The Hidden Health Epidemic of Soft Water
Most things that improve the stability and endurance of a building are also good for its occupants. But there is one issue lying in the dark that seems to receive a paucity of attention. The consequences are not immediately visible, and are therefore easily ignored. But according to many studies, up to 2 out of 10 people reading this article may die from it.
The issue is soft water. Many people are confused about what soft water is. Naturally occurring ground water, or what we often refer to as “hard water”, has trace amounts of magnesium, calcium, and other minerals. Most simply, soft water is the same ground water but with those minerals removed (and usually with trace amounts of sodium added). Soft water can occur in nature as well, but much less commonly than hard water.
The trend of softening water began as a way to protect the pipes in our homes. And it works. Soft water will prevent plumbing and appliances from becoming clogged with mineral buildups. But we have fixated on protecting our homes at the expense of ignoring our bodies. This is a poor value judgment, and may in fact be wholly unnecessary.
In this article I will outline the reasons why it may be a very bad idea to drink, bathe in, and cook with soft water, and explore some possible alternatives to using a whole-house water softener.
Reason 1: Most of the U.S. Population is Already Deficient in Magnesium and Calcium.
As crazy as it sounds, I think there may be a link between becoming deficient in a mineral and removing it from the water supply. According to the USDA, roughly 57% of the U.S. population is not receiving adequate magnesium intake, while 69% are not receiving adequate calcium intake.
This is not some naturopathic idea on the “fringe” of science. The World Health Organization (WHO), while cautious about the degree of causality between soft water and mineral deficiencies, makes the statement:
“Drinking-water may be a contributor of calcium and magnesium in the diet and could be important for those who are marginal for calcium and magnesium intake. Where drinking-water supplies are supplemented with or replaced by demineralized water that requires conditioning, consideration should be given to adding calcium and magnesium salts to achieve concentrations similar to those that the population received from the original supply”.
Reason 2: Many Studies Link Soft Water to Cardiovascular Disease.
Magnesium is a critical nutrient for heart health. Large studies have linked magnesium deficiency to high blood pressure and some have found that people who take magnesium supplements have a lower chance of dying from heart disease. Another paper hosted on the WHO website echoes the significance of this link.
“Sufficient evidence is now available to confirm the health consequences from drinking water deficient in calcium or magnesium. Many studies show that higher water magnesium is related to decreased risks for CVD [cardiovascular disease] and especially for sudden death from CVD. This relationship has been independently described in epidemiological studies with different study designs, performed in different areas, different populations, and at different times. The consistent epidemiological observations are supported by the data from autopsy, clinical, and animal studies.”
Reason 3: Soft Water Can Corrode Pipes and Leech Metals into the Water Supply.
Health Canada summarizes studies on the link between soft water and the leeching of heavy metals from the plumbing:
“Soft water can lead to corrosion of pipes, and, consequently, certain heavy metals such as copper, zinc, lead and cadmium may be present in the distributed water. The degree to which this occurs is also a function of pH, alkalinity and dissolved oxygen concentration (see also review of pH). In some communities, corrosion is so severe that the water must be treated”.
All of these facts put us into a predicament. We can’t ignore the issues with soft water, but we also can’t let plumbing and appliances become clogged with scale and mineral buildup. The problem is massive, but could potentially be solved in a few simple ways. Here are some ideas I think everyone with soft water should consider.
- Drink mineral water — which for all intents and purposes, is bottled hard water.
- Consider taking supplements. Mixing a small amount of dolomite powder into a glass of water can replenish the lost magnesium and calcium (note: this is not medical advice).
- Use appliances with built-in water softeners instead of a central water softener (some dishwashers, for example, have this feature).
- Consider installing a water descaler to replace your water softener, which prevents minerals from binding to pipes without actually removing them from the water supply.
Sources USDA  World Health Organization (Paper 1)  WebMD: Diet and Cholesterol  World Health Organization (Paper 2)  Health Canada