Just about everyone knows that Reverse Osmosis (RO) systems excel at removing water impurities, but few are aware that they also remove the beneficial minerals. In fact, the reverse osmosis process removes 92-99% of beneficial calcium and magnesium. What’s the big deal?
After analyzing hundreds of scientific studies concerning demineralized or reverse osmosis water, the World Health Organization released a report stating that such water “has a definite adverse influence on the animal and human organism.”
Consumers have been so concerned with removing as many things from water as possible that they have forgotten to ask if the resulting water actually improves health or causes health problems. It’s assumed that no toxins equals better health, but there is simply more to healthful water than a lack of toxins, as the World Health Organization clearly points out.
What is alarming is that consuming reverse osmosis water for even just a few months can create serious side effects. “The effects of most chemicals commonly found in drinking water manifest themselves after long exposure.” However “only a few months exposure may be sufficient ‘consumption time effects’ from water that is low in magnesium and/or calcium. Illustrative of such short-term exposures are cases in the Czech and Slovak populations who began using reverse osmosis-based systems for final treatment of drinking water at their home taps in 2000-2002. Within several weeks or months various health complaints suggestive of acute magnesium (and possibly calcium) deficiency were reported. Among these complaints were cardiovascular disorders, tiredness, weakness or muscular cramps.” Again, serious side effects within just several weeks or months.
But it gets even worse. Because reverse osmosis water doesn’t have enough minerals, when it is consumed, it also leaches minerals from the body. This means that the minerals being consumed in food and vitamins are being urinated away. Less minerals consumed plus more minerals being excreted equals serious negative side effects and big health problems. In a scientific study performed to see if minerals consumed in food can make up for the lack of minerals in reverse osmosis water, scientists concluded that “reduced mineral intake from water was not compensated by their diets…low-mineral water was responsible for an increased elimination of minerals from the body.”
“It has been adequately demonstrated that consuming water of low mineral content has a negative effect on homeostasis mechanisms, compromising the mineral and water metabolism in the body.” Consumption of reverse osmosis water “leads to the dilution of the electrolytes dissolved in the body water. Inadequate body water redistribution between compartments may compromise the function of vital organs. Side effects at the very beginning of this condition include tiredness, weakness and headache; more severe symptoms are muscular cramps and impaired heart rate.”
I can’t begin to tell you how much pleasure it gives me to write this article. I will never forget being severly chastized a few years ago by a senior executive of a company that sells thousands of RO systems per year for “not knowing what I’m talking about” and that my challenge to him and the industry about RO water being unhealthy was “preposterous”. At the time of the meeting I was not equipped to fend off his accusations because I hadn’t put in the research that I have now.
Despite being torn to shreds by the marketing executive at the meeting, I never believed the RO industry claim that it didn’t matter if their systems removed everything from the source water because the human body couldn’t absorb inorganic molecules anyway. After all, most of the supplements that are available on the market are inorganic, which means that either the RO industry was protecting its “ass-ets” or the entire supplement industry was a scam.
The RO industry has been disseminating inaccurate (that’s about as politically correct as I can get) information for years. Doctors and other health care professionals have unwittingly been endorsing the “RO water is the best drinking water” message for years which makes the myth worse because we trust these people with our health.
Proof that RO water is unhealthy
I could write about the dozens of interviews I have conducted with water industry experts and biochemists, or about the hundreds of scientific articles I have reviewed but nobody would take the time to read it. In order to keep things brief, I offer two sources of evidence that unequivically reveal the fact that the water produced by RO systems is bad for your health if you drink the water over the long term.
I spent several long days poring over numerous studies related to the ability of the human body to absorb inorganic elements such as Calcium and Magnesium. I managed to find 14 scientific studies on the site that provide irrefutable evidence that the human body can and does absorb inorganic matter such as Calcium and Magnesium.
The bottom line of what I learned from reviewing the studies is that your body will absorb anywhere fro 6% to 30% of its daily requirement of essential elements from tap water. In a world where our soil is virtually devoid of nutriets from too many crops and not enough recovery time, and where diets are anything but healthy, it is very important to your long term health that you ingest calcium and magnesium from drinking water.
Here are some of the highlights from the article:
The final report, published as an internal working document (WHO 1980), concluded that “not only does completely demineralised water (distillate) have unsatisfactory organoleptic properities, but it also has a definite adverse influence on the animal and human organism.”
