By Dr. Mercola
It's a well-established fact that clean, pure water is a foundational cornerstone of good health. What's open for discussion, however, is what constitutes "clean, pure water."
There are many opinions and much confusion about which kind of water imparts the greatest health benefits, particularly when it comes to its pH.
I recently addressed the danger of alkaline water. In this segment I'll address distilled water, and review the pro's and con's of reverse osmosis water filtration. Since most water sources are now severely polluted, the issue of water filtration and purification couldn't be more important.
It's unfortunate, but the value of plain water is vastly underrated by most experts when it comes to achieving optimal health.
I'm convinced that we could prevent many of our chronic health problems if we would simply start replacing all soda and nearly all commercial fruit juices with pure water.
As you may know by now, the number one source of calories in the U.S. comes from high fructose corn syrup primarily in the form of soda. Americans drink an average of one gallon of soda each week, and this excessive fructose consumption is a driving force behind obesity and chronic degenerative disease in this country.
Drinking alkaline or ionized water, however, is not a healthful choice in the long run, and as you will see, neither is drinking distilled water…
Why I Do Not Recommend Drinking Distilled Water
Long before natural health enthusiasts began touting the benefits of alkaline water, there were similarly glowing claims for distilled water.
During distillation, water is boiled and evaporated away from its dissolved minerals, and then the vapor is condensed and the resulting water droplets collected. Distilled water is an active absorber, and when it makes contact with air, it quickly absorbs carbon dioxide and becomes acidic.
Since it is free of dissolved minerals and other particles, it has the ability to absorb toxic substances from your body and eliminate them. However, although drinking distilled water may be helpful when detoxifying for a week or two, the longer you drink it, the more likely you'll develop mineral deficiencies and an acidic state.
You can rapidly lose electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride) and trace minerals, which can cause cardiac irregularities, high blood pressure, and cognitive/emotional disturbances.
In a paper by F. Kozisek of the World Health Organization (WHO), [i] water low in calcium and magnesium, such as distilled water, is associated with the following health problems:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Higher risk of bone fracture in children
- Neurodegenerative diseases
- Motor neuronal diseases
- Pre-term births, low birth weights, and preeclampsia
- Various types of cancer
- Increased risk of "sudden death"
- Acute magnesium and calcium deficiency, weakness, fatigue and muscle cramping
Clearly, changing the water you drink can have profound and potentially disastrous effects on your health, as this research shows. For these reasons, I've been discouraging people from drinking distilled water for well over a decade now, but there are other far more problematic issues with distilled water that make potential mineral deficiencies pale in comparison.
Distilled Water is Only as Pure as the Water You Begin With...
One of the primary benefits commonly attributed to distilled water is its lack of contaminants. However, this usually turns out to be far from true... Why? There are two primary reasons why your distilled water may not be as pure as you'd like to think:
- Any contaminant in the water that vaporizes at a lower temperature than the water, such as volatile organic compounds, such as disinfection byproducts that are thousands of times as toxic as chlorine, will be condensed and actually concentrated in the finished distilled water. So what you end up with is water that contains even more dangerous contaminants than what you started with.
- Because the water is acidic and demineralized, it will pull contaminants out of whatever container you put it in. Many distillers on the market are made of metal, which will actually add certain toxic metals like nickel back into the water. And if you use a distiller with a plastic bottle, you have a number of plastic chemicals to contend with – many of which we now know are extremely toxic.
The Most Shocking Fact About Distilled Water
In recent years we've learned a lot about the dangers of disinfection byproducts (DBPs) found in most treated water supplies, such as trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs). These DBPs form when water treatment disinfectants such as chlorine, chloramines, and chlorine dioxide react with natural organic matter in the source water.
Researchers have now discovered that DBPs are over 1,000 times more toxic than chlorine, and out of all the other toxins and contaminations present in your water, such as fluoride and miscellaneous pharmaceutical drugs, DBPs may be the absolute worst.
Trihalomethanes (THMs), for example, are Cancer Group B carcinogens, meaning they've been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. They've also been linked to reproductive problems in both animals and humans, and human studies suggest that lifetime consumption of chlorine-treated water can more than double the risk of bladder and rectal cancers in certain individuals.
The process of distilling actually worsens the presence of these extremely toxic contaminants in your water because anything that vaporizes at a lower temperature than water, such as volatile organic compounds (VOC's and trihalomethanes (THM's), will also be boiled and condensed. Sure, the heavy metals are left behind. Lead, for example, will not vaporize. But chlorine will change into chloroform during the distillation process, and will be present in your distilled water.
Distilled Water is Actually MORE Toxic than Municipal Tap Water
So, not only will distillation not remove one of the most significant toxins in water, which are the DBPs, it may actually deliver a more concentrated dose of them. AND, you're also drinking whatever chemical or metal contaminants the water has dissolved out of the container it's stored in! Talk about a double-whammy of toxic contamination! This fact alone should be reason enough to ditch the idea that distilled water might be good for you, unless you start with entirely pure water to begin with, which defeats the whole purpose of distilling it.
Remember that every municipal water supply is treated with chlorine or chlorine like substance that will induce the formation of disinfection byproducts in your water supply. So unless you are using the distiller on well water, you need to be very concerned about this.
