The Health Benefits of Water - The H₂O series, part 2

In order to choose the correct water, you need to know which different micronutrients in mineral water are beneficial for each need. Water can also contain a number of harmful substances, trace elements and heavy metals. What about choosing plastic vs glass bottles?

If you have read the first part in the H₂O series (Click here to read part 1), then you already know that water is essential for the correct and proper functioning of all bodily functions and for survival.

We also touched upon how different waters cater to different nutritional needs, and that some waters are better for certain segments e.g. athletes, rather than others, e.g. people with hypertension. 

In order to choose the correct water, you need to know which different micronutrients in mineral water are beneficial for each need.

The Health Benefits of Mineral Waters

The following is a list, by no means comprehensive, of the different elements contained in differing types of mineral waters (which can be ascertained from the labels) and the benefits of each.

·         Bicarbonate Mineral Waters: (contain over 600mg/L of bicarbonate) Bicarbonate is a useful digestive aid, helps reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad one!) and fasting glucose levels. It is also helpful in preventing Cardiovascular disease (CVD).

·         Sulphate Mineral Waters: (contain over 200mg/L of Sulphates) Magnesium Sulphate in particular is a digestive aid, and helps relieve constipation. Other types of sulphates contribute to gallbladder health.

·         Chloride Mineral Waters: (contain over 200mg/L of chlorides) these can contribute to gastro-intestinal health. However, Sodium Chloride is the equivalent of table salt. So beware if you are trying to reduce your sodium levels. Looking at the sodium content alone is not enough!

·         Calcic Mineral Waters: (contain over 150mg/L of calcium) Calcium is necessary for healthy bones, as well as for healthy nervous, muscle and blood systems. Research has shown that calcic waters may well be a better source of calcium than dairy.

·         Magnesiac Mineral Waters:  (contain over 50 mg/l of magnesium) Magnesium can help relieve the symptoms of PMS and menopause, as well as help to prevent postmenopausal osteoporosis.  It also acts as a laxative and muscle relaxant.

·         Fluorurate Mineral Waters: (contain over 1mg/L of fluorides). Fluoride is hailed by dentists as especially important for children as it promotes bone mineralisation, and decreases the chances of developing tooth decay. However, high levels of consumption are toxic, and anyone using fluoride-containing toothpastes and brushing their teeth daily would be better off to avoid the additional fluoride in water. Fluoride is considered to be an endocrine disruptor and a neurotoxin. It can harm the thyroid gland and calcify the pineal gland.  It is for this reason that it has been banned in many countries. It is worth noting that in some countries, such as Australia, the USA, Malaysia, Singapore, Argentina, Hong Kong and Ireland, governments still fluoridate tap water (you can find more information about this at the link provided at the bottom of the page), so drinking bottled water with fluoride might become a health risk rather than be beneficial!

·         Ferrous Mineral Waters: (contain over 1mg/L iron). These can be divided into two types: Sulphate ferrous waters are arsenic rich, and hence best avoided!  Bicarbonate ferrous waters, on the other hand, are good for those people with blood iron deficiencies and anaemia.

·         Sodium-rich Mineral Waters: (contain over 200gm/L of sodium) Sodium-rich waters are a risk to anyone suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure), especially when this is bound to chlorides (another salt that increases blood pressure). They should also be avoided for CVD sufferers. However, they might be useful for someone who plans to on carrying out hard physical activity or to lie in the sun for prolonged periods as it helps to prevent muscle cramps and sunstroke, among other things. For a water to be considered low in sodium it should contain less than 20mg/L.


Harmful substances to watch out for

Water can also contain a number of harmful substances, trace elements and heavy metals which it picks up as it flows through different areas with diverse mineral content, contaminated areas (from neighbouring industrial or agricultural chemicals either in the soil or in the environment), corroded pipes etc.  Some of these might include fluoride, chlorine, lead, mercury, PCBS , arsenic, perchlorate, dioxins, DDT, HCB, Dacthal and MtBe.  So checking the source of the water is just as important, especially when planning to filter your own tap water for cooking or drinking.

I am not going to go into the three main types of filtering systems available (Reverse Osmosis, ionisation and counter-top carbon filters), but be aware that they do not all filter the same, or indeed, all these substances, so before choosing one for your home you should spend some time researching each system on the basis of where you live and your water source/characteristics.

What about plastic versus glass bottles?

There has long been a debate whether glass bottles aren’t better than plastic bottles. Recent newspaper articles in the Western media have suggested that large amounts of plastic residues from bottles have been found in many of the most common bottled waters. This goes to compound those advocates of ditching the plastic for the glass due to the plasticizers used, and the PTEs which act as endocrine disruptors wreaking havoc with your hormones (as we saw in an earlier blogpost What Is Normal When It Comes To Women's Health). Setting aside for a moment the environmental question posed by the use and disposal of plastic in general, in defence of plastic I will say that there do exist plastics which do not contain PET, and that, as long as plastic bottles are stored properly they are as safe as glass. Exposure to sunlight and high temperatures is what leads to the release of the chemicals in plastic bottles.

Just in case you still think glass bottles are better hands down, let me point out that the glass may contain lead, which can also leach into the water (as does some glass cookware, as we saw in the post about what the healthiest cookware choice is Is Your Cookware Making You Sick?) when exposed to high temperatures. Also, the materials used in the cap, often containing glues and plastics, can also release toxins into the water, altering not just its purity but also its taste. A further point to note is that glass bottles are also seen as a solution because they can easily be recycled, but have you considered how they are cleaned for re-use? Are there any leftover microbes left? Are any potential harmful chemicals used that might remain in trace elements in the bottles?

A final point about the use of single-use plastic: In recent months promising research studies have found a way to use certain enzymes to “eat” the plastic, which, if successful, would provide a way out of the environmental pollution emergency we are facing worldwide.  There are alternatives out there, but it may take time and money.

The choice of water that you make is entirely in your hands. More expensive doesn’t necessarily mean the water is better quality. Ultimately, your needs will define what the best choice for you should be. Whatever you do remember, water is essential for life on this planet, and you should take great care in how you use and store it.

This summer don’t forget to stay hydrated!

Useful Links

-Water Fluoridation in different countries

-"Natural Mineral Waters: chemical characteristics and health effects", by Sara Quattrini, Barbara Pampaloni, and Maria Luisa Brandi, University of Florence, Italy. Published online on 10 February 2017,



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