Due to unprecedented levels of pollution, many of our natural water sources are getting contaminated with harmful chemicals at an alarming rate. Thus, it is no longer safe to drink water that is not treated properly to get rid of these contaminants. Thankfully, an increasing number people realize this and are paying attention to the quality of the water they drink.
Bottled water seems to be gaining in popularity as a source of clean, contaminant-free water source. According to the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), the consumption of bottled water in the US reached 11.7 billion gallons in 2015. More people are consuming bottled water now than ever before.
One of the reasons for the popularity of bottled water is the fact that it is one of the ‘cleanest’ sources of water. Most of the bottled water brands use a technique called ‘Reverse Osmosis’ or RO, to purify the water. I am sure you must have heard the term many times as it is heavily advertised as one of the best ways of producing clean water. But have you ever wondered what is this RO process, how it is done and most importantly, is it as good as they say it is?
Well, let’s find out together! First, we will look at the RO process itself and then see both the pros and cons of the process.
What is Reverse Osmosis in bottled water?
The core component of any RO process is a ‘semipermeable membrane’. Think of this as a filtration ‘mesh’ that selectively allows some molecules to pass through while traps the others. The selectivity of this membrane is based on the molecular sizes.
Although the dissolved chemicals and contaminants in water can be invisible to the naked eye, they have different molecular sizes than water. Most of the dissolved chemicals are larger in size compared to water. As a result, when water that contains contaminants is exposed to a semipermeable membrane in RO, the smaller water molecules pass through, leaving the contaminants behind.
Most of the filtration process do not operate at this molecular level. Although they may get rid of most of the undissolved material, they can do nothing when it comes to dissolved impurities. However, RO can get rid of as much as 99% od all dissolved impurities in water. RO produces the purest quality of water and hence is the method of choice for many bottled water brands.
What are the Benefits of Reverse Osmosis in bottled water?
Well, in the light of what we just discussed, the biggest plus of RO water is the purity. Reverse Osmosis gets rid of many dissolved contaminants such as:
- Heavy metals
- Nitrates and sulfates
- Detergents and other organic components
Another great advantage of RO purified water is the great taste. As RO water is the purest, there is no artificial taste to the water. It is arguably the best tasting water that you can buy.
So, is Reverse Osmosis in bottled water good for you?
We just saw that RO produces water in its purest form. Hence, if you conclude that it is the best water for you, you won’t be completely wrong. However, there is more to the RO water than meets the eye.
As we just say, RO eliminates almost 99% of all dissolved solids from water, it strips water from the beneficial minerals too. Drinking water is one of the main sources of minerals such as calcium and magnesium. When water is processed using RO, these minerals are also lost.
Now, it may not seem to be such a big deal on the outside. But if you take a closer look, things get a bit complicated. Drinking RO water for a prolonged period can have some bad effects as well.
According to a study conducted by World Health Organization in the Czech Republic in 2002, drinking demineralized water can lead to some serious health effects. According to the study, the people who exclusively drank RO water had lower levels of calcium and magnesium. This led to an increased risk of cardiac and other complications.
The researchers concluded that as the RO water is devoid of minerals, people were not receiving enough calcium and magnesium. Furthermore, as the water has no dissolved solids, as it runs through the body, it leaches away the stored minerals as well. These minerals eventually are excreted through urine.
Thus, a lack of intake of these minerals and increased in excretion of stored reserves of the body results in a deficiency.
That being said, if you are careful, you can avoid this. If you drink RO water, make sure that you increase the intake of minerals in your diet. Replenishing minerals by consuming multivitamin and mineral tablets is one great way.
So, what is the verdict? If you ask me, drinking Reverse Osmosis bottled water can have both good and bad effects. On one hand, it is pure and has no contaminants, but can lead to depletion of minerals as well.
This caveat can be overcome if you up the intake of minerals in your diet. Make sure that you are eating a lot of vegetables and if necessary, use mineral supplements.
Although there are a handful studies that argue otherwise, RO bottled water is generally safe to consume.