A brand of alkaline water is likely sickening people in Nevada, federal and local health officials say. At least 11 people in the state have come down with varying symptoms, including serious liver injury, after drinking “Real Water” products. People are being advised not to drink the stuff, while one family has since filed a lawsuit against the company.
The cases first emerged in November 2020, according to the Southern Nevada Health District. Five children from four different households developed acute, non-viral hepatitis (essentially, serious liver inflammation that can lead to permanent damage or even organ failure). The children needed to be hospitalized as a result, but all eventually recovered. Another six people—three adults and three children—experienced milder symptoms, such as vomiting, nausea, loss of appetite, and fatigue. The victims all shared one common thing just prior to their symptoms showing up: They had recently imbibed “Real Water.”
“To date, the consumption of ‘Real Water’ brand alkaline water was found to be the only common link identified between all the cases,” the Southern Nevada Health District said Tuesday.
The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are now working with local health officials to investigate the mass poisoning. The FDA is also looking into the brand, which is owned by Affinity Lifestyles.com, Inc. Though the company has been in existence since 1998 and is based in Las Vegas, Nevada, its headquarters are located in Mesa, Arizona, according to the FDA. At this time, they haven’t yet ruled out that other similar brands could pose a danger to people.
“Consumers, restaurants, and retailers should not drink, cook with, sell, or serve ‘Real Water’ alkaline water, until more information is known about the cause of the illnesses,” the FDA stated in a public advisory released Tuesday.
Alkaline water is considered water that’s been treated to have a slightly higher pH than usual (while your tap water is around 7 pH, or neutral, alkaline water might be around 8 to 9 pH). Proponents of alkaline water, along with an alkaline diet in general, say it can do everything from restoring people’s clear skin to “boosting” their immune system. There is some evidence that alkaline water may help relieve some gastrointestinal symptoms like heartburn, but that’s about all the evidence says. In general, the idea that foods and drinks can improve the body by making it slightly more alkaline or acidic is similarly suspect (the body’s already very good at balancing its pH!).
That said, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that alkaline water by itself can be harmful either, except perhaps to your wallet. It’s possible that the young age of most of the victims, some of whom were reportedly infants, could have played a part in the injuries. It’s also known that liver damage can be identified through higher than normal levels of alkaline phosphatase, a protein that helps break down other proteins.
On Tuesday, the Review-Journal reported that Emely and Christopher Brian Wren have filed a civil complaint against the “Real Water” company. Both they and their two-year child Christopher Noah reportedly became ill after drinking the product, while their daughter, the only member of the family who did not drink it, avoided illness. Both the son and father were hospitalized but recovered.
The company bills their “Real Water” product as being able to “help your body to restore balance and reach your full potential!” and also claims that it has proprietary technology to keep their alkaline water “stable”. Interestingly enough, the company was sued in a class action lawsuit in 2016, with the plaintiffs alleging that the product was just bottled tap water. The lawsuit appears to have not gone anywhere since early 2017.
Representatives at Real Water have not yet responded to a request for comment from Gizmodo.