Water Sanitation Health

Nutrients in drinking-water

The World Health Organization assembled a diverse group of nutrition, medical and scientific experts in Rome in November 2003, at the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, to address a number of questions relating to the nutrient composition of drinking water and the possibility that drinking water could in some circumstances contribute to total dietary nutrition.

The task was to examine the potential health consequences of longterm consumption of water that had been "manufactured" or "modified" to add or delete minerals. In particular, the meeting originated from the question of the consequences of the long-term consumption of waters that had been produced from demineralization processes like desalination of seawater and brackish water as well as possibly some membrane treated fresh waters, and their optimal reconstitution from the health perspective.

The scope of the review included these questions:

  • What is the potential contribution of drinking water to human nutrition?
  • What is the typical daily consumption of drinking water for individuals, considering climate, exercise, age and other factors?
  • Which substances are found in drinking water that can contribute significantly to health and well-being?
  • Under what conditions can drinking water become a significant contribution to the total dietary intake of certain beneficial substances?
  • What conclusions can be drawn about the relationship between calcium, magnesium and other trace elements in water and mortality from certain types of cardiovascular disease?
  • For which substances, if any, can a case be made from the public health perspective for supplementation of the mineral content of treated drinking water derived from demineralized water?
  • What is the role of fluoride in such water with respect to dental benefits, dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis?

The expert meeting concluded that only a few minerals in natural waters had sufficient concentrations and distribution to expect that their consumption in drinking water might sometimes be a significant supplement to dietary intake in some populations.

Download the full report

Download individual chapters

Publishing and ordering information

© World Health Organization 2005
210 pages, English only
To order a copy, please contact phedoc@who.int