Drinking water 101

Posted on 23 November 2012

By Lisa Templeton
(This article appeared in Mediclinic Family magazine, Issue 7)

It’s the most everyday of drinks and we don’t often give water a second thought. But, just perhaps, we should… Here’s why.

Is our tap water safe to drink?
The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry confirmed that South Africa’s tap water is safe to drink, but the tap water quality in our cities also ranks third best worldwide according to the website www.zar.co.za. An audit held in 2009 ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup using the Blue Drop Certification system found that our host cities scored 95 % and were awarded Blue Drop Status – confirming that our water meets international standards.

Can you drink too much water?
Our bodies need water to function and it’s vital to replace it, for example, when sweating during exercise. However, you don’t want to overdo it. ‘If you’re doing outdoor sport, drink between 400 ml and 600 ml an hour to replenish what you’re losing,’ suggests Dr Basil Bonner, special medical projects manager at Mediclinic. Thirst is a good indication that you aren’t taking in enough fluid. ‘However, if you take in too much fluid you risk diluting your vital body salts, which will result in fluid overload. You may feel this as a headache, dizziness and disorientation. If this happens, seek help urgently.’

Can chlorine in tap water increase the risk of bladder or colon cancer?
There are some studies that have linked the long-term consumption of chlorinated drinking water with an increased risk of cancer, and colon and bladder cancer in particular. But it’s not something you need fear. ‘The link between chlorinated water and bladder or colon cancer is marginal,’ says Dr Jo Barnes, an epidemiologist at Stellenbosch University, whose specific interest is waterborne diseases. ‘There are more important risk factors like smoking, or eating excessive amounts of smoked foods or highly spiced foods, than chlorine in water.’ Although chlorine is used in our tap water to ensure that water stays clean as it moves pipes to reach our homes, it is in minimal amounts as our water is initially purified through a sophisticated system that uses ozone and UV light.

Do I need to drink two litres of water a day to stay well hydrated and slim?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how much water you should be drinking. Instead, it depends on factors like the weather, your lifestyle, your size and your age. ‘Your water needs are as individual as anything else,’ explains Dr Bonner. Don’t forget that you are also drinking fluid throughout the day with every cup of coffee or tea, and cool drink. (Although we must add that caffeine, sugar and alcohol all act as diuretics, making you lose more fluid than you would by just drinking water.) And remember: a liquid intake that is too high can make you retain water, making you heavier instead of lighter.

Does a water filter ensure that my water is good and safe to drink?
It really depends on how often you change your filters, says Dr Barnes. Your average filter will soften the water by filtering out chlorine and any molecules of a large volume size. ‘Filtering can also remove calcium, iron and salts, which isn’t something to worry about as most of us get enough in our diets,’ says Dr Barnes. But what you do need to worry about is changing your filter regularly. ‘Filters can form bio-films, also known as bio-slimes, which become mediums for other bugs. Water is a most enigmatic medium. It is an efficient cleaning agent, but it is also an efficient carrier of disease.’

Why should I drink water?
Water helps maintain the health of your skin, flushes out toxins, and cushions and lubricates your joints. Plus, many other drinks are diuretics, which actually make you lose fluid.

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The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Nutrition

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