To Your Health

What is the best drinking water to consume while pregnant?

Q. I am pregnant, and I want to provide the best possible water for my family and myself. What is the best choice for drinking water?

A. Of the current choices for drinking water, none is ideal, and your choice from among the several options depends on your individual circumstances. Cost and convenience, along with water quality, are the considerations.

For convenience there is, of course, your city's tap water. But today all tap water is at least somewhat contaminated with industrial and farm chemicals, not to mention deliberate additives such as chlorine and fluoride. There are even significant levels of hormones, excreted by women taking birth control pills. Pregnant women, very young children, the elderly, people with chronic illnesses, and people with weakened immune systems because of HIV/AIDS, organ transplant, or chemotherapy, are vulnerable to the risks posed by the contaminants commonly found in tap water.

You can't assume that bottled water is contaminant-free either, and bottled water can cost hundreds of times more per gallon than tap water. According to a study by the environmental advocacy group National Resources Defense Council, more than 25% of bottled waters, even though labeled as "spring water," actually come right out of a faucet.

Activated charcoal filters are best at economically removing organic chemicals (pesticides and hydrocarbons). Since a developing fetus is more sensitive to environmental toxins than an adult, this is probably the best choice during your pregnancy. You should be aware that charcoal filters are susceptible to a buildup of bacteria and algae, so change the filter every three months or so. If you are getting a small filter, a "carbon block" filter has advantages over "granulated activated carbon" filters.

Many people choose distilled water or water demineralized by "reverse osmosis" because these are virtually 100% pure. But complete purity also has its drawbacks. Pure water will absorb carbon dioxide from the air, forming carbonic acid, and thus will soon become acidic. Your body works very hard to maintain an alkaline body pH, and drinking acidic water only adds to its burden. Also, pure water has no minerals, and research indicates that the intake of minerals from food has a hard time making up for long-term, high-volume intake of totally mineral-free water.

Some minerals in water are beneficial. A small group of water providers is pressuring the Food and Drug Administration to establish a minimum standard for magnesium levels in drinking water. Most nutritionists agree that such a basic move could save thousands of lives annually and dramatically reduce health care costs.

Deep-well artesian spring water with its natural minerals may be the best to drink, but finding a convenient and affordable source is tough. Such water is available, locally and on the Internet, but expect to pay $15-50 for a month's supply. You may wonder if good water is worth the price. The importance of water quality was underscored with the publication of research in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease (June 2002) showing that animals given distilled water developed fewer signs of Alzheimer's disease than those given tap water. A simple lifestyle change such as improving water quality can have profound consequences.

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