Processing the Raw Water Trend

Not even a week into 2018 and a new food fad has spread throughout social feeds and news outlets. This one was particularly surprising to me given that I spend so much of my day reading and hearing about food science, nutrition and food production. This new trend is all about disrupting the common dihydrogen monoxide (aka water) that we drink every day and replacing it with untreated, unfiltered “raw water.” 

Wait, why are people buying “raw water”?

Unfortunately, not only are they buying it, they are paying a premium: $36.99 for just 2.5 gallons! Similar to the non-scientifically based “rationale” behind cleanses and detoxes, devotees of this trend have noticed that their “skin’s plumper” and are “getting better nutrition” from the food they eat. Now I may scrutinize food and health claims more than the average person, but this trend is deserving of intense inspection and criticism.   

Are there any negatives to drinking “raw water”?

YES! While I rarely use all caps in writing, I feel like this is an appropriate use of them. As a microbiologist and avid hiker, my first thought when I read about this craze was, “Um, there’s lots of dangerous microorganisms in untreated water.” Here are five that can be found in untreated, unfiltered water:

Giardia: This parasite causes giardiasis, a disease associated with massive gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms like diarrhea, nausea and stomach cramps. 

Cryptosporidium: This is another parasitic disease that causes diarrheal illness. This parasite is able to survive outside the body for long periods of time and is resistant to chlorine-based disinfectants. It is one of the most common causes of waterborne disease.  

Campylobacter: This bacteria has been linked to causing 1.3 million illnesses in the US each year. In addition to causing some nasty GI symptoms, some strains of this bacteria are resistant to multiple types of antibiotics.

Salmonella: This bacteria causes fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps that can last for about four to seven days. While most people recover without treatment, some people may experience such severe symptoms that require them to be hospitalized.

Escherichia coli: While there are many strains of E. coli that are harmless, there are several that cause GI disease, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia.

What about treated, filtered water?

Water is key for basic bodily functions, so it’s important to make sure you are drinking water that is safe. Treating and filtering water ensures water safety by removing contaminants and microorganisms but by also adding in fluoride, dental health is supported. In fact, because of its impact on the decline in tooth decay over the past 70 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named “community water fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”

Just say “no” to raw water

I really did not think I would ever really need to write this but here we are. Modern water treatment and processing keeps our water supply safe and drinking “raw water” can come with some serious risks. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women consume 91 ounces and men consume 125 ounces of (non-raw) water each day, so with that, I’ve gotta go swing by my office’s water cooler and fill up on some treated and safe H2O. 

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