Raw Water; Is It Safe To Drink?

A person’s body is about 60 percent water, and drinking water is essential to a healthful diet. However, what types of water a person drinks has become surprisingly controversial. One of the emerging trends in late 2017 and early 2018 is the sale of “raw water.”

Raw water is unfiltered, unprocessed, or untreated water that is bottled directly from a natural spring.

Some manufacturers are selling this water and marketing it as a safer alternative to chemically treated water, maintaining that their water has natural probiotics that help promote digestion and good health.

However, scientists and government officials have expressed concerns over untreated water. Raw water may be an instance where “natural” is not necessarily better. It may also be true that raw water does not offer distinct health benefits over a healthful diet that includes drinking tap or bottled water.

Fast facts on raw water:

  • Bottled water must meet specific standards as determined by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Many water experts do not recommend drinking “raw” water.
  • It is up to consumers to decide the type of water they want to drink.

What are the potential risks of raw water?

Raw water may contain dangerous pathogens.

Sanitation officials and water manufacturers add chemicals to drinking water that comes from the tap or bottles to kill any bacteria and parasites that can naturally occur in water. Examples of these include salmonella, E.Coli and Giardia.

These pathogens can cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and vomiting. The oldest and youngest people are especially at risk for developing illnesses related to these contaminants because their immune system may not be strong enough to fight off the pathogens.

Because it is untreated, raw water may contain some of these pathogens. While raw water retailers are not bottling contaminated water, it is possible for bacteria, parasites, chemicals, and other pathogens to be in the water.

Potential benefits of raw water

Supporters of raw water believe that sterilizing and purifying water with chemicals destroys the natural minerals and probiotics present in water.

They believe that by drinking raw water, a person can live a healthier life with improved digestion.

Those who advocate the use of raw water believe that it contains more electrolytes and minerals than bottled water, including:

  • calcium
  • copper
  • lithium
  • magnesium
  • potassium
  • silica
  • sodium

Supporters also claim that raw water is “alkaline water.” According to its proponents, alkaline water acts as an antioxidant and reduces inflammatory cell damage from oxidation. However, according to the Cleveland Clinic, no current studies exist that support the health and wellness benefits of alkaline water over more acidic water.

Some people who drink raw water may prefer the taste or the way drinking raw water makes them feel. However, taste is very personal, and there are no studies available to prove whether raw water tastes better or worse than treated water. There is, however, plenty of research on the dangers of drinking untreated water, which may offer more reasons not to drink it than to drink it.

Drinking water safety

Before the development of public water systems and water treatment centers, people living in cities and towns were much more likely to experience water-borne illnesses, such as typhoid and cholera, than they are today. These illnesses spread via untreated drinking water.

Is water treatment safe?

According to Time magazine, most community tap water is treated to remove as many as 91 contaminants.

Many people are concerned about the methods used to treat water. For example, the mineral fluoride has been added to public water supplies for decades as a way to promote dental health. Some people believe excess fluoride levels can cause people to develop conditions, such as thyroid problems and impaired brain functioning.

However, there is no evidence that fluoride is harmful if delivered at the low levels that public systems currently deliver it.

Is it better to drink bottled water?

Some people prefer to drink only bottled water to avoid potential chemicals and because they may think the water is safer than tap water. According to the International Bottled Water Association (ABWA), 12.8 billion gallons of bottled water were sold in the United States in 2016; and American people consume more bottled water than milk, coffee, or tea.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water, including raw water, to an extent. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the FDA sets out the following considerations for bottled water:

  • Meeting standards similar to those the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets for tap water.
  • Bottled water manufacturers must also follow the FDA’s “Good Manufacturing Practices” when producing, bottling, and selling their water.

It can be difficult for consumers to determine whether tap, bottled, or even raw water is safe for them to drink as most of it looks the same, yet it can contain potentially infectious microorganisms.

Although there have been instances where bottled water has led to an outbreak of bacteria-causing illness, the incidences of contaminated drinking water supplies have been few since water treatment began.

Raw water is a fairly new phenomenon and, as such, there is little information to determine whether it can offer any long-term health benefits.

So far, raw water has been a controversial addition to the water market. Not only is raw water a questionable commodity, but it is also expensive, with some 2.5-gallon glass jugs selling for up to $60.99, according to NBC News.

Ultimately, it is up to an individual to decide what sort of water they want to drink. If a person does choose to drink raw water, it is essential they understand the potential dangers that the water may contain, such as infectious microorganisms.

They should also note that the rumored benefits of raw water remain unproven.

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