Drinking water

Hello friend,

I’m writing this on Veteran’s Day, November 11 – over the decades, our veterans have sacrificed much to protect our way of life. If you are a veteran, thank you, thank you! And if you’re not, just as I’m not, please make sure you thank at least one veteran today.

Thus far, I’ve been writing articles on drugs. How about water? Kind of important for health, isn’t it? Well, in 2004, about half of the world’s population had no access to safe drinking water. One of the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations, in collaboration with several international organizations including the Rotary Club, is to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. So, we’re hoping that by 2015, about 75% of the world will have access to safe drinking water.

What kind of water is good for drinking? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the U.S. has a list of contaminants – these are microorganisms, different kinds of chemicals and radioactive contaminants – that have been assigned maximum contaminant levels (MCL) which are enforced by law, and maximum contaminant level goals (MCLG) which are not enforced by law. The MCLG is that level below which there is no known or expected risk to health. What’s the difference between MCL and MCLG again? Let’s take an example. The MCLG for coliform bacteria including fecal coliform and E. coli (which is a measure of fecal contamination) is 0 per cent. The MCL is 5 per cent. How is that percentage arrived at? More than 5.0% samples total coliform-positive in a month. (For water systems that collect fewer than 40 routine samples per month, no more than one sample can be total coliform-positive per month.) Every sample that has total coliform must be analyzed for either fecal coliforms or E. coli. If there are two consecutive total coliform-positive samples, and one is also positive for E.coli fecal coliforms, that water has an MCL violation.

In plain English, the ideal situation is there should be never any contamination. Zero. However, for practical purposes, there can be a very slight contamination, as explained above. For more details, please read http://www.epa.gov/safewater/contaminants/index.html. To find out the quality of drinking water where you live (in the U.S.), please contact your local government to send you a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) – they should be automatically sending it to you once a year. You can also check the EPA website at http://www.epa.safewater/ccr/whereyoulive.html to get the same information. You may be surprised to know that many a time, the contaminant levels exceed the MCLs.

There have been recent press reports about traces of medicine that we consume are being found in drinking water supply. An MSNBC.com report in September 2008 is titled Drugs in water affect 46 million in U.S.  The article goes on to say “The drug residues detected in water supplies are generally flushed into sewers and waterways through human excretion. Many of the pharmaceuticals are known to slip through sewage and drinking water treatment plants.” Disgusting? You bet. But America still has better water supply than most places in the world.

What’s the solution to the problem? As far as water for drinking, we make sure that it is filtered. Get one of the top filters recommended by http://www.consumerreports.org (pay attention specifically to what contaminants are filtered by your filter of choice and what contaminants you have in your water supply) and if you’d like, boil the water as a second step. As far as water for other purposes at home, the contamination is not significant. However, if you’d rather, there are filters available to purify the entire water supply into your home.

Bottled water? As we live our present lifestyle as movers and shakers (yup, talkin’ about you), we consume bottled water. The U.S. alone consumed more than 9,000 million gallons of bottled water in 2007, double that in the year 2000 (in excess of 4,500 million gallons that year).

Guess what? Bottled water is less regulated than tap water. It is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration which requires that bottled water be as safe as tap water. However, whereas the EPA requires that government-certified labs test tap water daily, the FDA requires only once-a-year testing. The EPA has set controls on bacteria, the FDA has not. Need more such facts? Go to http://www.nrdc.org/water/drinking/bw/exesum.asp (that’s the website of Natural Resources Defense Council).

With all this information, what bottled water should we drink? The website http://www.bottledwater.org/public/statistics_main.htm provides you that info – that’s the website of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA). Any member of that association provides you with bottled water with contaminants, if any, below FDA standards. I got this information and some more above from the book The Seven Pillars of Health, by Dr. Don Colbert, MD (published by Siloam).

How much water should we drink? A rule of thumb does say eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Or, total water intake in ounces should be half of our body weight in pounds (that includes the water we get from fruit and vegetables – if we are getting the right number of portions, that would be about a quart of water – so, considering an average body weight, the actual amount of water we should drink would probably be about eight 8 ounce glasses of water a day). But of course, it does vary with body weight, the climate, active or sedentary lifestyle and so on. Another suggestion that has been offered is to drink enough water where you urinate every three to five hours, and the urine is colorless to light yellow. This much we do know, generally we tend to drink a lot less of water than we should. I do need to let you know, any major change in your water intake or dietary habits must be undertaken only in consultation with your physician.

Drinking water does mean drinking water – not coffee, tea, caffeinated drinks and so on. Caffeine is a diuretic, commonly called a fluid medication – it makes the body get rid of more water through urine than the volume consumed.

Why is drinking enough water important? Here are several reasons why. Our body is primarily aqueous. The brain and the muscles are 75 per cent water, the bones are 22 per cent. Water carries oxygen and nutrients to every cell of the body. Blood is an aqueous medium of blood constituents. Water also gets rid of waste from the body. It cushions joints and protects vital organs. It’s great for skin health too.

What if you don’t drink enough water? Dehydration. Headaches, low blood pressure, dizziness, fainting, muscle cramps …. in extreme cases, delirium, unconsciousness, leading to death. About age 50 onward, we don’t feel as thirsty as we used to when the body loses water. With the result that there’s increased possibility of dehydration. When senior citizens have pneumonia, if it is accompanied by dehydration, there is a theory that the body is not able to create enough fluid to get rid of microorganisms in the phlegm. Nursing homes and caregivers to senior citizens do have to keep this in mind and make sure that their wards get adequate water, with the understanding that they have diminished thirst sensation and may not always ask for water.

Even if we don’t have symptoms of dehydration, being mildly dehydrated is also not ideal for health. We do have to make sure we drink enough water to be healthy. Just a visual, if it helps – with enough water, we look like healthy grapes, without enough water we look like shriveled, dry raisins – or prunes. Oooh – graphic, huh?

Improving health, comfort and appearance by drinking pure water? Perfect! That’s just the beginning, of course. The foods we eat, the lifestyle we lead and even the thoughts we think, the emotions we feel …. over time, all have effects on the water-holding capacity of the plasma proteins and subsequently the ability of plasma to nourish different tissues and organs – Dr. R.D. Kulkarni, MD, my research adviser when I did my Masters’ Degree in Pharmacy at the University of Mumbai, India, explains these concepts in his book Principles of Pharmacology in Ayurved, (Ayurved, literally the science of life in Sanskrit, is the traditional system of medicine in India). Dr. Kulkarni is a doctor of modern medicine, formerly Post-Doctoral Fellow in Medicine at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Professor of Pharmacology retired from the University of Mumbai, who used his logical powers of modern pharmacology to evaluate the ancient medicinal tradition of India.

Take care of yourself and your health. We’ll meet again next week!

Dr. Ajit Damodaran


One Response to “Drinking water”

  1. Doc Says:

    Dr. Ajit,
    Excellent article. Makes me thirsty, though–I now will have pangs of guilt when I drink.

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