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You drink water every day; nearly all of your organs are made up of water—your body is approximately 70% water. Your body needs water to transport nutrients, remove wastes, maintain body temperature and regulate cell volume—in short, to survive. You’re well aware that you need to drink at least eight glasses of water per day. But what’s the real deal when it comes to drinking water? How safe are you? Is bottled water best? Do the contaminants you hear so much about in the news outweigh the health benefits of water? If you’re an educated consumer, you probably have asked at least one of these questions before.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), naturally pure drinking water doesn’t exist. That means that no matter how hard you try to purify your water, some form of contaminant is going to be present. What matters is that those contaminants aren’t harmful to your health and are carefully balanced. Most people, about 250 million, get their water from a public supply. If this includes you, then you can rest assured that your water is relatively safe. In 1974, the EPA established strict regulations for keeping your water safe. The EPA now has specific guidelines for the levels of contaminants that may be present in public drinking water. If any level goes over the restricted level, you will be notified immediately.

Many people, especially those living in rural areas, get their water from private sources, or wells. Well water is not checked regularly, nor is it restricted or regulated. So if you have your own well, you need to make sure your water is tested annually for contamination problems, especially nitrate, radon, pesticides and coliform bacteria (all common contaminants in well water). Your local health department will advise you about which contaminants are prevalent in your area and how safe your well is. It’s also important to limit any potentially risky or polluting activities around your well. Your local health department will provide you with guidelines.

When traveling to other countries or drinking foreign water, look out especially for bacteria called giardia, a dangerous parasite present in contaminated water especially in underdeveloped countries that can make you very sick.

A lot of publicly regulated water either has naturally occurring fluoride or the community will add fluoride to help protect the public’s teeth. Fluoride is said to help build strong teeth and prevent tooth decay. If you’re concerned about not getting enough fluoride from your drinking water, talk to your dentist about a supplemental prescription for fluoride. If you’re curious about the beneficial properties versus the harmful factors of fluoride, your dentist is the person with whom to talk.

If you have a chronic health condition with a severely impaired immune system, or if you have young children with special health concerns, you might need to have specifically filtered water. If you have HIV/AIDS, take steroids, or if you are undergoing chemotherapy, then you should discuss your drinking water options with your healthcare provider. If you’re using tap water to make baby formula, you might want to talk to your pediatrician about alternatives. If your water supplier doesn’t meet the EPA standard for nitrate or lead (they should let you know—contact them to double-check), and you have young children, talk to a pediatrician about alternative options for drinking water.

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