That we should drink water at regular intervals throughout the day is a given, but with so many options, it can be difficult to know which is the best type. Will plain old tap water suffice or should we opt for bottled, filtered, ionised or electrolyte-rich?
What about alkaline water, artesian water, glacial meltwater or the sort passed at high pressure through a reverse osmosis system? Stroll through any major health store and you’ll be taken aback by the sheer diversity of choice. Is it a simple case of brands vying for market domination or does water, like food, depend on many factors to achieve true quality?
The Truth About Tap Water
In the western world, we’re fortunate to be able to turn on the tap and access unlimited water. However, many would question whether tap water is ultimately healthy. It may be deemed safe to drink by the World Health Organisation and other professional authorities, but ‘safe’ and ‘healthy’ are two different things.
Given that it is treated with a large number of chemicals to kill bacteria and other pesky microorganisms, water running off the mains supply is vastly different to the sort found in nature – the kind found in springs and mountain streams which is rich in naturally-occurring minerals.
We have written before about the elements which can make their way into our water, from oestradiol, ACE inhibitors and lead traces to antibiotics, antidepressants and beta-blockers, so we’ll forego raking over old ground. Suffice to say that, with over 300 man-made chemicals having at some point been detected in British tap water, better options are available.
This is particularly the case if your tap water is fluoridated: about 10% of the UK population receive fluoridated water, including Cumbria, Cheshire, Tyneside, Northumbria, Durham, the West Midlands and most of Ireland. Indeed, many people now use a filter to eliminate not only fluoride but hardness, chlorine and other potentially dangerous toxins.
Although we’d applaud such a move, many filters leave water deficient in beneficial trace minerals which, among other things, are vital to cellular metabolism, growth and vitality.
Clearly the question of which water is healthiest is more complex than most realise!
Healthy Water: Assessing the Options
In our view water should be clean, free of toxins and particulates, and properly structured. We’ll get on to our recommendations shortly, but for the moment let’s look at the main alternatives to tap water.
Whether it stems from concern about tap water or a fondness for its crisper, cleaner flavour, bottled water is hugely popular.
The UK bottled water market is worth £2.4 billion and has grown year-on-year since 2012. Total bottled water production stood at over 2,700 million litres last year. It’s no different in America, where consumers shell out $16 billion annually.
It’s difficult to make a sweeping judgement about bottled water, since there are many different kinds: mineral, spring, artesian, well water etc. Well water and artesian water originate underground, spring water comes from surface water and mineral water – which accounts for the lion’s share (45%) of the UK market – comes from natural springs rich in minerals like salt and sulfur compounds.
If you’re opting for bottled water, always check the label to find the source and scrutinise the mineral content. Don’t be duped by buzzwords like ‘mountain’ and ‘glacier’, as these are often little more than marketing ploys. Some bottled water actually derives from tap water which is treated/filtered prior to packaging.
Of course, there’s more to water than mineral content. Some studies have shown that plastic bottles leach chemicals into the water, and that the longer water sits inside a bottle, the higher the concentration of particular chemicals. The WWF goes so far as to insist that ‘there are more standards regulating tap water than those applied to the bottled water industry.’
The environmental impact, meanwhile, is huge; as well as being resource-intensive plastic bottles take over 1,000 years to biodegrade and, if incinerated, produce toxic fumes. We can’t, with any good faith, say that bottled water is advisable – although if you’re still bound and determined, go with glass, not plastic.
So vigorous is its filtration process that distilled water is stripped not only of impurities but also any natural minerals and electrolytes it contains. Distilled water is made from the steam of boiling water. The process of boiling and evaporation produces water which has a cleaner, though also flatter, taste – similar, really, to that which undergoes the process of reverse osmosis or deionisation.
Distillation is a somewhat outdated method of water purification, as better systems have come into being over the last 10-15 years. Since it is devoid of minerals, distilled water cannot replace those lost through sweat. It also has a more acidic pH (around 7.0), which is definitely not optimal for the body.
In spite of this, some people still claim distilled water is ‘pure’ and has a cleansing effect. Certainly it's one way of avoiding harmful environmental chemicals and waterborne pathogens.
