Sunday, October 27, 2013

Hard or Soft Water: which is better for my health?

In some areas of the country, the water supply is more abrasive than others because it has picked us calcium and magnesium minerals from the environment before it reaches our taps. This is known as hard water.

Though this is the leading cause of limescale, at present there are no recognised health disadvantages of having a hard water supply. In fact, some people believe the opposite.

Is a soft water supply harmful?

Some people choose to install a water softening system in their home, which essentially removes the abrasive minerals form the water supply using a process known as ‘ion exchange’. But in recent years, soft water has come under scrutiny.

When water is softened artificially, water softener salt is added to trigger the ion-exchange process by which the calcium and magnesium minerals are replaced before they reach our taps. This has triggered concern amongst critics that the extra salt could cause harmful side effects, such as heightened blood pressure. So is there any merit to this argument?

Well, the water softening systems uses an ion-exchange process to replace salts containing calcium and magnesium minerals with ‘clean’ sodium ions. Therefore very little additional salt is added.

In actual fact, an 8-ounce glass of softened water contains just under 12.5 milligrams of sodium. To put this into perspective, the amount of sodium in:

  • An 8-ounce glass of Coca-Cola is 30 milligrams, and;
  • A typical slice of bread is between 80 and 230 milligrams

In Western cultures, the recommended intake of sodium is 6g per day, so the levels typical of a glass of softened water are extremely unlikely to have any effect at all.

Are there any benefits of hard water?

Some people worry that by softening their water supply, they’re missing out on key nutrients. This isn’t the case; the calcium and magnesium minerals in hard water are actually in an inorganic form, which means that the body can’t digest them like it would the minerals in food or dietary supplements.

Furthermore, water hardness has been associated with reducing the risk of heart disease. However, it’s generally argued that this effect is only very slight.

One particular study compared mortality rates in the north-eastern UK towns of Scunthorpe and Grimsby. Initially, both towns drank ‘hard’ water at 444 mg/L and experienced that same heart disease rates. However, when Scunthorpe softened its water to 100 mg/L, the town’s cardiovascular deaths rate started to exceed Grimsby’s within a few years.

That said, not all studies have observed this effect. The well-known risk factors, such as poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking and high alcohol intake should be taken much more seriously.

In summary, benefits that hard water does have over soft are actually quite inconsequential, especially when pitched against the financial and everyday advantages of a softer water supply, such significantly reduced energy bills, less cleaning time, no limescale and better hair and skin.

Around 60% of the UK is affected by a hard water supply; to find out whether you might benefit from installing a water softening system, check your postcode here

This was contributed by Laura Moulden on behalf of EcoWater Systems, leading manufacturers of water softening systems since 1925.

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