Do water filters, air purifiers, and organic food really make a difference?

Jonathan Vellinga, MD

These days, it is hard to not feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information concerning environmental toxins. Air pollution, contaminated water, microplastics, pesticides, GMOs… the list goes on. These things are part of our daily lives, and it seems like so many of our daily purchases come with a long list of considerations. The good news is that with a few changes, you can greatly reduce your exposure to many common toxins, reduce your home’s pollution, and minimize your body’s toxic load.

Do water filters, air purifiers, and organic food really make a difference?

Is our drinking water polluted?

Unfortunately, the answer is unanimously yes. There are a number of common sources of water pollution, with eutrophication (high nutrient loads from agricultural runoff) taking the spot as the most common source (1). Domestic sewage, industrial byproducts, fossil fuels, and wildfires also contribute to pollution in drinking water (1). Toxic elements such as aluminum, ammonia, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chloramine, copper, bacteria and viruses, lead, mercury, radium, uranium, and many more are some of the most common contaminants (2, 3, 4).

Agricultural and household pesticides, household disinfectants, and even firefighting foam and stain- and water-repellents all contribute significantly to our drinking water’s pollution (3, 4, 5). Aside from these pollutants that are carcinogens, heavy metals, and chemicals, personal care products, and pharmaceuticals are another source of contamination. While more study is needed, these types of products are thought to act as xenoestrogens and other hormone-disrupting compounds (1, 4, 6).

How does polluted drinking water affect us?

Any of these toxins may be found in drinking water. While levels vary due to location, type of water source (well vs city water), type and age of pipes, all water across America contains some level of contaminants. While much of the water’s toxicity is within limits deemed safe by the EPA, this does not mean that it is harmless. Because water contaminant levels, just like food products, are all measured independently, many items have low levels of toxins but are still considered safe. However, when low levels of contaminants from water are combined with “safe” levels in many different types of foods (not to mention pollution in the air), the overall toxic load can far exceed safe levels. While there is no way to escape all toxins and pollutants, it is a great idea to limit it wherever possible. This is because the pollutants listed above can lead to (2, 6, 7):

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness

  • Central nervous system damage, including muscle twitches and tingling sensations

  • Weakness

  • Nausea

  • Increased risk of cancer

  • Endocrine disruption

  • Reproductive disorders and problems, including infertility and poor development

  • Impaired eye function

  • Reduced liver and kidney function

  • Neurotoxicity

  • Reduced gut function

  • Lowered immune function

  • Birth defects