Bottled water is an easy fix for bad tap water. Whether your tap water just tastes bad or is downright contaminated with bacteria or heavy metals, purified bottled water is a healthier alternative.
Most adults don’t get enough water, and if you fall into this category, you could see significant mental and physical wellness gains by increasing your water intake.
Here’s what the scientific research has to say about when bottled water can be useful, and who can benefit from it.
Bottled water benefits
1. Bottled water can make up for the lack of purity in tap water
While water is essential for life, too often it’s difficult to avoid contaminants in drinking water.
Whether it is heavy metal contaminants in water piping, pesticides from farm runoff, or trace pharmaceutical compounds that slip by the water purification process, tap water has a number of health hazards that can be avoided by choosing a high-quality bottled water.
On top of this, many people prefer the taste of naturally-sourced spring water to the taste of the water that’s found in their local tap system. We’ll take a look at some of the science behind why you may want to opt for bottled water for optimal health and wellness.
2. Bottled water is free of heavy metal contaminants like lead
While most people think of municipal water sources in the United States being safe and healthy, contaminants are more of a problem in tap water than many people realized.
The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which started in 2014, is perhaps the best example of this—in response to mounting financial difficulties, the city of Flint switched its water source to a less expensive and more polluted river, which was compounded by a failure to properly treat the water (1).
Unfortunately, contamination in drinking water is not confined to just Flint, Michigan. According to one study, up to 45 million Americans are drinking water that comes from a municipal water system that does not comply with federal drinking water safety standards (2).
These violations include toxic metals like lead and arsenic, as well as bacterial contamination.
3. Many pharmaceutical drugs can’t be removed by standard tap water purification procedures
With millions of Americans taking prescription drugs, it’s no surprise that these compounds end up in the drinking water supply.
Aside from the obvious source—unused drugs being flushed down the toilet—metabolized and unmetabolized forms of prescription medication make their way into the drinking water supply in the form of urine.
Many of these compounds are so pernicious that traditional wastewater treatment plants can’t remove them from the water supply. This was the conclusion of a scientific study published in 2004 by a team of researchers from the United States Geological Survey (3).
As recently as 2016, research by a United Nations working group highlighted the fact that pharmaceutical compounds in drinking water are still a significant threat to water quality (4).
4. Bottled water is free from unregulated endocrine disruptors found in tap water
Endocrine disruptors are an emerging category of chemicals that are particularly harmful to human health, even at low doses, because they are molecularly similar in structure to human hormones.
The best-known endocrine disruptor is bisphenol A, or BPA, but is is far from the only one. According to research published in the scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, conventional water treatment methods are ineffective against many potential endocrine disrupting compounds (5).
A high-quality bottled water, in contrast, is derived either from pure natural sources of water or is purified using advanced treatment methods to remove any possible contaminants.
5. Bacterial contamination is common in tap water
Contamination in drinking water is not limited just to organic and inorganic chemicals.
Living bacteria can grow and multiply in poorly-processed tap water, and this issue is of particular concern in small towns and rural areas where local funding does not keep up with the demand for increasingly complex water purification techniques.
According to a federal report released in 2016, almost three quarters of small municipal water supplies do not meet safety standards for bacterial contamination (6).
Again, high quality bottled water offers distinct advantages: because it is subjected to more stringent testing and safety standards, and is then sealed in a sterile bottle, the probability of contamination by bacteria like coliform is far lower.
6. Low water intake impairs cognition and hurts kidney function
A recent review of research on hydration status published in 2019 in the text Analysis in Nutrition Research evaluated the range of studies published recently on what some researchers deem ‘hypohydration’—chronically low water intake that, though it may not create acute dehydration, puts additional stress on the body (7).
The authors of this review cite a range of experiments and observational studies that paint a fairly consistent picture: people who do not drink very much water on a regular basis put an additional stress on many of the core functional structures of the body.
While much of this work only shows association, these relationships remain even after adjusting for common confounding variables like cigarette smoking.
7. Dehydration impairs physical and cognitive performance
The short-term effects of insufficient water intake are well-known: a lack of adequate water causes impaired sports performance, increases stress on the kidneys, and can harm cognitive function as well (8).
Guidelines on water intake during exercise and vigorous activity are based primarily on thirst or loss of body weight due to sweating: the relative rarity of severe dehydration itself indicates that thirst is a fairly strong indicator of hydration status.
8. Staying hydrated could reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease
One study indicated that good hydration (defined, rather arbitrarily, as above average intake of water) could be protective against some chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and hypertension (9).
The authors of this scientific review concede that much work remains to be done to determine the optimal intake levels for water, but given the evidence thus far, many people ought to drink more than they do.
Bottled water side effects
Overhydration is only a concern if you force yourself to drink large amounts of water. If As long as you follow your thirst instinct, bottled water is free from pretty much any side effects. The only way you can get yourself in trouble is by forcing yourself to drink more water when your body is telling you it’s had enough.
In this situation, you can get hyponatremia, a dangerous condition where your blood sodium gets too diluted. Hyponatremia usually only affects marathon runners and other endurance athletes, and even then, only affects those who take hydration advice too far, and force themselves to drink enormous quantities of water even when they feel too full.
Still, it’s worth noting that mindlessly forcing yourself to drink large volumes of water can put your body in an unhealthy and potentially dangerous state. Ironically, in athletic events, hyperhydration (which causes hyponatremia) ends up leading to far more hospitalizations than dehydration.
Bottled water intake
Aim for three to four liters of water per day. According to recommendations from Institute of Medicine, men should aim for at least 3.7 liters (125 fluid ounces) of water per day, and women should aim for at least 2.7 liters (91 fluid ounces) of water per day (10). This intake level is thought to benefit kidney health and prevent cognitive impairment from inadequate water availability.
A significant fraction of adults do not drink enough water. According to a report from the US Department of Health and Human Services, over half of men and nearly half of women in the US do not consume enough water to meet the recommended intakes mentioned above (11). Moreover, only about a third of this water is just plain water (the rest is from things like soda, tea, or coffee). These adults could see simple and easy health gains just by increasing their water intake.
Bottled water benefits FAQ
Q: Is drinking bottled water bad for you?
A: As long as you are getting a high-quality source for your bottled water, you don’t need to worry about bottled water being bad for you.
Concerns about contamination with compounds like BPA are actually more of a worry with hard plastics used in reusable plastic water bottles, as opposed to single-serving bottled water, and as long as you choose a good brand with a high-quality filtering method, such as reverse osmosis, you’ll be getting extremely pure water.
Q: How do you reduce waste from bottled water?
A: Excess plastic waste is one of the big problems with bottled water. One way around this problem is using boxed water, which is 100% recyclable and doesn’t create the plastic waste that traditional plastic bottles create. Most bottled water bottles are also recyclable, so making sure to recycle these instead of throwing them in the trash can also go a long ways towards reducing plastic waste.
Q: Is there a health benefit from consuming bottled water compared to tap water?
A: Bottled water only has health benefits compared to tap water if the tap water you are drinking can’t be relied on for safety.
If you’re in a location where bacteria like E. coli or heavy metals like lead are found in the local drinking water, there’s a huge and obvious health benefit to not exposing your body to these agents. On the contrary, high quality and properly treated tap water can be just as healthy as bottled water.
Related: Our best bottled water picks
Can’t trust the quality of your tap water? Bottled water is a great way to go.
With a high-quality source of bottled water, you can be confident that the water you’re drinking is free from the bacteria, pollutants, and heavy metals that can affect questionable sources of water.
On top of that, keeping your water intake high may even protect you against chronic diseases like heart disease and hypertension.