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Functional Water: Fact or Fiction?

Everything You Want to Know about the Hottest Trend in the Wellness World

With something so pure and simple as water, you’d think that when it came to hydration options that the choice should be clear. But leave it to the ever-growing consumer market to unleash a deluge of new drinking water trends. The already oversaturated bottled water market has led manufacturers to focus on setting their product apart. How are brands doing this with something as basic as water? The answer: Functionality.

Plain, old H2O is now having to stand up against hip, trendy options like protein water, alkaline water, and even caffeinated water. As consumers angle away from sugary, calorie-dense sodas,  functional waters are gaining more and more space on store shelves. Many of these brands are touting an array of health benefits–ranging from preventing cancer to reducing anxiety.

Reports suggest that the functional water market is set to double by 2020. We’ve done some digging into the most talked about functional water trends and are here to report what we’ve learned.

What Exactly is Functional Water?

Functional water is “enhanced” drinking water aspiring to improve your health. Some are chemically altered (i.e. by adding increased oxygen or hydrogen); some are simply infused with oils, extract, or flavors. While bottled water has long been criticized for contributing to environmental waste, the convenience and potential added perks of functional water has kept the industry not only afloat, but booming.

Some of the biggest players in the game have created not only new types of products, but all-out crazes. We’ve investigated the following functional water fads and will let you know if we’re drinking the kool-aid (so-to-speak):

  • Alkaline Water
  • Hydrogen-Rich Water
  • Electrolyte Water
  • Caffeinated Water
  • Infused Water
  • Alkaline Water

    We’ve already done some myth-busting in regards to alkaline water on Tips for Taps. But we’ll do a little recap...

    What is alkaline water?

    The rage around alkaline water surrounds its pH (potential hydrogen). A measure of the relative amount of free hydrogen and hydroxyl ions in the water, pH is a logarithmic scale ranging from 0 to 14. Each step of the scale corresponds to a ten-fold change in acidity–liquids closer to 0 are very acidic, and those nearer 14 are very alkaline. Pure water has a pH of 7.0 (and is considered “neutral”).

    Alkaline water generally has a pH between 7 and 9.5–and with that higher pH, it also has a higher concentration of alkalizing compounds (such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium).

    What’s the claim?

    Alkaline evangelists claim that by neutralizing acid in the body (via consuming alkaline food/beverages), the following will occur:

  • Increased fertility
  • Increased energy
  • Regulate your internal pH level
  • Prevent diabetes
  • The list goes on and on. Some even purport that that alkaline water prevents cancer. (Hint: it doesn’t). But, how did these grandiose, cure-all claims come to be? Here’s the general (and flawed) logic:

    Cancerous cells can’t survive in a highly alkaline environment. This is true. Additionally, areas in close proximity to the cancer cells turn acidic–also correct. Therefore, it follows that if you increase your body’s overall alkalinity, you can kill/prevent cancer cells from growing.

    What’s the verdict?

    While that logic above appears to (almost) add up, there is one key issue with this claim: while cancer cells can’t live in highly alkaline environments, neither can any of your other cells.

    So even if alkaline water were able to shift your body’s acid-alkaline balance (which it can’t, by the way), it wouldn’t be good news for any cells in your body (forget just the cancerous cells). Your body works hard to maintain a safe pH environment of around 7.4–pretty much no matter what. The scientific community has yet to rally behind the miracle properties of alkaline water. What is known is that if you do drink lots of the alkaline liquid, most of what happens is that you excrete alkaline urine.

    Hydrogen-Rich Water

    What is hydrogen-rich water?

    There’s a lot of confusion surrounding this particular functional water fad–as it is often confused as alkaline water, or even as water molecules with “extra” hydrogens. It’s neither of these things. Simply put, hydrogen-rich water is just infused with molecular hydrogen by dissolving H2 gas dissolved in the water.  

    What’s the claim?

    The hype surrounding hydrogen-rich water is predicated on the fact that hydrogen shows antioxidant activity that results in lower “oxidative stress” which is associated with negative health outcomes. Proponents claim that hydrogen-rich water protects against free radicals, which can damage cells and lead to disease.

    What’s the verdict?

    Hydrogen-infused water is generally recognized as safe (GRAS Certified) by the FDA and continues to receive accolades and testimonials from folks who attest to the natural benefits of consumption. Scientists are continuing their research into the potential benefits surrounding hydrogen-rich water.

    The bottom line is is that the jury is still out on this one. Stay tuned.

