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Dispelling myths about drinking distilled water

Article · February 2017

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Juzer Moiz Jangbarwala


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Juzer Jangbarwala – February 15 , 2017

Dispelling myths about drinking distilled water.


I recently designed a passive solar distiller as one possible sustainable pathway to provide safe
drinking water for the under privileged rural areas of the world. I am amazed at the number of
people (including those with medical training) who have approached me with negative statements
about drinking distilled water. It seems that they firmly believe drinking distilled water is “bad” for
you. Normally, I attribute such hog-wash claims to ignorance and move on. But in the context of
what the SalStill project aims to achieve, I feel it an obligation to pen down my vexation to
address the incertitude created when people with perceived credibility in their fields spread
unsubstantiated pseudoscience based on esoteric discussions or simply articles from a Google™
search. Unfortunately, comments made here are not like asserting opinions on subjects such as
politics, GM foods, climate change, etc., which are, by and large inconsequential in the overall
scheme of things. Comments and assertions made on health effects of drinking distilled water
affect the possibility of providing the suffering with the most basic necessity. Negative
proclamations create prejudice in the minds of donors, NGOs and most importantly, of
beneficiaries themselves, who are typically not educated enough to know the difference.

For those who do not want to read through the detailed article that follows, here is the essence of
the discussed subject matter:

1: There is no scientific evidence, proof via an explanation of a chemical pathway,


statistical data with a legitimately sized sample size or any other common sense
reason to believe that drinking distilled water is bad for you. The original sources of the
plethora of material claiming distilled water being bad for human consumption are basically
just 2-3 articles which present disconnected, anecdotal evidence, primarily referencing
studies discussing nutritional effects between “hard” (water with scaling minerals like calcium
and magnesium) and “soft” water (water without, with the calcium magnesium being replaced
by sodium on an equivalent mass basis). Such nonsense can hardly be taken seriously,
when gross incomprehension of basic water chemistry nomenclature is so self-evident.

2. Why do we at SalStill reminerailze water then? Simple. TASTE. Distilled or reverse


osmosis purified water tastes flat, and the local residents tend to think of it as unhealthy. It’s a
mental block due to lack of education. By remineralizing, we make the water taste like the
fresh water they can taste from the rivers. It is our attempt to bring our purpose and goal to
fruition with minimal resistance.

3. Why do desalination plants reminerailze water then? Simple:

A) They transport large volumes of water through galvanized steel or copper pipelines.
Low salt content water absorbs carbon dioxide from the air and forms carbonic acid,
lowering the pH of the water, which would cause corrosion in the pipes. The water is
neutralized to form a sodium salt of the carbonic acid.

B) Water produced by the desalination of seawater is high in sodium chloride. In fact,


most of the dissolved ions in the water are NaCl, which also tastes funky. So they
add magnesium, calcium as dissolved salts to make it acceptable to the consumer
palate.

So read on if you desire to understand the justification of my statements, and by default get a
deeper understanding of the subject matter. If not, take the above summary points as well
researched conclusions from 35 years of experience and research in the water treatment,
biological pathways and catalysis. If you have any evidence to the contrary, substantiated by
scientific studies from very large sample sizes (not single testimonials or anecdotal evidence),
please feel free to contact me. I would love to hear from you. If not, think twice about the
consequences of making unsubstantiated public statements on this particular subject. You could
be helping deny a person, a family or a village access to safe drinking water.
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Juzer Jangbarwala – February 15 , 2017

Introduction: It seems we find uncle Google and other search engines a sufficiently detailed source
of information. Regrettably, though, people tend to give 30 seconds of attention to a quick search on
their smartphone and start asserting opinions and information as expert advice in the conversations
that follow. Oblivious of the fact that the conclusions of the author with the loudest title is not
necessarily gospel, but are typically conclusions or opinions derived from other references.
Judgmental statements based on esoteric evidence tainted by personal prejudice are not valid. In this
information overload age, we mostly see information supported by third party endorsements for
credibility.

