What’s In Your Water?


About 60 percent of your body is made up of water. The brain and heart are comprised of nearly 75 percent water. So incredibly simple, water is essential to life. When it comes to sources of water, however, quality varies significantly.

How much water should you drink each day? What are the major contaminants in water that you should know about? Is bottled water safe to drink? What are the best water purification methods? What about fluoride? Let’s look at the answers to all these questions and more.


How Much Water Do I Need?

Conventional wisdom tells us to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, which is slightly less than 2 liters. That’s not that far from the current medical advice. Most experts agree that the average male requires about 3 liters or 13 cups of water a day. Females require 2.2 liters or 9 cups a day. Pregnant women should consume about 10 cups (2.3 liters) of fluids daily, and women who breastfeed need about 13 cups (3.1 liters) of water a day.

Remember, water intake isn’t just from drinking water. Your liquid intake can also include other drinks and foods. For example, watermelon is made up of about 92 percent water. The average adult gets about 20 percent of their water intake daily from food sources. Other fluids such as coffee, juice, milk, and tea also count toward your daily fluid intake. Still, the healthiest and least expensive choice for hydration is plain water.

How Much Water Do I Need During Exercise?

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to water intake and exercise. In general, if you feel thirsty while working out, you should drink water. Still, some guidelines are useful and depend on the level of exercise intensity. For example:

  • Moderate exercise: Add 1.5 to 2 cups per workout
  • Intense exercise: Drink frequently when thirsty; consider adding a sports drink that replenished metabolites such as sodium

It’s also best to prehydrate before exercise, for example, drink two cups of water before a long run. This is especially true in hot weather or when exercising at higher altitudes. Also, a generous water intake after working out helps you to recover faster.

Do I Need a Sports Drink?

In most cases, regular water is sufficient for hydration during exercise. The reason is that the average Western diet has plenty of sodium and minerals. Still, if you participate in very intense, long-distance exercise, you might benefit from a sports drink with supplemental minerals and trace elements such as magnesium. In the past, some trainers gave their athletes salt pills. However, a sports drink with electrolytes should be sufficient.

Water Intake During Illness

When you’re sick with the flu, the advice “plenty of fluids” makes a lot of sense. Because your body works hard to fight off illness, you need more water, especially if you have a high fever. Still, it’s best to consult with a doctor about fluid intake since some diseases cause your body to accumulate fluid. Several heart, liver, and kidney disorders might make increasing your fluid intake dangerous, so always ask a health professional first.

What Are Common Water Contaminants?


Contamination of water can lead to a variety of illnesses such as intestinal infections, poisoning and even cancer. In general, water contaminants can be divided into two categories: living and nonliving.

Living Water Contaminants

Living contaminants are bugs like viruses, protozoa or bacteria. These can cause diarrheal illness and other problems depending on the specific organism. Contamination of this kind generally occurs when sewer lines, septic systems or contaminated wells leak into the water supply. These infections represent about half of the waterborne disease outbreaks documented in the United States each year.

The more common living organisms that can infect water supplies are:

  • Viral: Adenovirus, rotavirus, hepatitis A and norovirus
  • Bacteria: Escherichia coli, salmonella, campylobacter, vibrio cholerae and shigella
  • Protozoans: Cryptosporidium and giardia
  • Amoeba: Naegleria fowleri

If you get infected by any of these, you may experience severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever and dehydration. In some cases, you may need medical treatment such as antibiotics or even intravenous rehydration.

Nonliving Water Contaminants

Water contamination by nonliving agents typically comes from sources such as salts, metals, industrial chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and radioactive contaminants. Some of these are considered organic but not living, such as petroleum byproducts.

