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A Functional Medicine Doctor Shares Why (And How) To Filter Your Water

Last updated on July 11, 2022

Water is a life-sustaining fluid, but if you're drinking yours straight out of the tap, it might contain more than just H2O. Based on the Environmental Working Group (EWG)'s comprehensive Tap Water Database, which compiles results from water utility testing across the U.S., the water in some communities can contain potentially dangerous chemicals. Here's my take on how to make sure your water isn't harming your health.

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Why your tap water might not be as clean as you think it is.

Even "clean" drinking water that flows from the tap isn't what most of us would think of as clean. It's traveled through miles of pipeline, picking up contaminants and runoff along the way. It's also probably been disinfected with chemicals that can leave potentially carcinogenic byproducts1 behind. (One important thing to note: Disinfection is a necessary evil, and without it, waterborne illnesses would be a constant problem.)

According to the EWG's investigation, at the time of this writing, roughly 85% of the population was drinking tap water that contained over 300 contaminants—more than half of which were not regulated by the EPA2. Add to the mix an ever-growing list of new chemical compounds that come online just about every day, and well, the water will probably only get murkier over time.

What to drink instead.

Just because there could be issues with your tap does not mean you should resort to buying bottled water instead. The bottled water market is virtually unregulated, and even the EPA says it's not necessarily safer than tap3. Plus, bottled water is terrible for the environment: Roughly 17 million barrels of oil go into a year's worth of plastic bottles, according to The Pacific Institute. What's worse, because of the low recycling rates in the U.S., roughly two-thirds of those bottles will wind up in landfills or eventually make their way to the ocean, polluting waters and harming wildlife.

Instead of going this route, I recommend filtering your water at home. Ideally, you'd be able to buy a whole-house filtration system—but they can be really pricey. If that isn't in the cards, invest in individual units for your kitchen tap and shower. (If you're really worried about your shower, in particular, I'd also recommend taking colder showers so that your pores are less open to potential contaminants.)

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What to look for in a water filter.

First, you'll want to make sure that whatever filter you buy is verified by NSF International, an independent nonprofit group that tests and verifies the ability of filters to weed out certain contaminants. From there, you can decide what kind of filter is best for your home and lifestyle: an under-the-counter model, countertop model, or pitcher.

  • Under-the-counter filters are great because they're tucked away out of sight and receive very high marks for filtration. However, the initial purchase price plus cost per gallon can be a bit higher than the other options, and there is some installation involved.
  • Countertop filters use water pressure to force water through the filtration process, which helps make water healthier and tastier, removing more contaminants than standard pitcher systems. Countertop systems require minimal installation (a small hose but no permanent fixtures) and take up only a few inches of counter space.
  • Water pitchers work well for the space-challenged because they're portable, need no installation, fit easily in the fridge, and are available on just about every street corner. They do a decent job of filtering out some of the major contaminants but generally not as many as under-the-counter and countertop versions. And while the initial investment is small, filters need frequent replacement, which boosts the cost per gallon over other methods. My favorite pitcher (and the one we use in my office) is the Aquasana Powered Water Filtration System.
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Water filtration is a simple way to support your health, and there are many ways to do it. I'll drink to that!

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Frank Lipman, M.D.
Frank Lipman, M.D.

For Dr. Frank Lipman, health is more than just the absence of disease: it is a total state of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social wellbeing. Dr. Lipman is a widely recognized trailblazer and leader in functional and integrative medicine, and he is a New York Times best-selling author of five books, How to Be Well, The New Health Rules, Young and Slim for Life, Revive and Total Renewal.

After his initial medical training in his native South Africa, Lipman spent 18 months working at clinics in the bush. He became familiar with the local traditional healers, called sangomas, which kindled his interest in non-Western healing modalities

In 1984, Lipman immigrated to the United States, where he became the chief medical resident at Lincoln Hospital in Bronx, NY. While there, he became fascinated by the hospital’s addiction clinic, which used acupuncture and Chinese medicine making him even more aware of the potential of implementing non-Western medicine to promote holistic wellbeing.

He began studying nutrition, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, functional medicine, biofeedback, meditation, and yoga. Lipman founded the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in 1992, where he combines the best of Western medicine and cutting edge nutritional science with age-old healing techniques from the East. As his patient, chef Seamus Mullen, told The New York Times, “If antibiotics are right, he’ll try it. If it’s an anti-inflammatory diet, he’ll do that. He’s looking at the body as a system rather than looking at isolated things.”

In addition to his practice, he is also an instructor in mbg's Functional Nutrition Program.

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