    Electrolyte Water

    The electrolyte water craze extends beyond dumping Gatorade on coaches at the end of a football game. In fact, the electrolyte-enhanced water market is one of the fastest growing sectors in the functional water world. It is estimated to generate revenues of over $8 billion by 2023–growing at a rate for 10% between 2018 and 2023.

    What is electrolyte water?

    Electrolytes are minerals in your body with an electric charge. Electrolyte-enhanced water is often infused with potassium and sodium, which can help your body absorb the water more quickly.

    What’s the claim?

    Useful after periods of fluid loss (intense exercise, bouts of vomiting, diarrhea etc.), electrolyte-enhanced water can help prevent and treat mild to moderate dehydration. It can also help prevent muscle cramping.

    What’s the verdict?

    While sports drinks do not necessarily contain enough electrolytes to be an adequate resolve for dehydration, after bouts of fluid loss they can be beneficial. However, if you spend your days sedentary, drinking water with electrolytes won’t help you achieve better hydration (than drinking regular water). We also recommend you always take a look at the sugar content on the label–as many enhance waters have additional (and unnecessary) sugar.

    In sum, after sports or being sick, grab electrolyte water, but don’t rely on it for regular hydration–or you’ll just be consuming unneeded sugar and using environmentally harmful plastic.

    Caffeinated Water

    What is caffeinated water?

    If you’ve ever had an early Monday morning, you won’t be surprised to know that caffeine is the most popular mood-altering drug in the world. We usually get it from coffee, tea, or colas–but now we have the option to get in from our water.

    Unlike the confusion often surrounding alkaline and hydrogen-rich water, caffeinated water is pretty straightforward. It’s water mixed with caffeine–to create a tasteless beverage with a jolt.

    Depending on the brand, caffeinated water contains anywhere from 45 milligrams to 125 milligrams per bottle. To put that in perspective, the typical cup of coffee has about 95 milligrams of caffeine.

    What’s the claim?

    Caffeine is a mild stimulant to the central nervous system and there’s evidence that caffeine may help improve memory, enhance workouts and boost concentration. The claims that have caffeinated water evangelists shouting from the rooftops are typically rooted in the following notions:

  • It’s a calorie-free way to get caffeine
  • Coffee is dehydrating, and caffeinated water is a good way to prevent possible dehydration
  • What’s the verdict?

    We’ll address the “calorie-free” part first.

    Yes, that’s true that caffeinated waters (the ones without added sugar) are calorie-free. But if you typically get your caffeine from coffee or teas–which clock in at 1 and 2 calories per serving, respectively–this isn’t the most compelling reason to switch. While it’s not wrong, we’re much bigger proponents of drinking something out of a nice chemical-free glass or ceramic mug, than a potentially BPA-laden plastic container.

    Moving on to the issue of dehydration.

    Caffeine–no matter the medium it comes in–is a diuretic. So, if that’s your concern-–it doesn’t totally check out. What’s more is that even if you get your caffeine intake from coffee, you are still consuming water (remember coffee is coffee plus water). Finally, despite increasing your need to urinate, drinking coffee isn’t actually dehydrating. So, that tick mark that caffeinated water fans put in the victory column is not quite as powerful as they may have you believe.

    Infused Water

    What is infused water?

    From cucumber water at spas to asparagus water at Whole Foods (yes, that’s real….and expensive), infused waters can be a great option to add taste without calories. While we aren’t entirely certain why anyone is looking to drink asparagus flavored water, infusing water with citrus fruit or herbs can be a nice twist on the old classic.

    What is the claim?

    The biggest benefit is that you’re likely to drink more water throughout the day. You may also get some small plant-based health perks–like water infused with lemon can add some antioxidants to the mix.

    What’s the verdict?

    The greatest thing about infused water is that you can make them at home. No need to buy expensive water that’s packaged in plastic bottles in a store–which brings us back to our old friend…tap water.

    How Does Tap Water Compare?

    In general (and there are exceptions), these fancy, fad, functional waters won’t harm you. If you are buying them pre-packaged in plastic however, there is the guarantee of an environmental impact. Until more concrete evidence emerges, we recommend you keep to your (tested) tap water–as it will cost your wallet and the environment far less.

    For any more questions about drinking water (bottled or tap) send us a message at hello@simplewater.us.

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    It's hard to get trustworthy advice when it comes to your drinking water, so we made Tips for Taps to help answer your questions. Order a Tap Score Water Test and receive personalized support from professional engineers and scientists by phone, email and chat.

    2 comments

    Apr 28, 2019 • Posted by Julio (Tap Score Team)

    Anne,
    Indeed, all our general water tests include testing for Lithium.

    Apr 28, 2019 • Posted by Anne Resmondo

    Can I have tap water test for lithium?

    Leave a comment: