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Water Science US
Reverse Osmosis Water
Health Advantages & Disadvantages
Nancy Hearn, CNC
The popularity of reverse osmosis water (R.O. water) has steadily grown since it was first introduced as a home water purification system in the 1970s.
In addition, the type of treated water most often used by bottled water companies is reverse osmosis water.
The R.O. water purification method involves forcing water through a semi-permeable membrane, which filters out a select number of water
contaminants, depending on the size of the contaminants. In general, if the contaminants are larger in size than water molecules, those contaminants
will be filtered out. If the contaminants are smaller in size, they will remain in the drinking water.
Key Health Advantage
Many years ago I drank reverse osmosis water almost exclusively, believing that it was the best drinking water. However, since then I have discovered
(through personal experience and research) that the health disadvantages outweigh the advantages.
The main health advantage R.O. water has over tap water is that an R.O. system removes some unhealthy contaminants.
A good R.O. system can remove contaminants such as arsenic, nitrates, sodium, copper and lead, some organic chemicals, and the municipal additive
You might be interested to know that reverse osmosis was actually developed as a water treatment method over 40 years ago. The process was used
primarily to de-salinate water.
The following are three of the main disadvantages of drinking R.O. water:
1. The water is demineralized.
Since most mineral particles (including sodium, calcium, magnesium, magnesium, and iron) are larger than water molecules, they are removed by the
semi-permeable membrane of the R.O. system.
Even though you may find some contradictory information online about the health benefits of reverse osmosis water, I am convinced that drinking de-
mineralized water is not healthy. The World Health Organization conducted a study that revealed some of the health risks associated with drinking
demineralized water. Just a few of the risks include gastrointestinal problems, bone density issues, joint conditions, and cardiovascular disease. (See
reference below to review the WHO study online.) Removing the naturally occurring minerals also leaves the water tasteless. Many people thus have to
add liquid minerals to their R.O. water to improve the taste.
2. The water is usually acidic.
One of the primary reasons R.O. water is unhealthy is because removing the minerals makes the water acidic (often well below 7.0 pH). Drinking acidic
water will not help maintain a healthy pH balance in the blood, which should be slightly alkaline.
Depending on the source water and the specific R.O. system used, the pH of R.O. water can be anywhere from about 3.0 pH (very acidic) to 7.0 pH
(neutral). Most of the R.O. water I have tested has been in the range of 5.0 to 6.0 pH. The only time I have ever seen R.O. water testing at 7.0 is when the
R.O. system had the added remineralization element. In the natural health and medical communities, acidosis in the
body is considered an underlying cause of most degenerative diseases.
In fact, in 1931, Dr. Otto Warburg won the Nobel Prize for discovering the cause of cancer. In essence, he said it was caused
by a lack of cellular oxygenation due to acidosis in the body. Medical research has also determined that drinking acidic
water (as well as other acidic beverages) will often cause a mineral imbalance in the body. According to the WHO study,
low mineral water increased diuresis (the production of urine by the kidneys) 20% on average and markedly
increased the elimination of sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium ions from the body.
3. Some critical contaminants are not removed.
While reverse osmosis is effective for removing a variety of contaminants in water, the reverse osmosis membrane alone
does NOT remove volatile organic chemical (VOCs), chlorine and chloramines, pharmaceuticals, and a host of other
synthetic chemicals found in municipal water.
Reduced Levels of Calcium and Magnesium
Even though food is a much richer source of calcium and magnesium intake than water, demineralized water can significantly affect the balance of
these key minerals in the body. One of the reasons for this is because “the elements are usually present in water as free ions and, therefore, are more
readily absorbed from water compared to food where they are mostly bound to other substances.”
Many studies throughout the world have reported that people drinking water that is low in calcium and magnesium (i.e., soft water) is tied to
higher incidence of death from cardiovascular disease compared to those drinking regular water.
Recent studies also suggest that the intake of soft water may be associated with a higher risk of fracture in children and decreased bone density in
adults. In addition, studies found that cooking with demineralized water caused a huge loss of essential elements from most foods. In some cases, the
loss of calcium and magnesium was as much as 60%.
Increased Levels of Toxic Metals
Since low mineral water is unstable, it is highly corrosive. It will much more likely absorb metals and organic substances from pipes, tanks and other
water holdings. In addition, calcium and magnesium in food and water can help stop the absorption of heavy metals from the intestines into the blood.
In general, people who drink low mineral water may be at higher risk of exposure to toxic metals compared to those who drink mineral water.
Drinking water that contains little or no essential minerals has been associated with various health risks related to water and mineral imbalance,
increased risk of fractures in children and decalcification of bone in adults. It also is related to high blood pressure and heart disease, gastric and
duodenal ulcers, pregnancy complications, thyroid issues, muscle cramps and weakness, fatigue, and several complications with newborns and infants.
Drinking water should contain at least minimal levels of essential minerals and other natural substances.
Unfortunately, the WHO did not recommend specific levels of essential minerals in water. However, other researchers have recommended a minimum
of 20 mg/l of calcium and 10 mg/l of magnesium. “Demineralized water is not considered ideal drinking water," according to the WHO, and "therefore,
its regular consumption may not be providing adequate levels of some beneficial nutrients."
WATER SOFTENERS CONTRIBUTE TO
CHLORIDE CONTAMINATION IN MINNESOTA
A new study found that water softeners are a significant culprit behind
chloride contamination in Minnesota water bodies.
A new study from the University of Minnesota found that home water softeners are sending a significant amount of salt into the environment.
Researchers from the University’s Water Resource Center created a “chloride budget” to estimate how much salt enters the environment each year
from different sources.
While road salt was found to be the largest contributor, home water softeners were the fourth largest source.
The study found that overall in the state of Minnesota road salt contributes more than 400,000 metric tons of chloride annually to the environment,
while home water softeners contribute approximately 140,000 metric tons of salt per year, as reported by Minnesota Public Radio.
“I think it will be surprising to a lot of people because we’ve been talking about road salt ” said Sara Heger, researcher with the Water Resources Center.
“A lot of people don’t think about that their softener in their home is like that road salt–or that we’re another source.”
The study found that while most Minnesota water treatment plants are not equipped to remove chloride from water, home owners can take steps to
mitigate the environmental impact of their water softeners.
According to Heger, water softeners should be serviced regularly and should be set based on the hardness level of the water and not an automatic
July 19, 2018 Water Quality Magazine
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