Untreated, unsterilized, and unfiltered, raw water is making waves in Silicon Valley. But what is the scientific basis behind its much-vaunted health claims? We decided to find out.
From nootropics to activated charcoal, Silicon Valley is ground zero for a whole host of ultra-modern wellness trends. Raw water—another term for water taken directly from its natural source—is increasingly popular in Silicon Valley, with startups like Zero Mass Water attracting millions of dollars in venture capital. But while it’s flying off the shelves, many are questioning the veracity of raw water’s healthfulness claims.
What are the purported health benefits of raw water?
In addition to the raw milk and raw honey trends, there’s a new addition to the “raw” roster: raw water. Bottled directly from natural sources, raw water is often marketed as a safer alternative to processed, chemically treated water. It’s also extremely expensive, with 2.5-gallon jugs of unsterilized spring water selling for as much as $60.99 a pop in San Francisco. That’s pretty steep by anyone’s standards. Supporters of raw water claim that the natural presence of probiotics and mineral compounds make it a healthier option than tap water, which may destroy healthy minerals via the process of filtration and sterilization.
According to its proponents, raw water also has the benefit of being naturally alkaline, meaning that it may reduce inflammatory cell damage and act as an antioxidant. There are, however, no empirical studies that support the idea that alkaline water has health benefits.
What's wrong with tap or bottled water?
According to many proponents of raw water, tap water may contain all sorts of nasty chemicals. An investigation by the Associated Press found traces of sex hormones, antibiotics, over-the-counter drugs, prescription medication, and anticonvulsants in drinking water supplies for 24 major metropolitan areas.
And that’s not all. A report released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) revealed that more than 22,000 public water utilities (serving over 170 million people) contained the presence of radium in their water, providing a potential cancer risk. In addition, toxic PFCs (perfluorinated chemicals) have been found in many public drinking water systems. Raw water—direct from natural springs—is seen by some as a way to avoid the potential chemical risks that may be found in tap or bottled water.
Is spring water safe to drink raw?
Many healthcare professionals have highlighted the potential safety issues associated with raw water. The chemicals that are added to tap or bottled water are intended to kill off bacteria and parasites that are naturally found in wild water sources. This means that raw water may contain pathogens that cause diarrhea, vomiting, and upset stomachs. In addition, raw water can wash through rocks that potentially contain radon and arsenic. Although it’s not especially common, it’s another reason to be weary of switching over to the raw water wave.
Bill Marler, a food safety expert, claims that many people simply don’t realize how dangerous raw water can be. In an interview with Business Insider, he argued that even the cleanest streams contain animal feces, which spread Giardia, while E. coli, cholera, and Hepatitis A can also be transmitted through untreated water. The CDC warns against drinking naturally flowing water and uranium or contaminants from agricultural activities are sometimes present in groundwater wells. So, while proponents claim that raw water is the cleaner option, upon closer inspection, it may be anything but.
What's the verdict?
There’s a reason why civilizations have been trying to clean up their water supply for thousands of years! Despite the burgeoning cultural cachet of off-grid raw water, there’s no clinical evidence for its vaunted health benefits, and untreated water has actually been proven to cause a wide variety of diseases and infections. Ultimately, it’s up to the individual to decide what type of water they want to drink, but if you are choosing to move away from chemically-treated water, you should take some time to understand the potential health risks associated with raw water.
In any event, you should chat to a doctor or dietician if you’re still thinking about taking the plunge with raw water. He or she can help to steer you in the right direction when it comes to your nutritional and dietary needs.