Water is a vital element for good health and drinking plenty of water - eight glasses a day recommended by many health practitioners - is an important part of any health regimen. Drinking clean water aids digestion, oxygen delivery, removal of toxins and waste products, and body temperature regulation; and it improves immune function and the generation of cellular energy. Access to clean drinking water however is a problem for many people.
Prior to the advent of water treatment human populations suffered from epidemics of waterborne diarrheal diseases like typhoid fever and cholera and this still true today in third world countries. Water purification plants typically use some kind of chlorination process to kill harmful micro-organisams. This process results in the creation of disinfection by-products called trihalomethanes and haoloacetic acids that are carcinogenic in large quantities and therefore may be harmful to one's health. In addition fluoride is a common additive in municipal water systems that poses serious health risks, and water supplies are becoming increasingly contaminated with trace amounts of pharmaceutical, agricultural and industrial waste. The safety of public water supplies is regulated in the United States by the Environmental Protection Agency which establishes maximum contaminant levels but many groups focused on health and the environmental think that these levels are too high. People who live in rural areas drink well water which makes them personally responsible for overseeing water quality. A good company that offers home drinking water testing is National Testing Laboratories. http://www.watercheck.com/
Concern over the safety of public water supplies has prompted many consumers to buy bottled water but this is an unacceptable alternative that is contributing to a huge amount of environmental waste in plastic bottles and energy. Furthermore bottled water is outrageously expensive and is not necessarily any better than tap water.
The Environmental Work Group is an excellent resource on safe drinking water and research. www.ewg.org . They recommend drinking filtered tap water and have a Water Filter Buying Guide with information on how to choose the best system for home use. There are a large number of models available including pour through pitchers, faucet-mounted, countertop, and under the sink devices. Most employ some kind of carbon filter that traps contaminants.
Reverse Osmosis is a separation process system that uses osmotic pressure to force water through a synthetic permeable membrane. This system is used for desalination of sea water on ships and in places that do no have access to fresh water. Home reverse osmosis systems are expensive to install, require careful monitoring and maintenance, and they waste six gallons to every one gallon produced.
Steam distillation is one of the earliest forms of water purification systems. It uses evaporation and condensation to separate pure fresh water from contaminants. The prolonged boiling process kills all types of microorganisms, removes the widest range of contaminants and produces very pure drinking water. Disadvantages to home distillation systems are that they take time (2-5 hours to produce one gallon) and they use electricity.
Water produced by distillation and reverse osmosis is mineral free. Some people think that his can cause health problems linked to mineral deficiency. The World Health Organization published a paper on health risks from drinking demineralized water. http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/nutdemineralized.pdf This research however remains controversial and other studies contradict its premise. Most of our body's need for minerals are met through eating food and many health practitioners including Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Paul Bragg, and Dr. David Williams think that distilled water is the best quality drinking water.
Various kinds of altered or "improved" drinking waters have entered the market place with claims of improved hydration, health and vitality. These include clustered water, oxygenated water, and alkaline water. Hexagonal or clustered water is supposed to move more freely through cell walls. Oxygenated drinking water which is infused with extra oxygen (35-40% more than ordinary water) is often marketed as a sports performance enhancement drink. Alkaline water is produced by an ionizer machine that separates water through electrolysis into various levels of pH. Drinking water with a high pH level is supposed neutralize acid in your bloodstream and provide many health benefits.
As a person struggling with chronic health conditions I experimented with forms of altered drinking water. I experienced no improvements from drinking clustered water and had an immediate adverse reaction to drinking oxygenated water. I purchased an expensive LeveLuk unit for my home and did a six-week trial of drinking the more alkaline “Kangen” water. My stools became very loose to the point where I was seeing undigested food in them and I had abdominal pain and bloating. Nine months later I repeated the trial drinking a very small amount of Kangen water and increasing the amount slowly. The results were similar. Ingestion of alkalized water dilutes the natural acidity of the digestive tract and can creative or worsen digestive problems. This is particularly true of persons with CFS and many older people who suffer from low stomach acid levels. The truth is that there is no reliable scientific evidence that alkaline, clustered or oxygenated water are beneficial for one's health. My advice is to stay clear of them.
So what is the answer to the water dilemma? Get your water tested and find a good water filter device for your situation. Or alternately find a reputable water company that delivers 5 gallon jugs of water to your house. Fill up a stainless steel bottle of purified water and bring it with you wherever you go. Have a glass of water by your bedside and work place everyday and drink liberally. I personally prefer spring water with some minerals in it because it tastes better. It's my drink of choice and I'm never without it!