by William Fryer MA Oxon
Human Scientist & director of www.megahome-distillers.co.uk
More and more people are taking the quality of their drinking water seriously. While it is important to maintain good hydration at all times and although some health gurus suggest you should consume 2+litres per day, in reality, your body’s requirements will alter with size, diet and environment.
The best guide to hydration is the colour of your urine which should be a pale straw colour. The NHS recommends that people in the UK consume an absolute minimum of 1.2 litres per day (about six glasses). Now, when was the last time you looked at what was IN your drinking water?
The water companies do a remarkably good job given the size of their task but all tap water in the UK contains some level of contamination. There are 79 common contaminants in tap water and they contain: micro-organisms, by-products of disinfection, inorganic and organic chemicals.
The precise picture varies across the country. Obviously remote, mountainous areas tend to have cleaner water while major cities tend to have worse water because a lot of it is recycled. While it requires very advanced scientific equipment like mass spectrometers to work out precisely what chemicals are present in a water supply, one way you can get a basic idea is to use a TDS meter.
A TDS meter measures the Total Dissolved Solids, that means it measures the number of molecules of chemicals dissolved in water in parts per million. TDS will not measure biological contamination. Most UK tap water is in the range of 100-500ppm. At 500ppm tap water is contaminated to the extent that it is not fit for human consumption. You can test your own TDS by buying a meter from Amazon, they are cheap to buy.
There are lots of horror stories on the Internet about water contamination, most are quite frankly scaremongering. The biggest contaminant by far is simple Calcium Carbonate (scale) that is present in hard water. The main problem this causes is kidney stones which are, from personal experience, extremely painful. Flouride and chloride ions have also been linked to cancers as have a lot of volatile organic compounds like herbicides, fuel oils and medicines.
With research showing that bottled water is also contaminated by micro-plastics, the case for drinking pure water is growing all the time. When we distil our water at home (in rural Wiltshire) the residue contains a lot of scale alongside a kind of orange liquid that looks like dark urine and smells like emulsion paint.
So which is best: Distiller, Reverse Osmosis, Water Filter or Bottled Water?
Let’s take a quick look at each of these:
Bottled water is convenient but incredibly expensive. The absolute cheapest is about 50p per litre and some bottled water is more expensive than petrol. 90% of bottled water is contaminated by microplastics and most of the minerals in expensive mineral waters are actually those that most humans have too much of.
Water Filters are the cheapest method of water purification, however, they typically only remove Volatile Organic Compounds. VOCs have a strong influence on taste but they do not account for all the contaminants in water. Water filters do a very good job of convincing the user that they are working while only actually removing about 30% of contamination.
Reverse Osmosis is a system where water is pushed through a very, very fine filter. RO water is pretty good, it removes about 90% of contamination but it costs a lot initially to buy and install a system although running costs are lower (around 3p per litre).
Water Distillers are the gold standard for water purification. Water distillers are used in laboratories to produce water that is pure enough to use for medical and scientific purposes. The main downside is convenience. It’s like a big kettle and you do need to fill it up, run it and then clean it out. It is not on tap. They cost a bit more to run, about 9p per litre (still a lot cheaper than bottled), but they are relatively cheap to buy. For example a Megahome distiller, the market leader, costs c. £155. Distillation removes everything except VOCs which is why some distillers come with a carbon filter as the final stage of purification.
What about the minerals?
People get very excited about potentially losing the minerals present in either bottled or tap water. The reality is that human beings get minerals from food, not water. For example, if you used Evian as a mineral source you would have to consume 9 litres per day to meet your Calcium requirements and over 3 cubic metres per day to meet your Potassium requirements. Even if you were able to consume 9 litres you could probably overload your kidneys or run the risk of pushing your body into a hypo-osmotic state and require hospitalisation.
We get minerals from food. Human beings evolved in rain forests where the water sources are incredibly low in mineral content. Additionally, most water only contains minerals which most people are oversupplied with – Calcium and Sodium are two examples of minerals we would all be best cutting down.
Is distilled water slightly acid?
Yes, it is, upon distillation distilled water is pH 7 = neutral. However, a small amount can bond with CO2 in the air to form a very weak acid. This has no harmful effects at all. You will read on the Internet that some people believe that drinking distilled water can leach minerals from your bones by making your blood slightly acidic. This is completely false. Your body has to maintain a pH of 7.35 to 7.45 otherwise your enzymes stop working and you need to go to the hospital very fast. If you were able to make your blood acidic enough to actually dissolve a mineral from bone, ie less than pH7, you would be already dead.
What does it taste like?
Sometimes people take a few days to get used to distilled water. It can taste odd at first because you are tasting water with all the contamination that you have gotten used to wash out. So the taste you experience is a bit like a negative print of all the contamination that was there. Drink distilled water for a couple of days and then go and drink tap water and you can literally taste the pollution.
All drinking water is to some extent contaminated. The fact that you need to consume significant amounts day after day means that contaminants in drinking water can bio-accumulate in your body causing long-term problems. And while distillation is not the cheapest method, it is the most effective method and the only method to achieve absolutely pure water. And the cost of c. 9p per litre is significantly cheaper than even the cheapest bottled water.
William Fryer MA Oxon
William is a Human Scientist and director of Megahome-Distillers.co.uk. Having worked for 22 years in the corporate environment he is now studying a medical degree. His interests include: human beings, white water kayaking and walking in rugged environments.