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Water Filtration/Purification Options

Tracy,

Can you please address the difference in why you might want to buy a Reverse Osmosis vs. a Distillation water purification system?  I thought I had done my homework pretty well, but now I am seeing a lot of respectable resources recommending one vs. the other.  I went from confident to unsure. I also am interested in resources I can share with my patients to help them really get how much of an issue this is in terms of toxicity?  How would you approach an exploration of this topic?
Thanks!

Tracy’s Answer:

I so appreciate your bringing up this topic!  It’s one I find that even savvy practitioners often overlook:  the importance of water overall but especially the importance of clean water.  

This is a write-up you may find helpful to share with your patients: https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/state-of-american-drinking-water.php .  “Our research shows that the nation’s water supply is under assault from a toxic stew of pollutants: the toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS, lead from old pipes, runoff from farmland that carries millions of tons of pesticides and fertilizer chemicals into rivers and streams, and too many more.”  EWG also publishes a database on water contaminant status from nearly 50,000 water systems.  

Thankfully, I believe even conventional medical perspectives are beginning to wake up to the ill effects of “dirty” water.  The 2019 Flint, Michigan public school water lead contamination crisis brought this issue to the fore. But to you point, in my experience too, most patients do not consider their own tap water when they consider common sources of toxic exposure.  Here are some pearls which might be helpful to you in supporting your patients with this topic:  

  • Educate.  We all typically Do better when we Know better.  A nonjudgmental education from a respected, trusted provider can open the door for a new perspective and refreshed level of lifestyle inquiry.  Besides the article above, this is another, recent resource that delves into greater detail about the greatest contaminant risks in US tap water today.   For your patients who are less analytical approach and may be more inspired by a philosophical perspective, I would consider sharing this one.  Teach that there are separate, different risks regarding bottled water (e.g. microplastic contamination), in addition to its higher cost and environmental waste.  We must also teach that water can enter the body but only stays in the body when we also consume ample electrolyte minerals.  Truly alkaline water is that state due to its high minerals content, not just a superficially adjusted pH.
  • Avoid assumptions and Ask questions.  Where do you get the water you throughout your day?  Are you on a private well?  Has it been tested?  When was the last time?  Was it tested for a wide variety of toxins or just microbes and iron (here is one good example of a comprehensive test)?   Do you use public water?  Do you have a filtration system?  What kind?  When was the last time you changed the filter?  Do you use a shower filter?  A whole house filter?  You might consider putting together a simple patient handout that allows easy submission in advance and review of their answers during a visit.
  • Be direct.  I believe that our patients deserve to hear just how lax the contamination screening in municipal water systems typically is (at least here in the US).  Some is much better than others; some is abysmal.  In the same way we would recommend for our patients to read labels on food packaging vs. falling for the marketing hype, it’s important to Know your water toxicity risk.  I believe we need to explain that air and water quality is actually even more important than food quality given the frequency and quantity of our intake.
  • Share Options with an Open Mind.  I will share more below about Reverse Osmosis vs. Distilled water below.  There are some truly exceptional, whole-house water filtration options available here in the US, but they tend to be very expensive.  As usual, one solution won’t work for all.  The reality is that a simple everyday filtered pitcher is indeed better than nothing and may be a great first step, but it doesn’t come close to sufficient filtration.  Multi-stage gravity filtration can be surprisingly effective (e.g. Berkey)  and is a solution I recommend, but it does take up space.  Families typically find they need one of the largest sizes to conveniently ensure availability of filtered water.  An advantage of multi-stage gravity filtration such as this is that it can effectively remove toxic minerals and leave important ionic minerals in the water to help retain electrolytes.
  • Help them to Start Behavioral Change right away.  A great way to do this is to give your patients a glass or stainless steel water bottle.  Perhaps one with your logo can also serve as a marketing tool.  But the physical reminder of the opportunity to make different choices can be the trigger for change!

Now, I want to address your particular question re: the great debate in the wellness community, especially online, regarding RO (reverse osmosis) vs. DIST (distilled) water.  

In truth, there are pros and cons of both reverse osmosis and distillation.  The former will miss some toxins with exceptionally small particle size.  The latter will miss some toxins that have a boiling point lower than water and will be included in the distillate.  People can be particularly adamant and passionate about which set of risks is higher.  Again, either choices helps to remove toxins.  However, both choices will dramatically demineralize the water, essentially taking out the essential elements along with the undesired ones.  If a person has a particularly toxic water supply (or a particularly high sensitivity given their overall health situation e.g. chronic autoimmune disease), however, then this demineralization may indeed be a worthy trade-off that they can at least partially remedy by ensuring generous dietary mineral intake and also perhaps supplemental electrolyte drops to add to the water (e.g. ConcenTrace).

Of the choice between RO and DIST, I personally have been a major fan of reverse osmosis because it is generally less expensive, takes up less space, and does retains some natural mineralization of the water.  Distilled water is essentially mineral-free and thus will act even more potently as a chelator in the body and is thus risky re: mineral depletion for ongoing use (requires mindful mineral supplementation).

  • A valid criticism of RO is that these systems do waste some water, a varying amount depending on the brand you use.  For ongoing safety, you do want to make sure that the filters are cleaned regularly to prevent any microbial build-up; this is a common pitfall of RO systems.  The key to the most effective reverse osmosis system is to make sure it’s comprehensive (ideally 5-stage or at least 4-stage).  Make sure the filtration unit screens down to 0.2 microns to get the greatest amount of toxin/microbe removal.
  • Distilled water also needs to be stored in glass, as it can be quite reactive with its container.  You will also want to store distilled water capped, as it will pick up carbon dioxide naturally, making it more acidic.  You will also want to make sure that the distiller is vented to an external area, so toxic vapors are not emitted in your home or living area.  It is also ideal to pair this system with a charcoal filter to help to be rid of the some of the toxins that the lower temperature allows through.

I hope this is helpful to you!  Thank you for bringing attention to this not-so-sexy, often-overlooked, yet critical foundational element of wellness.

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2 Questions for “Water Filtration/Purification Options”

  1. 1
    Diana Siepmann says:

    Great information, thank you, Tracy. In this context I have another question: in Belgium, tap water is considered safe for drinking. In various regions the water is very hard (rich in calcium and magnesium), which can cause issues with household appliances and it leaves limescale on surfaces. To prevent this from happening many houses will have a central water softener filtering out the calcium and magnesium. These machines don‘t filter, so that is a different issue.
    Would you say that for anyone drinking this type of soft water should add trace minerals back into the water? It’s not something that is recommended with the installation of a water softener. Thank you.

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