The health benefits of drinking sparkling (yes, SPARKLING) water

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January is typically a time when many of us attempt to purge ourselves of the internal contamination and external baggage stockpiled at the tail end of last year. Those seeking a decent ‘detox’ will generally do well to drink plenty of water, one effect of which is to assist the flushing out of bodily pollutants via the urine and sweat. Water purists usually recommend that topping up on still water, rather than sparkling, is the route through to tiptop well-being. However, my eye was caught by a recent study which suggests that fizzy water may sometimes offer superior health benefits to flat.

The research in question, published in the Journal of Nutrition, was designed to assess the health effects of sparkling and still mineral water in a group of women. The study participants were asked to drink 1 litre of either the sparkling or still each day for two months, followed by two months on the other water. During the study, the study participants underwent a number of tests including blood pressure checks and measurement of a variety of blood components including cholesterol. Compared to the still mineral water, the drinking of sparkling water brought about significant reductions in the level of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (generally regarded as a risk factor for heart disease), as well as a significant increase in levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (generally taken to reduce heart disease risk). These and other biochemical changes induced by drinking sparkling water were estimated to reduce the women’s risk of developing heart disease over the next decade by about a third.

Quite what it is about sparkling water that accounts for its seeming heart healthy properties is not known for sure, though the explanation is unlikely to lie in the bubbles themselves. More likely, the benefits of the water used in the study are related to its high mineral content compared to the still water it was tested against. One mineral that the fizzy stuff was particularly high in was sodium – generally regarded as undesirable food constituent on account of its ability to boost blood pressure. However, studies show that low sodium diets may increase cholesterol levels. This throws up the possibility that the sparkling water’s relatively high sodium content might actually have played some part in its apparent ability to quell levels of unhealthy cholesterol.

Interestingly, the Journal of Nutrition study found that the drinking of the sodium-rich mineral water did not lead to any increase in blood pressure. One reason for this is that sparkling waters tend to be rich in bicarbonate, which is believed to help balance any negative effects sodium may have in the body. Personally, my belief is that individual keen to limit sodium in their diets need concern themselves less about foods and drinks that contain this mineral naturally, than processed foodstuffs that have had it added (often in considerable quantity) by food manufacturers. Sparkling waters rich in sodium may not have the healthiest of reputations, but research has bubbled up which suggests that they may actually offer considerable benefits for the body.

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