1. Advertisements, and unfortunately, “technical papers” that have some final commercial goal
will give testimonials of how one person’s life changed by say, drinking alkaline water.
Evidence is presented in terms of subjective observations, pseudo scientific opinions and
forcefully connecting completely unrelated dots to conclude how a product was able to heal
them, harm them etc.
2. Experimental evidence on the other hand, is given from large sample sizes, with sound
scientific explanations given on the theory, hypothesis and possible cross pollination of known
phenomena to give a “plausible” explanation of the results. Almost always, genuine studies
will conclude with a pathway for further studies to prove the results from a different angle.

It was only a few years after the Love Canal horror that I started my career in the water treatment
field. Public trust was eroding in municipal water supplies. The nascent drinking water purification
industry was going wild with scare tactics being used as the primary tool in most corporate marketing
strategies. All kinds of nonsense was being thrown at prospective clients. Competing technologies
would attack each other unabated, embedding subliminal messages into the subconscious. Even
academics felt compelled to suggest their personal favorite technologies, and write articles with scary
titles about other technologies.

As far as I can tell, one of the most damaging papers on the subject of negative health effects of
distilled water was written by Zoltan P. Rona with the attention grabbing title “ Early Death Comes
With Regular Drinking of Distilled Water”. Another publication titled “Nutrients in Drinking Water”, was
a report by Dr. Kozisek for the W.H.O.

Unfortunately, these papers have been cited hundreds of times by authors of technical papers, PhD.
students, etc. Trust me, I commiserate with researchers on the tediousness of tracking down every
reference used by an author to determine if the author used the references properly to support the
argument or whether the investigator(s) experimental methods were sound by international scientific
standards. Most of the times, we must also check the references of the referenced sources to get to
the desired level of comprehension of the topic. But that’s exactly the point of research! (and
learning, if you are a student!!). The goal being emphasized by professors to students is getting
published as many times as possible, rather than to acquire meaningful and worthy knowledge to
“share” with the world through publication. Resumes are decorated with a long list of co-authored
publications, sometimes with the number of co-authors being in double digits. Students and people
racing to get as many publications under their belt as possible, simply use publications as references
without actually reading the baseline references the author’s deductions were based on. The first
misguided author’s conclusions get quoted as gospel, and perpetuate.

First, with reference to the first article:

Assertion 1: All the calcium and magnesium ions (and other trace minerals) are removed from the
water by distillation. Since these are essential nutrients, their removal is harmful to health.

Response: It is true that distillation removes the "good" minerals along with the harmful contaminants,
but it is by no means true that drinking water is the only source (or even the primary source) of these
minerals. The recommended daily requirements for calcium and magnesium are about 1,000 - 1,200
mg and 300 - 400 mg respectively (with specific requirements that vary by age, gender, etc.).
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Juzer Jangbarwala – February 15 , 2017

Classification grains/gal mg/l or ppm mg/l or ppm


CaCO3 equivalent Calcium

Soft 0-1 0 - 17.1 0-7

Slightly hard 1 - 3.5 17.1 - 60 7 - 24

Moderately hard 3.5 - 7.0 60 - 120 24 - 48

Hard 7.0 - 10.5 120 - 180 48 - 72

Very Hard 10.5 & over 180 & over 72 and over

NOTE: Other organizations may use slightly different classifications.

Hardness scale provides information about the amount of calcium in various levels of hard water. The
presence of magnesium in addition to calcium will also increase the hardness levels.

According to the table above, water that is slightly to moderately hard will contain up to about 50 mg/l
of calcium. Reports I have seen indicate that magnesium levels average often about 12 - 15% of the
calcium levels (or about 7.5 mg/l). One liter (about 1 quart or four 8-oz drinks) of hard to very hard
water will contain around 72 mg/l of calcium and perhaps 11 mg/l of magnesium. Extremely hard
water, though, can contain over 1,000 mg/l calcium carbonate (CaCO3), or over 400 mg of calcium per
liter.

