Water: essential for life

Gregory W. Peterson


Socrates is credited to have said, “Water brings life; life needs water.” How right he was. Every function of the body is dependent in some way upon water. Hormones, nutrients, brain and neurotransmitters all need water for the manufacture, transportation, and utilization of nutrients in every cell, organ, and system. Without food most of us would perish in approximately 50 days if we have adequate water. Without water we might make it 10 days or so; that’s about it. Only our need for air outranks water.

Our bodies need a continuous supply of pure water to maintain the delicate balance which sustains life. By weight our body is about 72% water, another 8% is a combination of chemical compounds, and the remaining 20% is bone and solid tissue. Our blood is approximately 90% water, our brains consist of 85% water. Water is vitally important to our well-being. Since our bodies are primarily water, it only makes sense that the quality of the water we consume will have a very dramatic impact on our overall state of health. Every healing and life-giving process that happens in our body needs water!

Water has numerous roles that it plays in our bodily functions:

1) Solvent: In chemistry water is known as the universal solvent; in the body it serves the same role. It provides the basis for all the body’s chemical processes.

2) Transportation: Water circulates throughout the body as blood, lymph, cerebral spinal fluid, etc. In these fluids nutrients like oxygen, vitamins, and minerals flow to the cells while waste products like metabolites and C[O.sub.2] are carried away in water-based fluids.

3) Regulation of Temperature and pH: When the body temperature rises due to exercise or other exertion water is lost as sweat this serves as a coolant to the body. Water also helps the body maintain delicate pH balances. The blood absolutely needs to be maintained at a pH between 7.3 and 7.4.

4) Volume and Mass: Water helps to give cells shape by providing the fluid for extracellular fluids (the fluid between cells) and intracellular fluids (fluid within the cell). The intracellular fluid accounts for approximately 40% of the total body weight.

5) Lubrication: Water acts as a lubricant in a number of different ways. For example, in a joint it forms synovial fluid; in the lungs it helps with breathing by forming surfactant.

Water and the Human Body

In 1994, a medical doctor named Batmanghelidj wrote a very thought-provoking book, Your Body’s Many Cries for Water. In it he makes the claim that most of modern present-day diseases are the end result of dehydration or inadequate water intake. He goes on to provide dozens of case studies to support his theory quite convincingly. If you have not read the book, I encourage you to do so. It will change the way you look at your water consumption.

Many of today’s ailments and illnesses can be prevented and possibly even cured with an increased intake of healthy water. According to Dr. Batmanghelidj, arthritis, asthma, back pain, fatigue, headaches, hypertension, morning sickness, and ulcers all benefit, and in many cases can be prevented, by regulating the body’s natural fluid levels. Recently there has been a dramatic swing in medical theory and a long overdue realization about “healing.” The best way to prevent, treat, and often cure illness is to give our body the right tools, and let it go to work. With the proper intake of healthy water and the right minerals and nutrients, our body can overcome almost anything.

How Much Water Is Needed?

How much water one should drink is open to a vast difference of opinion. There really is no iron-clad formula. For example, a 5-foot, 2-inch female working indoors is certainly going to have a different requirement than a 6-foot, 3-inch male doing construction. A basic rule of thumb: Drink pure water whenever thirsty!

The Institute of Medicine released an erroneous report a couple of years ago that stated as long as the substance contained water, it counted as water intake. However, once the chemical structure is altered such as in coffee, tea, juice, or soda pop, the water loses its ability to be used in its vital roles. Thus coffee, tea, juice, and certainly soda pop do not count as a beneficial intake to maintain fluid balances. Is it any wonder so many of your friends or family might be suffering from very preventable illnesses?

As a general guideline, drink two 8-ounce glasses of water before breakfast, and a glass of water about 30 minutes before lunch and supper. Drink an additional couple of glasses between meals and a glass before bed. It is advisable to increase water intake during periods of exertion, stress, or when air temperatures are warmer and drier. Pay attention to your body signals and you will become more aware of your need.

Quality of Our Water Supply

A Harris Interactive poll, published in October 2005, found that Americans rank water pollution as the number one environmental concern facing the country, topping global warming, ozone depletion, and air pollution. And yet we find a deep chasm between what people care about and what those in position to improve the situation are willing to act upon.

The 2000 EPA Toxic Release Inventory revealed that major into the water and air. Anyone care to guess how many pounds were not reported?

The causes of water contamination are numerous and range from agricultural runoff to improper use of industrial and household chemicals, and everything in between. There are currently over 100,000 different chemical compounds with potentially harmful health effects in our environment. While they have offered added convenience and perceived productivity in our lives, they have also come at a tremendous price, one being a drastic increase in degenerative diseases. In the early 1900s, before chlorine, rocket fuel, pesticides, herbicides, and the tens of thousands of other chemicals to which we have been exposed, the average person had a one in 50 chance of getting cancer. Today one in three can expect to get cancer in their lifetime, and one out of every two men can look forward to cancer.

