Here‚??s a question I often hear from my patients: what‚??s one simple thing I can do to improve my health? My answer used to be, “Drink more water.” Then I spent some time researching the topic and discovered that much of our water supply is filled with things that should not be there, things like: bacteria and other microscopic critters; heavy metals; pesticide residues; various drugs that have entered the water after passing through other people‚??s bodies; and a long list of chemicals, such as chlorine, used to ‚??sanitize‚?Ě the water, and fluoride, supposedly to prevent tooth decay.
I don‚??t know about you, but personally I‚??d rather not get a big dose of someone else‚??s medication or swallow poisons used to eliminate agricultural pests in my glass of water. Let‚??s be clear about one thing ‚?? there is NO SAFE LEVEL of many of these contaminants.
So now my answer to people who want to know one simple thing they can do to improve their health is this: drink more pure, fresh, filtered water ‚?? and filter your shower and bath water, too.
What‚??s Happened To Our Water
The Safe Drinking Water Act became law back in 1974, with a goal of providing minimum safety standards across the nation. Municipal water suppliers test and treat area water to make sure it meets those standards. But I‚??ve spoken to many people who insist their local water is undrinkable, either due to odor, bad taste, cloudiness, or other factors, even though their city water officials claim it‚??s fine.
Part of the problem could be that so much municipal water is treated with chlorine to kill bacteria and parasites, while fluoride is added to protect against tooth decay. Both chlorine, the same chemical used to clean swimming pools, and fluoride are highly toxic themselves, especially in large quantities. So if you‚??re considering investing in a water filter, be sure to get one that removes chlorine and fluoride.
Even if your city‚??s water seems clean, don‚??t forget that plumbing plays a role here, too. Older homes may have lead pipes that leach lead into water, and lead poisoning is a very real possibility. Symptoms of lead poisoning in adults include:
- High blood pressure
- Kidney ailments
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Personality changes
- Muscle and/or joint pain
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- Problems with memory, concentration, and difficulty thinking
While there are still homes with lead in the plumbing, since the mid-1980s most homes have been built using plastic pipes, such as PEX or PVC, as well as galvanized metal or copper. While these won‚??t leach lead, they can still be dangerous to your health. Galvanized metal pipes can contaminate water with cadmium, an extremely toxic metal. Health consequences from the plastic PEX or PVC pipes are still being debated, although it is known that water passing through this type of plumbing often tastes like plastic. Meanwhile, copper has been linked to Alzheimer‚??s disease. So, until we know more about these issues, you should not assume that water traveling through new plumbing pipes is free of unwanted substances.
Remember, too, that the annual report you get from your local water company refers only to the water coming into your home. If you want to know the condition of the water after it travels through your plumbing system, you will need to have it tested privately. (Check the phonebook or look online for a water testing service in your area. You can also purchase a home testing kit by e-mailing my Center for New Medicine.)
Then there‚??s water from wells. Once, these mostly rural options might have tapped into fresh, pure aquifers beneath the surface. But these days so many rural water supplies are contaminated with agricultural run-off, including pesticides and animal waste, or by-products from fracking. As a result, I now recommend that anyone whose water comes from a well either look into a water filter or have the WATER TESTED, since it may require treatment. As always, it‚??s better to be safe than sorry.
Given all these concerns, why am I still recommending water as a healthful substance? Let me put it this way ‚?? water isn‚??t just a ‚??healthful substance.‚?Ě¬† It‚??s the solution to the pollution you deal with each and every day, helping your body eliminate harmful toxins and chemicals. In other words, sufficient quantities of clean, filtered water is truly a matter of life and death!
Humans can survive for weeks, even months, without food, but we can only live for a few days without water. Our bodies are more than half water (the exact figure is a matter of debate), and our brains are approximately 80 percent water. Clearly, water is essential.