Hence, drinking eight {8} glasses (about 2 liters) of hard water a day will provide your body with about
14 - 144 mg of calcium. That translates to a maximum of about 1.2% to 12% of the daily 1,000 to
1,200 mg of calcium your body requires. In that same 8 glasses of water you will be supplying your
body with about the same percentage of your daily requirement of magnesium.

Assertion 2: Demineralized water, since it is devoid of all substances (including ions), is "aggressive"
and will deplete the minerals from your body causing serious harm over time.

Response: Within our body, water moves in response to the osmotic gradient established by sodium -
water absorption is a “pure water” transport, based on the osmotic pressure created by sodium
(hence the “water weight” we lose when we go on a low sodium diet). This mechanism is structured to
operate in the total opposite direction than, say, leaching of ions from a pipe surface into distilled
water where this distorted logic comes from. Osmosis is the dominant mechanism of water transport
in living mechanisms. The roots of the plant absorb water from the ground due to the osmotic gradient
created by the carbohydrates and electrolytes on the other side of the thin cellulosic skin (basis of
reverse osmosis membranes). If you put distilled water at the roots of a plant, you don’t see the
carbohydrates leach out, because the cellulosic skin prevents this from happening.

Calcium: Additionally, since the predicted consequence in this assertion is the “leaching” of calcium,
let’s look at how calcium transport is regulated. Calcium is absorbed as the divalent cation. The active
++
(transcellular) transport of calcium is a three-step process: first Ca is absorbed from the lumen
(probably via facilitated diffusion), then moved through the cytosol from the apical to basolateral
surface, and finally extruded across the basolateral membrane into the interstitial fluid. Vitamin D2 and
D3 (a set of fat soluble seco-steroids) apparently influence each of the three steps, their deficiency
having been detected in osteoporosis patients. Because of the potential toxicity of calcium to the cell,
little calcium entering from the lumen is permitted to diffuse freely across the cell to the basolateral
membrane. How, then is the absorbed calcium going to diffuse BACK into water which is headed in
the opposite direction?

So to summarize this point, since it is the most quoted assertion, “leaching” minerals from your body
would require distilled water touching the calcium of your bones physically, like a pipe being
immersed in distilled water. The body functions on completely different mechanisms when it comes to
water absorption, mineral absorption and desorption. Rain water is practically distilled water. Whether
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Juzer Jangbarwala – February 15 , 2017

we believe in Evolution or Creation, should our bodies not already have the safety mechanism for
this?

Assertion 3: Distilled water is dead (or has lost its vital force) and that's bad.

Response: Ordinarily, I would simply laugh this off, but given the number of people who actually
believe this, I am addressing it. As noted above, distilled water is not "dead" nor has it lost its "vital
force". These ideas are scientifically and philosophically meaningless. All water molecules, whether
from a distiller, a water tap, a rain cloud, or a pristine natural spring are exactly the same physically,
chemically and energetically. Water molecules are not alive by any definition of life one cares to
use. Nor do water molecules embody some special, undefined "vital force". Water is a simple
inorganic molecule made up of one atom of oxygen and two atoms of hydrogen. These wild concepts
are created by marketing departments of not so ethical companies to make their product stand out
and command ludicrous margins from trusting and uninformed consumers.

With reference to the W.H.O. article, the references mostly discuss population studies showing
differences between groups that drank hard vs. soft water. Though the difference has never been
conclusively explained by controlled, empirical evidence, the relevant point here is that the discussion
is NOT about distilled water.

A closer examination of Kozisek’s article, finds that his references were from what appeared to be
obscure journals that would bear no credibility in the medical or scientific journals. Let’s examine
closer:

1) Direct effects on the intestinal mucous membrane, metabolism and mineral homeostasis or
other body functions.

