on end-stage disease over preventive medicine. Keeping people well and learning more about the factors that affect this goal, such as the chemicals in our environment, deserve a great deal more attention. Healing and maintaining Earth’s environment, keeping our basic elements—water, air, and food—clean and wholesome, is a good place to start!

    Drinking water has become an issue of concern. In all too many cases it has been shown that tap water is not totally safe. We need to ask what role drinking tap water plays in our health. What is its subtle effect on biochemical processes in our body, and what is its relationship to symptoms of illness or chronic disease? Not enough research has come out to date showing how tap water and its contents influence our health. Many cities’ water has a high sodium level, which has been correlated with an increased ikelihood of high blood pressure and subsequent cardiovascular disease. Soft water, in which a high level of sodium has replaced biologically important minerals such as calcium and magnesium, has also been implicated in reducing our resistance to heart disease.

    With the trend toward using pure and natural products in personal health care, city tap water has come to be considered a processed, unnatural substance, containing potentially hazardous chemical additives. No wonder bottled water has become a huge industry in the last decade! For the most part, city water is heavily chlorinated to kill germs, fluoridated to prevent tooth decay, and some cities add calcium hydroxide or other alkaline substances to change the pH (acidity) of the water so it does not corrode pipes. Chlorine and other additives used to treat water can react with other organic chemicals to produce chlorinated hydrocarbons that may act as carcinogens. For example, the chloramines including chloroform and other trihalomethanes, are formed in water from chlorine and organic matter such as ammonia or decaying leaves. Water pipes may contribute chemicals or metals such as copper or lead.

    Choosing Your Drinking Water
    I have urged people for many years to use special purified drinking water and to avoid the faucet. I have not drunk tap water in more than a decade; instead, I have used well water or spring water collected from mountain or underground sources (unfortunately these waters can be contaminated also) or, more recently, home-filtered tap water. But lately there have even been questions regarding the purity of bottled waters and the effectiveness of filters. What is the right thing to do? Clearly, scientific research and the marketing information of companies selling water and the various water cleaners may differ. After all, advertising has a big influence on our nutrition in general and certainly has and continues to be a hindrance that must be overcome to achieve a healthier diet and lifestyle. The government can only protect the consumer from gross misrepresentation and not subtle interpretation of "facts."

    Posible Contaminants in Our Drinking Water
    (Municipal and Well Water)

      esp. Giardia
    Organic SolventsIndustrial ChemicalsFluoride

    Let’s look at our drinking water choices before we decide. We don’t want to worry or be fanatic, but since water is second in importance only to air for sustaining life, we do want to do the best we can with the current knowledge and inner guidance we have. Taste and smell can help us assess if our water is good for us. However, the presence of negative health factors may not alter taste or smell. If there is a question about water safety, we can have our drinking supply, whatever it is, analyzed for bacteria, minerals, or chemical pollutants.

    My goal in this section on water, since there is much technical information I cannot include here, is to give you the basics about drinking water so you can at least ask yourself what is best. Water is an important component of nutrition. The first step of good nutrition is to know the origin, processing, and contents of anything we take into our bodies. Now let’s talk about the many sources of water available to us.

    Tap Water
    Most tap water comes from surface reservoirs formed from rivers, streams, and lakes, or from groundwater. Groundwater refers to the subterranean reservoirs that hold much of the earth’s water and supply nearly all the rural drinking water and about half of city water supplies. The water from these sources goes through local treatment plants, many of which use a very old process of settling tanks, filtration through sand and gravel, and then chemicals to clean up the water so it is fit for human consumption.

    Many minerals and chemicals are used for "purification," including chlorine, alum or sodium aluminum salts, soda, ash, phosphates, calcium hydroxide, and activated carbon. Yet this process may not clear all of the many environmental pollutants that can fertilizers, and insecticides; chemicals and wastes from industry; and air pollutants such as lead or radon. Toxic organic chemicals and petroleum spills can also pollute large amounts of water. Since much of this pollution affects groundwater as well as surface waters, most municipal or artesian well drinking waters are at risk and deserve our concern.

    The January 1990 Consumer Reports analysis suggests that the three drinking water pollutants of most concern are lead, radon, and nitrates.

    Lead may contaminate the water of more than 40 million Americans. It occurs mainly from corrosion of water pipes, from lead solder in plumbing, and from lead in brass faucets. The possibility of contamination is of greatest concern to people living in homes more than 30 years old whose pipes contain more lead, and for families with young children, who are more sensitive to lead toxicity. Testing for lead is relatively easy and inexpensive. Reverse osmosis will remove lead; solid carbon filters may also remove it to some degree.

    Radon is a radioactive gas by-product of uranium and is found in the earth’s crust. High radon gas levels are associated with an increased risk of lung cancer. This carcinogenic element can be present in any home in levels high enough to cause concern but is more likely to be found in the northeast United States, North Carolina, and Arizona. Water that comes from wells and groundwater have a higher incidence of contamination. Municipal waters that come from lakes, rivers, and reservoirs are usually low in radon. When present in the water, radon can be released into the air with showering, laundering, and dishwashing. Radon in the air at home can be tested with several new devices available on the market. If present in the water in high amounts, radon can be removed with carbon filtration, but this system must be attached to the entire water system of the home.

    Nitrates are suggested to be the third main risk in water. They are present mostly in groundwater sources that have agricultural contamination; these waters may also then have higher amounts of toxic pesticides and herbicides. High nitrate levels are of greatest risk to infants and seriously ill people. Nitrates are converted to nitrites by certain intestinal bacteria; these nitrites may alter the hemoglobin molecule, converting it to methemoglobin, which cannot carry oxygen. Rural families, especially those with infants and pregnant women, should test their water for nitrates. If it is present in high amounts, either reverse osmosis or distillation systems will help to clear the nitrate molecules.

    Other major concerns in drinking water are the chemicals that are released into our waters by industry and the agricultural chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that run off into local waters. These organic chemicals are more toxic and carcinogenic at lower levels than many other contaminants. The trihalomethanes (THMs) formed in chlorinated water are also a carcinogenic concern.

    However, with all these possible health threats, the government would like us to believe that we should have no concerns about our drinking water. Clearly, tap water consumption usually does not cause immediate or significant health problems unless it is contaminated with infectious organisms. Millions of people drink water from this source every day, though many avoid drinking it straight because of the taste. However, more research studying the relationship of drinking water to chronic disease needs to be done. Until we know more about tap water (and even well water) and its long-range effects, it is better to be careful and not drink it. In some areas, chemical contamination from using tap water for cooking and bathing may even be a concern. It may be worthwhile to analyze questionable water for toxic chemicals and metals, as well as analyzing its mineral content, hardness, and pH. Several companies in the United States analyze water, including Water Test in New Hampshire, National Testing Labs in Ohio, and Suburban Water Testing Labs in Pennsylvania. They all have toll free 800-numbers.

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    About The Author
    Elson M. Haas, MD is founder & Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (since 1984), an Integrated Health Care Facility in San Rafael, CA and author of many books on Health and Nutrition, including ...more
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