In an important recent study led by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, researchers found that after testing 210 toxic chemicals, the average participant in the study group had 91 industrial compounds, chemicals, and pollutants in their urine and blood. Even the test subject with the fewest pollutants had 77 industrial pollutants in their body. Most of the people in the study did not live near major industrial polluters.

It is evident from this study that no matter how diligent we are to live in a “clean” environment, it is next to impossible to accomplish. That does not mean, however, that you need to throw in the towel and forget about striving to be healthy. That does not mean that we should not be concerned and try to push for stricter standards and a cleaner environment. We need to avoid the harmful things in life that we can while not being overly obsessive about the things we cannot change.

Quality of Tap Water

According to another Environmental Working Group report, analysis of municipal tap water from 42 states validates the public’s concern about tap water. They found that between 1998 and 2003, municipal water suppliers collectively identified the following in treated tap water: 166 industrial chemicals from factory waste and consumer products; 44 pollutants that are byproducts of the water treatment process or that leach from pipes and storage tanks; 83 agricultural pollutants, including pesticides and chemicals from fertilizer- and manure-laden runoff; and 59 contaminants linked to sprawl and urban areas from polluted runoff and wastewater treatment plants.

Industrial Chemicals in Tap Water: EWG’s analysis of municipal water suppliers’ tap water test results shows that the water was contaminated with 166 industrial pollutants including solvents, plasticizers, and propellants. This is the municipal tap water of more than 210 million people in 42 states. Fifty-six percent of those people were provided water with one or more industrial contaminants present at levels above non-enforceable, health-based limits. It is important to note that 94 of the industrial chemicals detected are unregulated, and there is no legal or health-based limit set for municipal tap water.

Chemicals from Sprawl and Urban Areas: EWG’s analysis shows that the water was contaminated with 59 pollutants linked to sprawl and urban areas, also including plasticizers, solvents, and propellants. This represents over 202 million people in 42 states, and 53% of those individuals were provided with water that contained one or more of these contaminants present at levels above non-enforceable, health-based limits. According to the US Council of Environmental Quality, “Cancer risk among people drinking chlorinated water is 93% higher than among those whose water does not contain chlorine.” Forty-one of the urban and sprawl chemicals detected in tap water are unregulated with no legal or health-based limit set for municipal tap water.

Agricultural Chemicals in Tap Water: According to EWG’s analysis, 83 agricultural pollutants were found, including pesticides and fertilizer ingredients. This water was provided to more than 201 million people in 41 states, and 15% of those people were served water with one or more agricultural contaminants present at levels above non-enforceable, health-based limits. Fifty-four of the agricultural chemicals detected in tap water are unregulated, and there is no legal or health-based limit set for municipal tap water.

Quality of Well Water

If at you think you are safe because you have your own well, you had better think again. There are some water issues specific to wells. In a five-year national survey of nitrate and pesticides (NPS) in drinking water wells, 10 million rural domestic wells were studied. The results showed that nitrate was detected in 57%, pesticides in 4%, and both in 3%. A variety of potentially carcinogenic chemicals used in industry, business, or households could also endanger the safety of drinking water obtained from wells.

Bacteria and Nitrates: These pollutants are found in human and animal wastes. Septic tanks can cause bacterial and nitrate pollution, as can large numbers of farm animals. Both septic systems and animal manure must be carefully managed to prevent pollution. Sanitary landfills and garbage dumps are also sources of contamination. Children and some adults are at extra risk when exposed to water-born bacteria. These include the elderly and people whose immune systems are weak. Nitrates cause a health threat in very young infants called “blue baby” syndrome. This condition disrupts oxygen flow in the blood.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs): The number of CAFOs, often called factory farms, is growing. On these farms thousands of animals are raised in small spaces. The large amounts of animal waste/manure from these farms can threaten water supplies. Strict and careful manure management is needed to prevent pathogen and nutrient problems. Salts from high levels of manure can also pollute ground water.

Heavy Metals: Activities such as mining and construction can release large amounts of heavy metals into nearby ground water sources. Some older fruit orchards may contain high levels of arsenic, which was once used as a pesticide. At high levels, these metals pose a health risk.

Fertilizers and Pesticides: Farmers use fertilizers and pesticides to promote growth and reduce insect damage. These products are also used on golf courses, suburban lawns, and gardens. The chemicals in these products may end up in ground water. Such pollution depends on the types and amounts of chemicals used and how they are applied. Local environmental conditions (soil types, seasonal snow, and rainfall) also affect this pollution. Many fertilizers contain forms of nitrogen that can break down into harmful nitrates. Some underground agricultural drainage systems collect fertilizers and pesticides. This polluted water can pose problems to ground water, local streams, and rivers. The types of soil and the amount of water moving through the soil also play a role.

