The idea of untreated, unfiltered water might sound good, especially given the rise of raw, organic, natural diets, but consumers should be wary. Raw water might literally be a crock of sh-t: As Jeff Nelken, a food safety consultant and coach, tells Women's Health, there's a huge potential for waste to seep into unfiltered water.
Related: 5 Ways Drinking More Water Can Help You Lose Weight
"I guess the term ‘raw water’ refers to water that’s in the environment that hasn’t been treated in any way, so we don’t even know what’s in that water," Nelken says. "If it’s accumulated, let’s say, from the land—a lot of times near farms, for example—you might have waste from the animals that they put into lakes and it soaks into the ground and then goes into the water. It’s possible to have any contaminants that come from the feces of the animals going directly into that raw water."
Along with the urine and feces from nearby farm animals, raw water might also contain the bacteria from dead animals whose bodies are decaying in the soil. It might contain lead, radiation, E.coli, Salmonella, or viruses—the point is that, without filtration or any kind of processing in a treatment plant, we can't know. That's a dangerous game to play with your body. The odds are overwhelming that, at some point, a person who imbibes raw water is going to get very sick.
"It’s almost like going to a casino: The casino always wins, eventually, it’s just a matter of time," Nelken says. "We need to look at the disadvantages."
Mix your water with some berries and freeze it up:
And for the record, treated water is a good thing. It kills the pathogens and removes the contaminants that might otherwise find their way into our drinking sources. Conspiracy theorists have long viewed tap water additives like fluoride as government mind control agents (as explored in 2016 by Vice). In reality, fluoride helps keep teeth strong, and proper water treatment is something communities need to ensure they're not consuming toxins. For evidence of just how crucial that process is, please see the improperly treated, lead-laced Flint River water that engendered a federal state of emergency in Flint, Michigan in 2016.
Water-borne bacteria can be deadly, too. A 1976 outbreak of Legionnaire's Disease at a Philadelphia hotel killed dozens of people after they were exposed to a pneumonia-causing bacterium living in the building's air conditioning system. These are the kinds of contaminants we risk ingesting when we drink raw water, Nelken says: "It’s one thing to use raw water to flush toilets, I could see that, but I certainly wouldn’t want to use raw water to wash your produce or your vegetables or anything that you’re going to consume."
If you're concerned about what's working your way into your tap water, consider a Brita filter. But anyone who doesn't want Giardia or worse should consider untreated spring water off limits.
The article What Is 'Raw' Water—And Is It Actually Good For You? originally appeared on Women’s Health.