When Water Became More Than Water

At least there was one thing that dietitians didn’t have to spend too much time thinking about – water. That was an easy one, and all advice could be summed up in two words: “drink more.” If you feel tired, a little irritable, less willing to work, and forgetful, you might be dehydrated. End of story – moving on…

Well, those days are over. Now we are inundated with water-like substances.

Alkaline Water

Pure water has a pH of 7 – it is neither acidic nor alkaline; an excellent middle-of-the-road pH. Americans don’t like middle-of-the-road, though, do we? No, nature must not have it right. Apparently, if you alter the pH of water, it will cause you to lose weight, reduce your belly fat, kill cancer cells, and lubricate joints. What? Probably the most popular claim about alkaline water is that it will cure your acid reflux. This is based on the fact that in a test tube, water with a pH of 8.8 inactivates pepsin. A little reminder of what pepsin is: it is what allows you to digest protein. Trust me, you don’t want to get rid of pepsin. High levels of pepsin have nothing to do with your GERD. The acidity of what you eat and drink has no effect on reflux. Certain foods, such as coffee and tomatoes, increase symptoms not because they are acidic, but because they cause relaxation of the muscular ring that keeps your stomach contents in your stomach and not splashing up into your esophagus. The acid that is gurgling around in your stomach right now has a pH of 1.5 to 3.5. Do you have any idea how much alkaline water it would take to neutralize something that acidic? It probably isn’t humanly possible to consume enough. If you are entirely sure that alkaline water is a great idea for you – just mix some baking soda into your tap water. There you go – alkaline water!

Aloe Vera Water

Aloe vera contains anthraquinone, which is a laxative; too much aloe results in unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms and dehydration. Aloe does hold vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, and potassium. One meta-analysis showed that it might improve fasting blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes and another study found that aloe was beneficial to individuals suffering from ulcerative colitis, because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Manufacturers tend to add a good bit of sugar and other flavorings to aloe vera water to make it palatable.

Charcoal Water

Honestly, what the Hell is going on here? Activated charcoal is used in the emergency room if a patient has overdosed on drugs or been poisoned by another substance. It acts as a binder so that the nastiness can be excreted from the body instead of absorbed. That does NOT mean that it will “detoxify” (there’s that terrible word again) your body of everyday toxins like pollutants and chemicals in processed foods. There is no evidence that it does that. Meanwhile, there are several pieces of reputable research proving that consuming it increases the risk of nutrient deficiency, including vitamin C and vitamin D deficiency, and that it makes prescription medications less effective.

Chlorophyll Water

Claims about chlorophyll water range from it causing weight loss, increasing energy and improving mental clarity, to improving digestion. Obviously, none of this is actually proven. The only claim that might possibly be backed up by actual science is that chlorophyll water may help to prevent liver cancer in certain populations. You could just eat a salad and be better off. Please don’t drink chlorophyll water if you’re on any immunosuppressants.

Coconut Water

It’s no wonder that so many people are guzzling pricy coconut water – it supposedly improves muscle performance, energy levels, heart health, weight loss, and stress reduction. Unless you are running a marathon or doing some other similar physical activity for more than an hour, or you sweat excessively, you probably don’t need to consume vast amounts of extra electrolytes. If you do strenuous physical activity, coconut water is a better choice than Gatorade or similar drinks, which are full of refined sugar, artificial food coloring, and unsavory food dyes. For anyone else, plain water will do. No matter what your activity level is, you’ll get more electrolytes from just eating some fruit and vegetables, and they will come packaged with fiber and other vitamins and minerals. It is the potassium and magnesium in coconut water that leads to claims that it will improve heart and kidney health. There is nothing inherently special about the coconut water that these nutrients are in…any food containing potassium and magnesium could make the same claims. Coconut water often contains between 100-200 calories a bottle and many are made from concentrates, which is probably not what most people are envisioning when they crack open a $4 bottle of the stuff.

Maple Water

You know what’s better than plain water? Water that is said to strengthen your bones, reduce inflammation, bolster your thyroid, lower blood sugar, improve muscle function, and prevent cancer! I think that we can all agree that this sounds like a magical elixir. Let me know when that product becomes available. For now, it doesn’t exist. There is some evidence that the phytonutrients in maple syrup might be beneficial to health. We don’t know if those same phytonutrients are found in maple water. What we do know is that it doesn’t seem likely that maple water offers much in the way of vitamins and minerals, except for manganese, which precious few people are deficient in, and which some people consume too much of nowadays.

Small amounts of any of these beverages probably won’t hurt you, so if you actually enjoy the taste and have money to spend, go ahead and enjoy them in moderation. But if you eat a decent diet and drink enough plain water, none of these are necessary for good health. We’ve survived for about 300,000 years without drinking these things, and there’s no reason to believe that we need them now.