According to the Water Quality Association, some of the most common nonliving water contaminants are:

  • Aluminum
  • Ammonia
  • Arsenic
  • Barium
  • Cadmium
  • Chloramine
  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Fluoride
  • Lead
  • Nitrates
  • Nitrites
  • Mercury
  • Perchlorate
  • Radium
  • Selenium
  • Silver
  • Uranium

These substances can cause a wide range of problems from developmental delays (lead, mercury, etc.) to cancers (arsenic, cadmium, etc.). For many of these contaminants, toxicity may occur over long periods of time. Many body systems can be affected by metal toxicity, such as in the case of aluminum poisoning, which can cause:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Bone pain
  • Nonhealing bone fractures
  • Altered mental status, dementia or seizures
  • Premature osteoporosis (“thinning of the bones”)
  • Anemia
  • Impaired iron absorption
  • Poor immune function
  • Delayed growth in children
  • Spinal deformities

Water Filters

Even though most tap water is probably safe to drink, contamination can ― and does ― occur. The best way to avoid this is to filter your water or drink bottled water ― more on this later. There are several systems that you can buy, and each one has its advantages.

Basic Pitcher Water Filter

This is the first of five types of water purification systems available commercially. Most designs are divided into two compartments separated by a filter. Using the force of gravity, water passes through granulated activated charcoal as the filtering agent.

  • Pros: Easy to use; improves water taste
  • Cons: Does not filter pesticides and heavy metals; generates a limited volume of filtered water; replacement cartridges may be expensive

Water Distillation

This is more of a process than a filter. Water is heated to the point of becoming steam. The steam is then cooled in a distilling chamber which converts the steam back to water.

  • Pros: Kills most bacteria and reduces arsenic, asbestos and heavy metals
  • Cons: Does not remove pesticides and herbicides; systems are expensive and use a lot of energy; distillation may remove beneficial minerals as well

Reverse Osmosis Water Filter

These systems combine a special membrane with granulated activated charcoal. Reverse osmosis filters may require under-the-sink mounting.

  • Pros: Filters out nearly all contaminants including arsenic and asbestos
  • Cons: May lead to large volumes of water waste; membranes tend to filter out beneficial minerals such as calcium and magnesium; does not filter out pesticides and herbicides; filtering times may be longer

Carbon Block Water Filters

This type of filter also uses the force of gravity, but carbon block systems filter out nearly all bacteria, chemicals, heavy metals, nitrate, nitrites and parasites. These systems can purify nearly any kind of water, but highly contaminated sources or ocean water will use up the expensive filters quickly.

  • Pros: Filters out most contaminants; no power needed; filters last a long time; beneficial minerals are left in the water
  • Cons: Large size and high upfront cost

Multistage Water Filter

These are technically advanced filters that use a combination of methods and multiple filtering stages. Some of these systems even use ultraviolet light for further purification plus a stage that adds beneficial minerals to the water.

  • Pros: Removes the majority of contaminants while adding minerals; easy to use once installed
  • Cons: Expensive; you may need to hire a plumber to set the system up correctly

A Word About Fluoride

Fluoride has created an intense water debate, especially since the chemical is often added to drinking water intentionally. The reasoning is that fluoride is reported to make teeth stronger and healthier. However, some claim that the dental health benefits are exaggerated. Still, other studies have shown that fluoride might cause thyroid disease. All of the filters mentioned in this article reduce or remove fluoride except for the water pitcher type.

What About Bottled Water?

drinking-Bottled Water

There’s a lot of debate about the purity of bottled water. Some say that it’s no different than tap water while others note that bottled water is rarely contaminated. While bottled water might not have much exposure to contaminants found in public water supplies, plastic containers may pose some health risks. Critics also point out that plastic bottles have a negative environmental impact.

Some studies show that women drinking from plastic containers that contain bisphenol A (BPA) may give birth to low birth-weight children. The claim that plastic causes cancer is controversial and has yet to be verified.

When In Doubt, Get It Tested

Water may be a simple element, but choosing the right place to get water can be complex. It’s worth considering your options, especially if you live near an area that has had contamination problems. Remember, some illnesses might only show up after long-term consumption. You may even be able to send a sample of your water to a nearby water analysis center. They can tell you exactly what levels of contamination might be found in your drinking water.

No matter what type of water you choose, it’s still probably much healthier than sugary or even diet soft drinks. So drink up.

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