To Your Health

What is different about the "super water" now appearing in health food stores? Is it really healthier than regular bottled water?

Q. What is different about the "super water" now appearing in health food stores? Is it really healthier than regular bottled water?

A. Proponents claim that these special waters have a different molecular structure than ordinary water. Since the 1930s, chemists have recognized that water molecules are loosely linked, with internal connections that are continually undergoing rearrangement. Even at body temperature, heat-induced motion disrupts these bonds almost as quickly as they form. Promoters of these new waters believe that "clusters" of water molecules, which ordinarily exist for a tiny fraction of a second, can be made to last longer and thus enhance the ability of water to move easily through cell membranes to better "hydrate" the body.

However, there is disagreement on which structure is better for us. One camp claims large clusters with 1,000 or more water molecules are superior to plain water. Another camp claims just the opposite, that tiny clumps of water made up of only five or six water molecules in a cluster represent the optimum structure. The fact is that neither of these opposing views has any significant support in the general community of medicine, biochemistry, or physiology. We must await the results of better-designed experiments before we know if the structure of water makes any difference to our health.

The idea that water structure could make a difference is not new. One of the first of these structurally altered waters was Willard Water, more popular back in the 1970s. It has faded into the background, but CellCore now makes and markets a variety of "cluster" waters, and Penta brand water has recently become fashionable. Except for the hefty price tag, these brand name waters will do you no harm since most Americans underconsume this vital nutrient. Water constitutes roughly 80% of our body weight at birth, though this dwindles to about 50% as we age and ultimately die. Could something as simple as a more generous intake of water delay the inevitable?

While there may be room for debate about "cluster" water, there is solid evidence that an important aspect of water metabolism was discovered in 1992. Dubbed "aquaporins," these cell structures control the movement of water through cell membranes. To date, 10 different aquaporins have been discovered, and their presence is so fundamental to life that almost every organism on earth, from bacteria to mammals, utilizes them. As one would expect, in humans aquaporins are absolutely essential to kidney function as well as lung function and digestion. Recent experiments highlight very important roles for aquaporins in the normal brain function, including control of electrolyte balance and treatment of brain edema following stroke.

We must not underrate the usefulness of water to our health, but at present the decision on investing in "designer water" is a judgement that you will need to make with less information than you need to make it.

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