Drinking “Raw” Water Could Lead to Serious Gastrointestinal Illness

People from across the country are on the hunt for local springs, lakes, rivers, and sources of groundwater where they can collect what they call “raw water.” Some even drink rain water. In Los Angeles, you can buy “raw” spring water imported from Oregon if you’re willing to spend almost $9 a gallon.

While raw water enthusiasts tout their “pure” water because it is fluoride-free and chlorine-free, it is important to note that it may also have not been tested or treated for bacteria, parasites, or dangerous contaminants. For this reason, we highly recommend avoiding drinking water that has not been filtered or otherwise processed.

Why Raw Water?

Calling themselves the water consciousness movement, the followers have a number of suspicions about municipal water and even bottled spring water doesn’t fit into their ideals. Tap water is filtered and treated, and most municipalities add fluoride before pumping it out to your home. Bottled spring water, even if its not treated like tap water, undergoes filtration to remove algae and test for bacteria and parasites. Even this is too much, they claim, killing what they refer to as “probiotics,” healthy bacteria they believe live in raw, unfiltered water.

Another reason raw water drinkers avoid treated water is because of the fluoride added. A handful of conspiracy theorists have claimed that the government adds fluoride to municipal water to keep people calm. Because of this, some people – including many in the raw water movement –believe it should be avoided at all cost.

Of course, as the New York Times pointed out, “There is no scientific evidence that fluoride is a mind-control drug, but plenty to show that it aids dental health.”

Why Is Drinking Raw Water a Bad Idea?

Before the Industrial Revolution, and even after in rural areas, millions of people in the United States died from diseases carried in untreated drinking water. Our federal, state, and municipal governments have spent untold trillions of dollars over the last 200 years trying to ensure people had access to clean water. Worldwide, 800 million people lack access to treated drinking water, and experts call this a “public health dilemma.”

According to the World Health Organization, more than 500,000 people die each year due to diarrhea-related illnesses. This could include cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. All three are known mostly to Americans because of the Oregon Trail video game, but they could make a comeback if the raw water movement gains popularity.

There is no doubt that the measures taken to ensure clean tap water across the United States is one of the biggest public health accomplishments of all time. Filtering and treating drinking water has greatly reduced the instances of water-borne infectious diseases and even improved the dental health of children across the country. When someone opts to drink raw water instead, they are going around these protective measures.

Depending on the source of the raw water, the adverse effects could include some serious health issues, including gastrointestinal illnesses and even neurological problems. While “raw” water may not have fluoride, it may contain high levels of bacteria, parasites, pesticides, chemicals, and even animal waste.

Drinking Raw Water: More Harm than Good

When you turn on the tap or open a bottle of water bought at your local store, you can feel relatively confident that the water you are drinking is safe. The Food and Drug Administration, along with state agencies, set limits on the acceptable levels of chemicals, bacteria, and other contaminants that can be in your water. To enforce this, government inspectors regularly visit bottling plants and water treatment facilities to test the water.

If you aren’t comfortable with this process, we recommend installing a reverse osmosis filter on your sink, in your fridge, or on your whole house. This is the best home water filter available today and can ensure every glass you pour is safe. What you do not want to do is drink untreated water – unless you want to experience severe gastrointestinal upset.