The potential for adverse health effects from long term consumption of demineralised water is of interest not only in countries lacking adequate fresh water but also in countries where some types of home water treatment systems
are widely used or where some types of bottled water are consumed
The WHO provided recommendations in 2004 as to what they believe should be included in drinking water and in what concentrations:
* For magnesium, a minimum of 10 mg/l (Novikov et al. 1983; Rubenowitz et al. 2000) and an optimum of about 20-30 mg/l (Durlach et al. 1989; Kozisek 1992);
* For calcium, a minimum of 20 mg/l (Novikov et al. 1983) and an optimum of about 50 (40-80) mg/l (Rakhmanin et al. 1990; Kozisek 1992);
* For total water hardness, the sum of calcium and magnesium should be 2 to 4 mmol/l (Plitman et al. 1989; Lutai 1992; Muzalevskaya et al. 1993; Golubev and Zimin 1994).
At these concentrations, minimum or no adverse health effects were observed. The maximum protective or beneficial health effects of drinking water appeared to occur at the estimated desirable or optimum concentrations. The recommended magnesium levels were based on cardiovascular system effects, while changes in calcium metabolism and ossification were used as a basis for the recommended calcium levels
Summary of the research:
Scientific testing and the best “unbiased” brains in the world have repeatedly demonstrated that long term consumption of demineralized (RO) water is bad for your health.
What should you do if you are drinking demineralized “RO” water?
You don’t need to disconnect your RO system and throw it away (unless it is operating ineffectively which often happens if the system is not properly maintained). RO systems do a great job of removing impurities/contaminants from the water and that is a good thing. The problem with RO systems is that they don’t discriminate between good stuff and bad stuff as they remove everything. What you need to do is remineralize the water once it has passed through the RO membrane. Adding back Magnesium and Caclium in the proper concentrations fixes the problem.
The RO industry is just waking up to the reality that long term consumption of demineralized water is bad for your health. The sellers of RO equipment are now racing around trying to find a solution to making their water healthy. From what I can see from the initial offerings, the industry has not done its homework because they are offering Corosex and Calcite solutions. While Corosex and Calcite will remineralize water, they were never designed to work with the aggressive acidic water produced by RO systems. As a result, Calcite and Corosex filters can dump more minerals into the water than your kidneys can digest and result in the formation of kidney stones. Calcite and Corosex filters are obviously not the right solution for remineralizing aggressive acidic water produced by RO machines.
What is the solution?
My focus for the past couple of years has been on natural remineralizing filters which can be used on their own as basic ionizing filters, or in conjunction with RO systems. Intuitively, one would think that the media of the various remineralization filters on the market would be very similar, and to some degree they are. However, I have found that even the smallest changes in the media, or the amounts of media used, and even the way that the media is layered inside the filter can make a big difference in the performance and life expectancy of the filter.
Clean drinking water filtration has remained almost in the exclusive domain of RO systems for the past 45 years. Today, Nano filtration and Ultra filtration have been gaining market share as the filters are cost effective, are much smaller, and allow for much higher water flow rates.
The best filter for your needs will depend upon your source water. If you are drinking water supplied by a municipality, you don’t really need a RO system unless the municipality adds fluoride to the drinking water.
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 many 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 fluoride.
A Few Disadvantages
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.
However, some R.O. systems now have multi-stage filtration media (in addition to the R.O. membrane), such as Activated Carbon, which does remove chlorine and certain pesticides.
What to Do If You Currently Have a Reverse Osmosis System
If you currently have a reverse osmosis system and are not ready to give it up, I recommend getting a remineralization cartridge or add-on to your R.O. system.
If that is not possible or too costly, you could add liquid ionic minerals, such as Trace Minerals Ionic Tonic, to your R.O. drinking water.
However, doing so will not be as beneficial as drinking water that contains minerals naturally, but it will help somewhat with the acid-alkaline balance in the body.
University of Nebraska; Drinking Water Treatment: Reverse Osmosis; 2014. This is a peer reviewed guide by Bruce I. Dvorak, Environmental Engineering Specialist, and Sharon O. Skipton, Water Quality Educator, which has a few good tables that show the types of contaminants that are and are not removed by reverse osmosis.
Drinking Demineralized Water – The Health Risks (a brief summary of the WHO study)