Is it safe to drink untreated water?

Untreated or 'raw' water is unfiltered, unprocessed water that is bottled directly from a natural spring.

Some manufacturers are marketing this type of water and selling it as a safer option to chemically treated water. They say that ‘raw’ water contains natural probiotics that help to promote digestion and good health. 

Scientists and government officials have expressed concern about untreated water, because there is an understanding that in the case of water ‘natural’ or ‘raw’ is not necessary better. What’s actually in ‘raw’ water?

What are the potential risks of untreated water?

Chemicals are added to tap or bottled water are designed to kill bacteria and parasites that may be present, such as salmonella, E. coli or giardia lamblia. These infections can cause stomach upsets, diarrhoea, and vomiting. Vulnerable people, including the elderly and young children are most at risk of developing diseases related to pollutants found in ‘raw’ water because their immune systems are more likely to be too weak to fight off these infections. 

If water is left untreated, there is a possibility it could contain various bacteria and viruses that can lead to infections, suggesting its a risky business choosing this type of water.

Some people argue that the benefits of drinking raw water actually outweigh the potential risks.

Potential benefits of raw water

Sterilising and ‘purifying’ raw water using chemicals is understood to eliminate natural minerals and probiotics found in water. Advocates of raw water say that drinking untreated water leads to a happier and healthier life because it contains far more electrolytes and minerals than treated tap or bottled water. Drinking raw water can offer you a good source of calcium, copper, lithium, magnesium, potassium or sodium.

Supporters also claim that raw water is ‘alkaline water’. It is argued that alkaline water acts as an antioxidant and reduces inflammatory cell damage from oxidation.

Some scientific studies on the other hand argue that the dangers of drinking untreated water are far more significant than the opportunity to add a few more electrolytes to your daily life. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), contaminated drinking water is one of the most dangerous preventable health risks in the world. the world faces. Contaminated water can spread diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. There are numerous ways that water can become contaminated, many are a result of natural processes. Spring water or mountain stream water may appear clean and safe, but it could be contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites that cannot be seen.

Public water systems and treatment centres were created initially to give people living in cities access to ‘clean’ water. Historically speaking, people living in cities were much more likely to contract waterborne diseases such as typhoid fever and cholera than they are today. These diseases are spread through untreated drinking water.

Is water treatment safe?

The process of treating water causes concern for some people. For example, fluoride has been added to public water supplies for decades as a way to promote dental health. Some people believe that excessive fluoride levels can lead to conditions such as thyroid problems neurological development issues and brain damage. However, there is no evidence to suggest that fluoride is harmful when added to water in very small amounts, like what can be found in current public water systems.

It can be difficult for consumers to determine whether tap, bottled, or even raw water is safe to consume. Since the potential bacteria and viruses found in water are invisible on first glance, it is almost impossible to know what potentially infectious microorganisms are present.

Some people refuse to drink tap water, opting only for bottled in an attempt to avoid potentially harmful chemicals found in tap water. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA regulates bottled water, including raw water, to some extent.

There have been cases of contaminated bottled water that have caused outbreaks of bacterial diseases, whereas incidences of contaminated drinking water supplies has remained low since water treatment processes were introduced. This leads us to suggest that perhaps tap water is your best option.

Raw water is a fairly new somewhat ‘fashionable’ phenomenon. More research is required to determine whether or not it could provide long-term health benefits. 

One thing is clear, the supposed benefits of consuming untreated or ‘raw’ water have yet to be scientifically proven. 

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