Dr. Ania Grobicki, GWP’s Executive Secretary, has written the foreword to “Drinking water minerals and mineral balance – importance, health significance, safety precautions” (Rosborg I. et al), a book to be published by Springer Verlag in 2014. Below is an extract from the foreword.
In the early 21st century, drinking water security is rightly a global concern, as hundreds of millions of people still lack daily access to clean and safe drinking water. The increasing risks of climate change have brought us to the awareness that in many regions of the world, water security is under increasing threat and cannot be taken for granted. In more and more locations, people are drinking water that has been treated and recycled from lower quality water or seawater, while conversely the sales of bottled mineral water are skyrocketing.
Water is essential for life and health, with each adult human being needing to drink on average at least 2 litres of water per day to maintain optimum fitness and alertness. Water safety is generally linked with the absence of disease-causing bacteria, or pathogens. Yet it is not only the water itself that is crucial to our well-being – the minerals it contains are also vitally important. We talk of “hard” water (which contains high levels of minerals) and “soft” water (which is more acidic). Yet how much do we really know about the mineral constituents of water? Do we have the public health guidance that we need regarding minerals in water? Are water providers paying sufficient attention to these minerals, and do they need to be better regulated? These are the questions which this book goes a long way towards answering.
The health-giving effects of highly mineralized water, found in spas, have been known for thousands of years, certainly since Roman times. Over time, the dangers of high levels of certain elements in water have also become apparent, with tragedies such as the arsenic present in the drinking water wells of Bangladesh causing wide-spread illness and death. Arsenic toxicity in drinking water is now declared by the WHO as a public health emergency, which has affected more that 130 million people worldwide. Guidelines have been developed with maximum recommended levels of a range of minerals in water. In general, toxicity levels of minerals with regard to human health are now quite well known.
However, the beneficial health aspects of minerals in water have not been investigated to the same extent. For instance, bicarbonate ions in water help to reduce osteoporosis, and have a strong association with increased longevity, in areas where the water is hard (and bicarbonate alkalinity is high). Broadly, many elements may be beneficial and even essential to health in smaller quantities, and yet harmful in large quantities. Many people are aware that calcium is the most abundant element in the human body, and that it is essential for building healthy and strong bones and teeth. Yet how many know that it acts as an antagonist to magnesium, which is essential for a healthy heart? Too much calcium prevents the uptake of magnesium, and hence the optimum balance of these two minerals in the water which we drink is vital to our health.
The issue of minerals in water is becoming increasingly important as freshwater resources shrink, while ever-growing numbers of people become reliant on treated and recycled water. Water that has been treated by reverse osmosis or distillation is “demineralized”, and drinking such water over a period of time can lead to serious health effects, as has been the case for example in Jordan. However such treated drinking water can quite simply be remineralized, to the benefit of the population which is dependent upon it.
Our current drinking water regulations focus on maximum allowed levels of bacteria and toxins. However with regard to mineral balance, it is just as vital that the levels of minerals are properly regulated with regard to both maximum and minimum levels, and to the ratios among the various elements. Safe re-mineralized water provides a win-win situation for public health – people are protected against harmful elements in the water, while being provided with the balance of vital elements which go a long way towards promoting well-being and longevity. Around the world, we need increased policy awareness of this issue, with the development and enforcement of regulations which will provide us with clean, safe, remineralized water.