A volatile organic compound is a chemical that vaporizes at a lower temperature than water and has carbon in it. And there are hundreds of thousands of volatile organic compounds out there, including benzenes, trihalomethanes, and trichloroethylene. Exactly what and how much of these toxic compounds are in your source water will naturally vary from one location to another.
Many of these are industrial organic solvents that are very destructive to the human body. Many if not most of them are carcinogenic at extremely low levels. DBPs, for example, are measured in parts per BILLION, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets the goal for some of these byproducts at zero because they are so dangerous. Unfortunately the EPA goal is impossible to enforce. Still, the maximum annual average of THMs in your local water supply cannot exceed 80 ppb (parts-per-billion), and the maximum annual average of HAAs permitted by EPA regulations is 60 ppb. It goes without saying that if distilling were to concentrate these contaminants just a little bit, the consequences to your health could be quite severe.
The Drawbacks Clearly Outweigh Any Potential Benefits
So, in the end, distilled water:
- Is expensive
- Is energy intensive
- Doesn't remove VOC's and DBPs
- Is ineffective at removing toxic fluoride
- Draws out chemicals and metal contaminants from whatever container it's stored in
- Leaches minerals from your body which can lead to health problems
On the positive side, it may help draw out toxins during a short-term detoxification program, but all in all, I believe the drawbacks are stacked quite high and clearly outweigh any perceived benefit.
A Special Note on Removing Fluoride from Your Drinking Water
Distillation also will not effectively remove fluoride, another dangerous element added to most water supplies. Distillation can remove an estimated 55-60 percent of fluoride, but the rest will get transferred. A reverse osmosis system is slightly more effective, capable of removing about 80 percent of fluoride. Currently, the only commercially viable way to get non-detectable levels of fluoride (in water that is been treated with fluoride) that I know of is using an activated aluminum filtration system. However, I'm not convinced it will remove all volatile compounds…
The real solution is to convince the US to stop water fluoridation altogether, a campaign I'm currently waging together with the Fluoride Action Network. I urge you to join us and get involved at any level you can. If this is a topic that interests you, I would strongly encourage you to sign up for their site as we are shortly going to launch a social networking strategy that will allow you to network with those in your local community so you can initiate the process to have fluoride removed from your water supply. This is clearly the best solution and it will also produce an improvement in the public health of your community, so you would be doing a major service for your uninformed and deceived neighbors.
Why I'm Changing My Stance on Reverse Osmosis...
I've recommended reverse osmosis (R/O) as the water treatment system of choice for some time now, because I was convinced it was the best solution on the market. It's the system I've used in my own home, primarily to reduce the salt content of my water as I had initially installed a water softener. However, lately I've begun to rethink my stance on reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis, like distillation, creates fairly acidic water, and it also strips the water of minerals. Additionally, some contend that R/O destabilized the structure of the water, and the system has other drawbacks as well.
It's expensive, and it wastes water. According to Houston, depending on the system it can use anywhere between two to 10 gallons of water to produce one gallon of drinking water. Another concern is that most of the systems have a holding tank that must be cleaned out regularly to prevent growth of bacteria. Still, R/O has certain benefits, and there are ways to circumvent some of its drawbacks.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Reverse Osmosis
On the plus side, R/O is excellent for removing all sorts of contaminants, including herbicides, pesticides, lead, fluoride, disinfection byproducts (DBP's) and even all but the smallest viruses or protozoan cysts. Some hormones will slip through, but overall, it does a remarkable job of filtering out some of the absolute worst water contaminants. It does, however, also create water that is both slightly acidic and demineralized. One way to ameliorate this is to re-introduce minerals to the water. I add about ¼ teaspoon of Himalayan salt per gallon of water to compensate for the minerals lost.
To restructure the water, you can store it in a large round glass jar. Before placing it in the fridge, create a vortex in the container using a large mixing spoon. I believe this restructures the water closer to its natural state, and if nothing else it helps aerate it. There are vortex machines that you can purchase for $400-500 but they use electric motors and I don't believe they do a much better job than merely swirling the water around with a spoon. Keeping it cold, around 39 degrees Fahrenheit, also greatly helps to impart the natural restructure back to the water.
Prior to using my current whole house carbon-based water filtration system I used R/O to purify my water. I still use R/O when I travel in the winter, but I put the filtered water into glass jug rather than a metal holding tank. I also use it as the final stage in my whole house system to remove any possible contamination that occurs in the water after the purified water leaves the filter and travels through the pipes.
Aim for Living Water
In the end, what you want is pure, clean, well-balanced water that is neither too alkaline nor too acidic. Ideally, the pH of your water should be close to 7, which is neutral. Somewhere between 6.5 to 7.5 is likely fine. Some of the mountain springs have water in the 6.5 pH range, which would be my preference if it were readily available. You CAN actually collect your own water from natural springs, and if this is something that interests you, take a look at FindaSpring.com. Natural spring water is "living water," in the same way that raw food is "living food" which is why it's some of the most healthful water on the planet.
As for tweaking your body's pH, I don't recommend going overboard in either direction by drinking either alkaline or distilled water. Most people simply need to normalize their pH because their diet has already made them unbalanced. A great way to normalize your pH naturally is by juicing vegetables. You can't find higher quality living water than that extracted from fresh veggies! If this is new to you and you are interested in more information you can review my juicing manual for free.
- [i] F. Kozisek (2004) "Health risks from drinking demineralized water (draft for review and not for citation)" World Health Organization