Next time you're asked if you prefer tap or sparkling water, consider opting for the tap. It's not only less expensive than its sparkling counterparts, but tap water also may be easier on your digestive system than bubble water.
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Carbonated or sparkling water is essentially just water plus air, aka carbon dioxide. That's it. The bubbles may occur naturally in certain spring waters or are added during production. Many varieties have added flavor, too, such as lemon-lime, peach-raspberry or others, for taste. But they're not right for everyone.
Surprising Disadvantages of Sparkling Water
"Air doesn't get absorbed, so it has to exit your body out of one end or the other," explains William J. Bulsiewicz, MD, a gastroenterologist in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, and author of the forthcoming book Fiber Fueled__. This means belching, flatulence and indigestion are all possibilities.
"For some people, this can be extremely distressing and lead to discomfort," he says. And it could take hours to pass the gas from carbonated water. "Flatulence usually occurs in less than 24 hours, but you will belch almost immediately after consuming carbonated water," Dr. Bulsiewicz says.
Read more: Side Effects of Carbonated Water
There may be other disadvantages of sparkling water for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), he says. IBS is is a common gastrointestinal disorder marked by constipation and/or diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. "It won't cause IBS, but if you are someone who is sensitive to carbonated beverages and you have IBS, the bloating and gas may cause a flare," Dr. Bulsiewicz points out.
There's also at least one lab study that links carbonated water to weight gain, he adds. The study, published in the September-October 2017 issue of Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, found that drinking carbonated beverages caused elevated levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and greater food intake among rats drinking carbonated drinks compared with rats that had plain or "de-carbonated" water. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells your body to keep on eating. When the researchers repeated this experiment in a group of 20 healthy men, they found that any type of carbonated beverage significantly increased ghrelin levels.
Some carbonated beverages also contain added sugars and caffeine, which adds to their potential negative health effects, Dr. Bulsiewicz says. "Some people with IBS will have aggravation of their condition if they consume caffeine, and it will give them diarrhea," he says.
Sugary sodas are not only carbonated, they're also loaded with empty calories, which can contribute to obesity and its related health risks. In fact, sugar-sweetened sodas are the No. 1 source of added sugar in people's diets, according to the American Heart Association. "If you overdo it on sugar, you are going to get diarrhea," Dr. Bulsiewicz says.
Read more: Effects of Soda on Your Stomach
Diet sodas contain artificial sweeteners, which is why they are so low in calories. "Artificial sweeteners can cause a laxative effect," he explains. "They pull water into your colon and help to mobilize stool, which can lead to the runs." This is especially true of the artificial sweetener sorbitol.
Carbonated Water Can Help You Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated is important for good health. Women should aim for about 11.5 cups of water per day and, for men, this recommendation jumps up about 15.5 cups, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. These suggested amounts can include the water in foods as well as beverages. Fruits, including cantaloupe, strawberries and watermelon, and veggies such as lettuce, cabbage, celery and spinach are examples of foods that are high in water content.
If you're not bothered by carbonation, sparkling water can be part of your water consumption, and adding a slice of lemon is a healthy option. Plus, some people really dig the bubbles. A 2016 study in PLOS One found that participants perceived cold carbonated drinks as an effective way to reduce thirst, making it one way to stay hydrated.
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- William J. Bulsiewicz, MD, gastroenterologist, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, author, Fiber Fueled.
- Obesity Research & Clinical Practice: “Carbon Dioxide in Carbonated Beverages Induces Ghrelin Release and Increased Food Consumption in Male Rats: Implications on the Onset of Obesity”
- American Heart Association: “Sip Smarter Infographic”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “How Much Water Do You Need”
- PLOS One: “Oral Cooling and Carbonation Increase the Perception of Drinking and Thirst Quenching in Thirsty Adults”
- American College of Gastroenterology: "Irritable Bowel Syndrome."