Can you drink distilled water safely?
In this article, we explore the qualities of distilled water as compared with other types of water and analyze whether it is safe and healthful to drink.
Distilled water is free of minerals and metals, which may make it taste flat.
As water has no calories or sugar, it is a better choice than sodas or fruit juice to keep hydrated. Sodas and fruit juices are laden with sugars, which actually remove water from the body.
While reaching for a glass of water may seem simple, there are many kinds of water available to drink, including:
- plain tap water
- spring water
- distilled water
- well water
Each type of water has its own set of benefits, but some do carry risks. Distilled water is formed from the steam of boiling water. By boiling the water, minerals and other impurities are removed, leaving the distilled water in a 'purer' state.
Because of this, some people believe drinking distilled water can help cleanse the body from unnecessary chemicals. Other people, however, think the minerals found in drinking water are necessary for good health.
What is distilled water?
Almost all water has some impurities in it. These impurities can include:
Distilled water has had these impurities removed through boiling and evaporation. Some people think distilled water tastes flat because it lacks:
- other inorganic compounds
In essence, distilled water is not very different from other purified water. The only thing that differs is the way the water is purified.
Distillation is an old method of water purification. However, it is a relatively complicated process and difficult to do at home without a water distillation machine.
There are many municipalities in seaside communities that use distillation facilities to treat the water from the ocean, which is then used as drinking water.
What are the risks of drinking distilled water?
Some of the adverse effects of drinking just distilled or low mineral water include:
- a flat taste that many people find unappealing, leading to reduced water consumption
- a decrease in the body's metabolic function
- an increase in urine output that could result in electrolyte imbalance
Failing to replace minerals lost through sweat
Replacing the minerals lost through sweat is important to keep the body functioning well.
When the body loses water through sweating and urine output, it loses sodium and other minerals in addition to water. In order for the body to function properly, those minerals must be replaced.
Drinking distilled water will not replace minerals lost through sweat, since all additives and minerals have been removed during the distillation process.
However, As most people eat and drink a variety of food and beverages throughout the day, most people will get the salts and minerals they need from these other sources.
This lack of minerals and additives would only pose a significant risk if distilled water was the only fluid or food that a person consumed.
Fasting by only drinking water may be dangerous
It is not dangerous to drink distilled water as part of a balanced diet, which should include foods that replace any minerals lost through sweat.
However, fasting for an extended period, then drinking only distilled water may be dangerous, because a person would not be replacing any of the lost minerals.
An extended water-only fast is dangerous for other reasons too, and these other issues are much greater cause for concern than which type of water a person drinks. Before undertaking any kind of extreme fast, a person should consult with a healthcare professional.
Changing the pH, electrolyte and mineral balance of the blood and tissues
In extreme cases when a person only drinks distilled water and does not get proper nutrition, a condition called "acidosis" may occur due to the water's more acidic pH. This condition occurs as a result of changing the pH balance of the blood. While rare, it is possible for this to occur when excessive amounts of only distilled water is ingested.
According to the World Health Organization, this and other associated health problems are partly due to the lack of minerals and electrolytes in distilled water, which forces unhealthy changes in the delicate balance of sodium, potassium, fluid, calcium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and other nutrients in the body.
The pH balance of distilled water is 7.0, and the pH balance of blood must remain between 7.35 and 7.45. Acidosis happens when the pH of blood falls below 7.35. Acidosis and significant changes to the electrolyte and mineral balance in the body can lead to fluid retention, nutrient deficiencies, fatigue, muscle cramps, headache, impaired heart rate and even more dire health consequences, including organ failure.
The World Health Organization noted that waters demineralized through the following methods are also associated with the same health consequences as distilled water (unless they are remineralized) including desalinated, reverse osmosis, nanofiltered, and/or deionized.
A study in Environmental Research also finds that drinking demineralized water through desalination methods can have a procarcinogenic effect.
Affecting the environment
Additionally, for environmentally minded people, distilled water may not be the best choice.
Distillation is not the most environmentally friendly process as it leaves behind highly salinated or hard water, which may disrupt or destroy the surrounding ecosystem of the water source.
What are the potential benefits of drinking distilled water?
Distilled water does have potential advantages. These benefits may include:
Waterborne bacteria do not survive the distillation process, which reduces the risk of disease.
- Cleansing the body with pure water: When drinking distilled water, a person is consuming water with no other additives. As distilled water is pure, some people believe it can be cleansing for the body, though data on this is limited.
- Reducing the risk of disease: Distillation removes waterborne pathogens. Most waterborne disease-causing bacteria do not survive distillation.
- Reducing risk of consuming harmful chemicals: The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does allow for low levels of certain harmful chemicals in drinking water. In distilled water, none of these chemicals are present.
Things to consider before drinking distilled water
When choosing drinking water, people may want to consider the following factors:
- the quality of the local tap water
- taste preference
- quality of vitamins and minerals in the diet
- cost point
- availability of other drinking water
Is distilled water safe to drink?
Distilled water is safe to drink in moderation as part of a balanced diet. A variety of beverages and soft drinks contain distilled water.
However, when distilled water is the only kind of water a person drinks, potential health consequences may arise. These problems occur because of the lack of minerals and potential changes to the body's balance of electrolytes, fluid, minerals and pH.
Additionally, those fasting or who have cancer, infants, small children and athletes should avoid drinking distilled or demineralized water to prevent electrolyte imbalances, particularly if these are not being adequately replaced with food or other drink sources.
On the whole, drinking distilled water is not problematic when combined with other water sources. Most people eat a varied diet in developed countries and get their hydration and nutrition from a variety of sources.
There is a selection of water distillers available for purchase online.
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