Drinking Water For Special Health Needs

Some people are more vulnerable to microbial contaminants such as Cryptosporidium (or "crypto"), which isn't destroyed by chlorination. More often found in surface water than ground water, "crypto" may cause nausea, diarrhea, or stomach cramps when healthy people ingest it. For people who are more vulnerable, the symptoms may be more severe and perhaps life-threatening. That includes people with HIV/AIDS or other immune system disorders (such as lupus or Crohn's disease), organ transplants, the elderly, children, and those undergoing chemotherapy.

In 2001, new EPA standards put more controls on disinfecting procedures for microbial contaminants, including "crypto," for surface water. However, at-risk people should still talk to their healthcare provider and take careful precautions.

Boiling tap water and pasteurizing bottled water destroy "crypto." Filters with an "absolute 1-micron" rating are relatively effective; see "Have You Ever Wondered? ... if you need a water filter" in this chapter. Bottled waters-processed by distillation or reverse osmosis, or commercially filtered with an NSF International Standard 53 filter before bottling-are safe. Not all bottled waters are handled in this way.

globe-trotters, water is a common source of travelers' diarrhea. See "What's Safe to Drink?" in chapter 14 for guidance on safe drinking water for travelers. For added safety in less-developed areas, you might travel with a supply of iodine or chlorine tablets.

Get the Lead Out (and the Nitrates and Nitrites, Too)!

With the spread of infectious disease from drinking water under control, concern in the United States has shifted to certain compounds in water. Lead is a major issue.

Excessive lead in drinking and cooking water poses a serious health risk. Over time, too much lead consumed in food and beverages can build up in the body, potentially damaging the brain, nervous system, kidneys, and red blood cells. Infants, children, and unborn babies are more vulnerable to lead poisoning.

If the water supply is monitored, where does lead come from? Often, lead can come from plumbing inside the home or from service lines. In the past,

  • if you need a water filter? Probably not, unless you prefer the taste and smell of filtered water. If you buy one, read the manufacturer's information to see what it filters out. A water filter that meets National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International Standard 53 for cyst removal or cyst reduction is the most effective. Using reverse osmosis (a type of filtration system), it has an "absolute 1 micron" rating given on the label, meaning that the pore size is 1 micron or less in diameter, with or without NSF testing. Filters rated as "nominal 1 micron" aren't reliable for removing bacteria, such as Cryptosporidium. Replace the filter cartridges regularly and properly, according to the manufacturer's instructions. A filter may not eliminate smaller bacteria.
  • if seltzer and club soda are the same as bottled water? No. Still safe to drink, neither is required to meet the quality standards of bottled water. Some seltzer and club soda products contain sugar and sodium, whereas bottled water, by definition, cannot. . . . what flavored waters really are? Flavored waters many houses and multifamily dwellings were constructed with water pipes, fittings, or fixtures made of lead. Additionally, lead service lines in older communities may connect a house with the municipal water system. According to 1996 amendments to the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act, all pipe, fittings, and fixtures introduced into commerce must be lead-free.

If you are concerned, check your pipes and water supply. Even copper pipes might use lead solder in the joints; brass faucets and fittings may contain lead, too. To have your water tested, contact your local public health department or water utility company. They may have a free testing kit, or may refer you to a government-certified laboratory that tests water safety.

If the lead problem in your water supply is severe, you might install a water filtering device or use bottled water for drinking and cooking. If less severe, follow these guidelines to help ensure the safety of your water:

• Avoid drinking water that has been in lead plumbing for six hours or more.

may have just a hint of flavor, derived from a natural fruit essence. Check the label carefully, though, because some clear beverages also contain sugar, other sweeteners, and artificial flavors. If they do, they're soft drinks or "water beverages," not bottled water. Being clear doesn't mean that a beverage is simply water!

. . . if oxygen-enhanced drinks offer unique benefits such as a boost in athletic performance? No. It's just marketing hype.

First, consider "oxygen-enhanced" water. Under pressure, only a tiny amount (about the amount in one breath) of oxygen can be forced into water. It quickly bubbles out as soon as you open the bottle.

Even if some "extra oxygen" in water made it to your mouth, your digestive tract would get it, not your lungs. Your lungs, not your intestines, process oxygen that's captured by the heme (iron) portion of blood. Fortunately, there's enough oxygen in the environment to sustain life. To most efficiently use the oxygen you do breathe in, get regular aerobic activity.

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