Health By Clara Lu — Date 07.14.2017

Drinking water: An overlooked source of minerals for our bodies

It is common knowledge that food provides us with a constant supply of minerals and nutrients. But does the same apply to water?

According to recent studies conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), drinking water actually does significantly contribute to our total dietary nutrition.

So although foods are the major source of mineral nutrients in the diet, it would be unwise to overlook the part that water plays when contributing towards your total nutrition intake. In some cases, minerals can be absorbed better via water than if taken in with solid food.

Let’s dig deeper.

Minerals in food vs. minerals in water

A total of 21 mineral elements including calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and other trace elements are known to be essential for humans.

With water supplies highly variable in their mineral contents based on geography and sources, it is hard to generalise and make definite conclusions about their contribution to nutrition.

On average, the relative contribution of water to total dietary intake of certain minerals is between 1 and 20%.

The micronutrients with the largest proportion of intake from drinking water relative to that provided by food are calcium and magnesium. As the bioavailability of calcium and magnesium in water is usually better than in food, they can be absorbed better through water instead of food.

For instance, the bioavailability of calcium in water is 84% and that of magnesium is 92%, while the bioavailability of calcium in cow milk is at 35% and the bioavailability of magnesium in a banana is only 29%.

The minerals that matter

So what are the top important dietary minerals in the diet and water that are essential for nutrition and wellbeing?

[image via: flickr]

MineralIts functionsDeficiency symptomsBenefits in water
IronIron is necessary for normal body functions such as oxygen transport, metabolism of neurotransmitters, and DNA synthesis.Impaired mental and motor development and altered behavior.Significant when dietary intake of iron is low.
ZincZinc is required for growth, normal development, DNA synthesis, immunity, and sensory functions.Growth retardation, delayed sexual and skeletal maturation, and impaired resistance to infections.Significant when dietary intake of zinc is low.
CopperCopper is responsible for infant growth, host defence mechanisms, bone strength, red and white cell maturation, iron transport and brain development.Anaemia, neutropenia, and bone abnormalities are the main manifestations of copper deficiency.Significant for most of the population.
CalciumBesides being the primary structural constituent of the skeleton, calcium is also important for the regulation of enzymes and hormonal responses, blood clotting, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction/ relaxation.Calcium deficiency leads to a decrease in bone mineral content and mass, leading to increased risk for bone fractures.Significant for most of the population.
MagnesiumMagnesium is essential for the mineralisation and development of the skeleton, and also plays a role in cellular permeability and neuromuscular excitability.Deficiency of magnesium has been implicated in hypertension and type II diabetes, while low magnesium intake has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.Significant for most of the population.
SodiumSodium helps control blood pressure and electrolyte balance, and regulates the function of muscles and nerves.Cramps, weakness, confusion and seizures.Minimal, as sodium levels in drinking water are minimal compared with those in the diet.
PotassiumPotassium is crucial to heart function and plays a key role in skeletal and smooth muscle contraction, making it important for normal digestive and muscular function.Muscle weakness, cramping, diarrhoea or vomiting.Significant when dietary intake of potassium is low.

Healthy water contains minerals and needs more investigation

Although all of the minerals in drinking water (as evaluated above) can make significant contributions to dietary intake for some segments of the population, interestingly enough, little work has been done to scientifically investigate  the effects of water’s nutritional benefits.

Currently available studies are a preliminary effort to compare the contribution of waterborne minerals to overall nutritional health and well-being, while more research still needs to be carried out.

However, an overarching verdict can be reached: only water with adequate minerals is healthy water. Which also means: It is not enough to simply drink the adequate amount of water per day, but also to ensure that the water you drink is free of contaminants and contains the right minerals and levels for your body.

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