At the end of this section Kozisek discusses water intoxication (hyponatremic shock) and states:
"A more severe course of such a condition coupled with brain oedema, convulsions and metabolic
acidosis was reported in infants whose drinks had been prepared with distilled or low-mineral bottled
water" (CDC 1994).

When you examine the reference from which he gets to this conclusion, you find that another, more
descriptive article was written by the same authors on the same topic several years later (which
included the two 1993 cases in the 1994 CDC article) with several additional cases included. The
relevant section is quoted below:

Hyponatremic Seiures Secondary to Oral Water Intoxication in Infancy: Association With Commercial
Bottled Drinking Water. Robert C. Bruce and Robert M. Kliegman.
"Infants of parents living in poverty and uninformed of the risks of feeding fluids other than infant
formula to their babies are particularly at risk. Young infants with vomiting and diarrhea are especially
prone to developing hyponatremia if fed fluids lacking sufficient sodium, but even those who are
otherwise well may develop symptomatic hyponatremia as a result of being fed excess solute-free
water. Most often tap water, either in the form of supplemental feedings or overly dilute formula, has
been given in excessive amounts over relatively short periods of time."

Careful perusal shows that they are discussing the effects of too much water of any kind on the
infant - they do not mention distilled water at all (solute-free seems to refer to water without formula,
not water without any ions), but they do mention an excess of tap water and later go on to state that
the same problem can occur with feeding too much juice.

This kind of misinterpretation by authors about data originally generated by someone else is
unfortunately fairly common with people digging through papers to find evidence they can force fit to
support their favorite idea. Kozisek does it again at the beginning of the section where he uses a
paper that reports harmful effects of distilled water introduced directly into the small intestine - that
has nothing to do with the effect of water, distilled or otherwise, that goes through the stomach
first. "A study by Williams (1963) reported that distilled water introduced into the intestine caused
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Juzer Jangbarwala – February 15 , 2017

abnormal changes in epithelial cells of rats, possibly due to osmotic shock." This is no doubt a half-
true statement - any tissue exposed directly to any water would experience osmotic shock. This truth
seems to be of limited relevance to the discussion of the health effects of drinking distilled water.

2) Practically zero calcium and magnesium intake.


This section and the discussion following about the epidemiological studies that seem to show
populations drinking soft water tend to have more health issues, particularly heart problems, than
those that drink hard water. While I have many issues with this conclusion, since soft water is not
distilled water, I am going to treat that discussion as irrelevant here.

3) Low intake of other essential elements and microelements..


"Although drinking water, with some rare exceptions, is not the major source of essential elements for
humans, its contribution may be important for several reasons. The modern diet of many people may
not be an adequate source of minerals and microelements. In the case of borderline deficiency of a
given element, even the relatively low intake of the element with drinking water may play a relevant
protective role. This is because the elements are usually present in water as free ions and therefore,
are more readily absorbed from water compared to food where they are mostly bound to other
substances."

I discussed this point in my response to Assertion 1.

4) Loss of calcium, magnesium and other essential elements in prepared food..


The extraction is not significant, even by the anecdotal examples to even be worthy of consideration,
especially if the water Is not drained. Most foods discussed here would retain the water as broth,
stew, etc. So what’s the problem?

5) Possible increased dietary intake of toxic metals leached from water pipe..
This statement is true for all types of transported water, though distilled water may be slightly more
aggressive, BUT NO ONE DOES THAT! Even regular river water is kept alkaline to prevent leaching
from pipes. In rural communities, where water is not transported in pipes, and is not contained in
metal containers, this is not an issue.

SUMMARY: A few misleading, unsubstantiated publications after being cited hundreds of times, have
resulted in the near belief of the pseudoscience regarding ingestion of distilled water. I have
discussed the two most widely cited documents, and would like to assure people there is no proven or
theoretical harm in drinking distilled water. Our body is an incredibly smart machine and is well
capable of regulating itself.

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