Household Wastes: Improper disposal of many common products can pollute ground water. These include cleaning solvents, used motor oil, paints, and paint thinners. Even soaps and detergents can harm drinking water. These problems are often found in faulty septic tanks and septic leaching fields.

What Water Should One Drink?

“Is tap water safe to drink?” “How safe is my well water?” These are questions asked by many individuals. Unfortunately, a simple “yes” or “no” is not possible, given variables including the water source, industrial and environmental factors, and water treatment processes.

Which water is healthiest: bottled, reverse osmosis, distilled, or filtered? The choice to be made is simply which product produces the healthiest water and represents the best value for your unique situation. Quality home water filtration can offer significantly purer water than municipal, well, or bottled water.

Bottled Water: According to an independent study entitled, “Bottled water: Understanding a social phenomenon,” the conservation organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is recommending we drink tap water rather than bottled water. Their findings state that bottled water, while selling at upwards of 1,000 times the price, may be no safer or healthier than tap water in many countries. Yet, it is the fastest growing drink industry in the world and is estimated to be worth $22 billion in the US annually.

The study reveals that the bottled water market is partly fueled by concerns over the safety of municipal water and by the marketing of many brands that portray themselves as being drawn from pristine sources and healthier than tap water. However, some bottled waters only differ from tap water in the fact that they are distributed in bottles rather than through pipes. The study also finds that every year 1.5 million tons of plastic are used to bottle this water. Chemicals leaching from plastic containers present another problem. Furthermore, toxic chemicals are released into the environment during the manufacture and disposal of the bottles.

“Bottled water isn’t a long-term, sustainable solution to securing access to healthy water,” said Richard Holland in the WWF bottled water article. “Clean water is a basic right. Protecting our rivers, streams, and wetlands will help ensure that tap water remains a service which delivers good quality drinking water for everyone at a fair price.”

My own recommendations have changed as a result of this study. In most cases I personally believe bottled water is healthier despite the chemical leaching from the plastic. However, I am not sure that it is worth the burden it places on the environment in the manufacture and disposal of all those plastic bottles.

Reverse Osmosis: Reverse osmosis was developed as a water treatment method more than 40 years ago. The process first arose as a way to make sea water drinkable. Once the method’s decontaminating capabilities were recognized, reverse osmosis systems began to be commercially produced for home water purification purposes. At first, reverse osmosis units seemed like a viable option to the more costly and energy-wasteful distillation units.

Reverse osmosis is a process that uses water pressure to push water through a semi-permeable membrane with a very fine pore structure. Because most inorganic contaminants are of a larger molecular size than water, the membrane rejects certain contaminants, minerals, and a large part of the water. Municipal tap water contains contaminants such as chlorine and volatile organic chemicals (VOC). Because these contaminants are smaller in size than water, the semi-permeable membrane does not prevent them from passing through with the water; thus, they remain in drinking water. Reverse osmosis does remove some chemical components of drinking water, including fluoride.

The portion of water that passes through the membrane is stripped of inorganic compounds and trace minerals. Reverse osmosis, also, by removing alkaline mineral constituents of water, produces acidic water. Acidic water can be harmful to your body; it causes calcium and other essential minerals to be stripped from bones and teeth in order to neutralize its acidity. Because reverse osmosis units produce less than one gallon per hour, they require a way to store the water. Reverse osmosis typically wastes 2-3 gallons of water for every gallon it produces.

Distillation: Although it has primarily been employed as a method of producing alcoholic beverages like whisky and vodka, distillation also works as a technique of water purification. The process of distillation has been around for a long time, and in the 1970s became a popular home water purification method.

The distillation process requires an energy-consuming heat source to vaporize the water. The object of distillation is to separate pure water molecules from the contaminants which have a higher boiling point than water. The evaporated water is captured and guided through a system of tubes to another container. Finally, when removed from the heat source, the steam condenses back into its original liquid form. Contaminants having a higher boiling point than water remain in the original container. This process removes most minerals, most bacteria and viruses, and any chemicals which have a higher boiling point than water from drinking water. For this reason, distillation is sometimes valued as a method of obtaining pure drinking water.

Distillation, similar to reverse osmosis, provides mineral-free water frequently used in laboratories which require mineral-free water. It removes heavy metal materials like lead, arsenic, and mercury from water as well as hardening agents like calcium and phosphorous. Distillation is often used as a water purification method in developing nations, or areas where the risk of water-borne disease is high, due to its ability to remove bacteria and viruses from drinking water.