The popularity of alkaline water has soared in recent years, though it’s been in vogue throughout Asia for a lot longer. Alkaline water is engineered to have a higher pH than tap or bottled water, sitting anywhere between 7.5 and 10 (7 is neutral). It's also a fertile source of potassium, calcium, magnesium, silica and bicarbonate.
Drinking water with an alkaline pH has many benefits. It has been variously shown to relieve acid and pepsin-related conditions, improve mineral retention and optimise post-exercise hydration. Most of the goodness stems from the water’s acid-buffering capacity, although it also has powerful antioxidant properties which help counteract oxidative stress.
There are a few ways of procuring alkaline water; you can buy it pre-bottled from a health store (the least environmentally-friendly option) or use a filter device such as the Biocera Alkaline Antioxidant Jug.
The jug uses combinations of natural bioceramic minerals to alkalise water added to it, elevating the pH from 7.5 to 9.5. A measure of filtration is also achieved, as the bioceramics help to reduce chlorine and heavy metals.
Reverse Osmosis Water
Like distilled water, reverse osmosis water is usually referred to as ‘purified’: it is forced through membranes which remove particulates and pollutants. However, in our view it is little more than pure, dead water.
One problem with this type of water, aside from the fact that it’s demineralised (which leads to increased elimination of minerals from the body), is that it doesn’t hydrate as well as others. Since we ostensibly drink water to hydrate our cells, it begs the question: why would you choose RO water over other kinds?
Another note to add to the ‘Cons’ column: the water's usually acidic. Drinking acidic water will hamper our ability to maintain a healthy pH balance in the blood. Lastly, RO systems can be expensive to install. Again, you can get far better water than the kind that runs through a costly reverse osmosis machine.
We’ve saved the best till last. Hydrogen water, or hydrogen-rich water, is in our view the best drinking water in the world. But what the hell is hydrogen water, we hear you ask.
In simple terms, it is water which contains dissolved hydrogen gas (molecular hydrogen). Hydrogen water has been subject to plenty of research in the Far East (indeed, it has been drunk in Japan since the '60s) and the results are frankly incredible.
Not only can hydrogen-rich water increase energy and improve recovery but it can combat inflammation and neutralise oxygen free radicals. While more human trials are needed (thus far, most studies have been on mice), the buzz around molecular hydrogen is entirely justified, with over 500 peer-reviewed studies demonstrating its therapeutic potential.
One person who's convinced by the science is Dr. Nicholas Perricone, a world-renowned healthy aging expert, who goes as far as to say he believes "we'll reduce health-care costs by a third when people start drinking hydrogen water."
A bold claim, to be sure, but one which doesn't seem quite so surprising when you start digging into the literature.
One 2010 study in particular showed that when 20 overweight subjects with signs of metabolic syndrome drank 2 litres of hydrogen water per day for a period of eight weeks they experienced a 39% increase in an enzyme that protects the body against free radicals. They also enjoyed a 43% reduction in thiobarbituric acid (an organic compound linked to oxidative damage) and a 13% drop in total cholesterol.
Who would've thought drinking two litres of hydrogen-rich water could do so much?
You can buy this new-age wellness water ready-to-drink in cans or pouches, purchase a hydrogen water machine (warning: you'll need deep pockets) or source a filter which stimulates the release of H2. One such device is the Energy Plus. The four-stage undersink filter gives water which can be classed as:
• Purified water
• Alkaline antioxidant water
• Mineral-rich water
• Hydrogen water
The Energy Plus Water Filter fits neatly under your sink, letting you obtain water straight from the faucet. As well as being able to remove fluoride, heavy metals and organic contaminants, the advanced filter infuses the water with calcium, magnesium and potassium.
It has been extensively tested by the University of Edinburgh’s Engineering Department, who confirmed its ability to elevate water pH to between 8.5 and 9.5 and remove a number of common contaminants, including oestradiol.
The water also benefits from antioxidant properties thanks to the bioceramic mineral balls used in the third filter cartridge. It is these bioceramics which stimulate the release of molecular hydrogen.
The water produced by the Energy Plus fulfils all the criteria, then, of ‘good’ water: free of impurities, alkaline, rich in beneficial minerals and molecular hydrogen. The perfect way to hydrate.
Of course, whatever water you choose to drink, the worst outcome is dehydration: make sure you imbibe 8-10 glasses per day, and always limit your consumption of carbonated beverages. Water is essential to a healthy lifestyle, after all.