We need water to digest food and remove waste through the kidneys and skin. Water provides cushioning and lubrication for our joints, keeps our skin cells plump, assists delivery of nutrients via the bloodstream, and protects the intestinal tract lining from damage by enzymes that digest food. Water plays a role in breathing, body temperature management, brain functions, and a long list of other processes. In short, we need water ‚?? and plenty of it ‚?? to maintain good health.
How Much Is Enough?
The standard recommendation is to drink eight glasses of water daily. But this one-size-fits-all recommendation doesn‚??t allow for individual differences. So I tell my patients to drink the equivalent of half their weight in ounces of water daily. In other words, if you weigh 160 pounds, you should be drinking 80 ounces of water everyday. Eighty ounces is 10 eight-ounce glasses.
In addition, consider any individual factors that might make a difference in your water intake. Certain medications, such as antihistamines, can be dehydrating, as can hot, dry weather or an overheated environment, intense workouts, beverages containing alcohol or caffeine, and a high-salt diet. Without extra water to make up for these situations, you run the risk of dehydration, and that is not good.
Symptoms of dehydration include:
- Achy or¬†painful joints
- Difficulties with ordinary mental tasks
- Faster-than-normal heart rate
- Decreased urine output
- Thirst or dry mouth.
One way to make certain you get sufficient water is by starting each day by drinking 22 ounces of fresh water first thing in the morning. While sleeping, your body loses water through breathing and perspiration, so that needs to be replenished. In addition, your body detoxifies during sleep, so water helps remove toxins that have accumulated during the nighttime purification process. Starting the day with water is also very energizing.
In addition, drinking plenty of water can significantly reduce the risk of a healthy individual having a fatal heart attack, according to a study of more than 20,000 men and women. Researchers found that drinking five or more glasses of plain water daily is as important as a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and not smoking when it comes to preventing a fatal heart attack.
Dehydration is especially hard on your heart, because it makes blood thicker and harder for your heart to pump blood throughout the body. So simply staying hydrated protects the heart by making its workload lighter.
What‚??s Wrong with Bottled Water?
With all the different varieties of bottled water these days, you may be tempted to purchase these products, especially the ones with added minerals or nutrients, flavorings, dyes, and other ingredients, like sugar and various types of sweeteners. Don‚??t be misled by these colorful, cleverly marketed products.
First, the purity of bottled water is questionable. As much as 40 percent of bottled water is simply municipal tap water that has been filtered or treated with chemicals. Other water is obtained from aquifers or outdoor bodies of water, sources that can be contaminated by agricultural or industrial run-off, petroleum products, pesticides, and other toxins.
Even if bottled water was absolutely pristine, I am concerned about the plastic containers. Chemicals from the plastic can leach into water, as a study from the Harvard School of Public Health demonstrated. For one week, study participants drank water from standard plastic (polycarbonate) bottles. At the end of the week, scientists found a shocking two-thirds increase in the concentration of a chemical known as bisphenol A (BPA) in the participants‚?? urine.
BPA has been linked to heart disease and diabetes, and it also increases levels of circulating estrogen in the body. That may not sound dangerous, but high levels of estrogen have been linked to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
So where do you get fresh, clean water? I highly recommend a home water filter so you can use pure water for cooking and drinking, as well as washing fruits and veggies. Need to take water with you? Purchase a reusable glass or stainless steel water bottle.
Finally, if you think plain old water is too boring, try adding a wedge of citrus fruit, ginger root slices, a small chunk or two of watermelon, or some cucumber slices. You‚??ll be getting real nutrients instead of sugar or artificial colors and flavors. And don‚??t forget, adding citrus to your water is an easy way to help reduce acidity.
If you‚??re ready to turn your health around, simply upgrading the type of water you drink is an excellent place to begin. You‚??ll not only feel better when you‚??re properly hydrated, but with control over the purity of your water, you won‚??t have to worry about you or your family consuming any of the nasty bugs or other pollutants that can affect your health. And that sense of security is a feeling money can‚??t buy.