Even though the distillation processes removes bacteria and mineral contaminants, it does not remove chlorine, chlorine byproducts, or VOCs. These chemicals, which have a lower boiling point than water, are the major contaminants of municipal water. Since most bacteria and heavy metals are removed by municipal water systems, a distillation system is unnecessary and not useful for most individuals.

Distillation, like reverse osmosis, provides mineral-free water which can be quite harmful to your health when ingested, due to its acidity. Acidic drinking water strips bones and teeth of valuable and essential mineral constituents and is also associated with increased cancer rates.

Furthermore, distillation is an incredibly wasteful process. Typically, 80% of the water is discarded with the contaminants, leaving only one gallon of purified water for every five gallons treated.

Filtration: Water filtration dates back to ancient Greece where they made a simple filter from cloth called a Hippocratic sleeve. Today’s filtration methods include complex carbon blocks and multimedia water filters, which are quite efficient at reducing and removing a wide range of contaminants very cost-effectively.

The filtration process involves some type of filter media, over which water flows. Carbon block and granulated carbon filters are the most effective and popular systems. Modern filtration technology allows water filters to remove more and more contaminants through a chemical process of adsorption. In the adsorption process, contaminants are encouraged to break their bond with the water molecules and chemically adhere to the filter media.

Generally, water goes through several stages of filtration to ensure that each filter media will remove the ultimate number of contaminants including VOCs, THM, and fluoride as well as chlorine-resistant protozoa. Water normally passes through a water filter at a relatively low speed, in order to ensure adequate contact time with the filter media. Once the water has passed through the required stages of filtration, it emerges as pure drinking water, free from contamination.

Unlike reverse osmosis and distillation, water filters are not limited in the size or the type of contaminants they can remove. Thus, water filters are able to remove far more contaminants than any other purification method. Also, because they use the chemical adsorption process, water filters can selectively retain healthy trace minerals in drinking water.

Filtration is the only one of the four discussed water purification methods that is capable of removing chlorine, chlorine byproducts, fluoride and VOCs from drinking water. These are some of the most dangerous and threatening contaminants of municipally treated drinking water. Besides the removal of these dangerous chemicals, water filters also extract from drinking water the chlorine-resistant protozoa, Giardia and cryptosporidium. These protozoa have plagued the municipal water treatment industry for decades and have caused a number of epidemics of severe gastrointestinal disease contracted through drinking contaminated water.

Water filters, because they do not require the costly energy sources of reverse osmosis and distillation, provide a source of relatively inexpensive, purified water. Also, water filters waste very little water, as compared to reverse osmosis and distillation systems. Water filtration is also beneficial for private wells as they do not require high water pressure. Additional filters can be added that target nitrates, arsenic, and coliform bacteria. Water filters are therefore a good choice for private and municipal water supplies.

When considering the benefits of home water purification products over tap and bottled water, remember there are no bad systems. Any water purifier is better than no purifier. It becomes a question of how safe do you want to be, and what are you willing to spend. Once we understand the uncertainties of municipal and well water, as well as the uncertainties of bottled water, home water filtration is obviously the best choice.

Types of Filters

In recent years pitcher- and carafe-style filters have emerged as low-cost alternatives to bottled water. Keeping in mind that any filter is better than no filter, these products are by far the least effective and the most costly to use. Pitchers and carafe filters are sold on the “Polaroid principal”–sell the camera cheap and make it up on the film sales. The result is the same with the pour-through pitcher filters–lower quality at a higher price. The average pitcher filter sells for around $25 and includes one 30-gallon filter cartridge. Because of the small size of these cartridges they have a very limited level of effectiveness and a low capacity. While pour-through filters do offer a slightly improved alternative to tap water, they by no means can offer the quality.


Let me remind you of the water basics. Your primary beverage should be water. Try to have at least eight glasses of water a day, and it would be best to have the water at room temperature. The choice to be made is simply which product produces the healthiest water and represents the best value. Quality home water filtration can offer significantly purer water than tap or bottled water.

About The Author

Gregory Peterson, DC, DABCI, FIACA, FIAMA, CCST earned his doctor of chiropractic degree from Northwestern University of Health Sciences University in Bloomington, MN in 1985. He has continued intensive postgraduate studies with a number of the most prominent holistic practitioners in the US and UK. He founded the Center for Natural Medicine in Winona, MN in 1997.

He has made the pursuit of knowledge to provide the best available Care his mission. Patients from around the country seek Dr. Peterson’s health recommendations for regaining and maintain health; effectively, safely and of course–naturally!

by Gregory W. Peterson, DC, DABCI, FIAMA, CCST

COPYRIGHT 2008 Original Internist, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

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