Birch water: Super drink or super faddy?

In recent months, you may have noticed small clear glass bottles in the supermarket fridge, alongside your standard plastic bottles. I’m talking about birch water, the new, so called, ‘super-drink’. It’s usually over double the price of your bog standard mineral water, and it tends to be about half the size. So what’s the fuss all about? Stick with us, and we’ll tell you.

The lowdown

Simply put, birch water is sap directly tapped from birch trees. Birch water is naturally fermented, and can only be collected for one month of the year, this is generally in early spring. Traditionally, birch water has been enjoyed in Russia, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine. In the past year or so, birch water has begun to creep into the UK and US markets, to the point where you can now pick it up alongside your sandwich at Boots.

Superfood?

Birch water has been touted as the cure all for everything from infertility to gout. But what benefits accompany that astronomical price tag?

Birch water, undeniably, packs quite the punch in chemical make up. This beverage contains (deep breath before reading all this); 17 amino acids, minerals, enzymes, proteins, heterosides, antioxidants, and vitamins. Now, that all sounds impressive, but what action do these buzzwords actually add up to?

Birch water is proven to detoxify, cleanse, and purify, it has great natural anti-inflammatory properties that will take care of your joints and bones. The xylitol in birch water will also help you to maintain a neutral pH level in your mouth, and prevent bacteria from sticking to your teeth.

Are you fed up with all this health talk already? Just one more I promise, and it’s a good one. Birch water is isotonic, which means it is about equal in concentration to your body fluids. The isotonic properties of birch water allows it to provide you with rapid hydration and electrolyte replacement. This makes birch water a great drink for replenishing after a heavy workout… or after drinking a few too many!

Pour it up

Usually, we shy away from the old, ‘superfood’ label, but we have to admit, there’s a lot of good stuff in birch water. If you fancy trying this tipple, you can find it in your local supermarket or chemist, or even on Amazon. Do you already sip this tree juice on the regular? Let us know if you’ve noticed a difference to your health in the comment section below!

Hard water: Hard to deal with?

We all know the type of water that runs through our pipes, hard, soft, or somewhere in between. The real question is: what does it mean, and more importantly, does it matter? Drinking water in the UK is generally classified as ‘very hard’ (with a few exceptions in places such as Cornwall, Devon, and Wales), so in this blog, we’ll be focusing on hard water.

Surprisingly, hard water is water with high mineral content. Hard water is produced when the natural path of water is through limestone and chalk deposits. This gives us water than contains dissolved compounds, these tend to be calcium or magnesium compounds. That, in a nutshell, is what makes our water ‘hard’.

What does hard water do?

So, now we know what hard water is, but what does it do? The easiest way to spot hard water, is to try and lather soap in it. The dissolved calcium and magnesium ions in hard water make it more difficult to create a lather, instead forming soap scum. This means you’ll need more soap when doing the washing up or washing your hair, and it may leave that slimy soap layer around your plug holes. You know the one.

Another sure-fire sign of hard water is the limescale it creates. For those amongst us lucky enough to have never dealt with limescale, limescale is a chalky white substance that forms in your kettle, boiler, and pipes. It is left there when hard water evaporates, leaving behind calcium carbonate (a.k.a. limescale) deposits. This can clog up your plumbing and restrict the flow of water. Limescale costs millions by clogging up industrial machines every year.

Hard water and our bodies


Less studied is the effect that hard water has on our bodies. Now, it has been linked to all sorts of phenomena, with some camps swearing it causes eczema and acne (these links have not been proven). Here’s what we do know, hard water can make shampoo tougher to lather and rinse, meaning your hair can be a little duller than you might like. Studies have also linked hard water to the irritation of psoriasis in infants.

Give us the good news

We’ve given hard water some hard flak here (do excuse the pun), but what’s the good news? Well, most people prefer the taste of hard water, agreeing that soft water can taste a little salty due to the increased sodium levels in soft water.
Calcium and magnesium are part of our dietary requirements, and hard water can be a great source of both, saving you mega bucks on supplements and health drinks. Some studies have even correlated hard water and lower cardiovascular disease mortality. Pour us a glass already!

To conclude

Your hard water lesson for today is complete! What do you think, is hard water a benefit or an issue? Let us know in the comment section below!

The health risks of chlorinated pools

When you combine water with sunlight and open air, life tends to  happen. Now, that’s an amazing thing, but far from ideal if you want to use a body of standing water for anything sanitary. For decades, there’s been a pretty clear cut solution to this – chlorine.
While some are salted, most swimming pools are chlorinated. Once chlorine solution is added to water, it breaks down into hypochlorous acid and hypochlorite ions, which attack the lipids in bacterial cell walls. This oxidises the cells and renders them inert. It’s a remarkably effective process, but it makes the water toxic.
If you’ve ever swallowed a mouthful of pool water, you’ll know that it’s a thoroughly unpleasant experience, accompanied by a lot of coughing and gagging. That’s not actually anything to do with the chlorine, though. Even in a heavily chlorinated pool, the rate is about 2 parts per million, so even if you drank the whole pool, you wouldn’t get chlorine poisoning. What would poison you, would be all the nasty bacteria that chlorine can’t kill.
We have to examine the health risks of swimming in a chlorinated pool on a regular basis, as many people are currently doing, either to deal with the summer heat or because watching the Olympics has made them feel particularly out of shape. So, is there any danger of ill-health as a result of all this splashing around?
It’s still a debated subject, but to suggest that there’s no risk would be very naïve. One Belgian study, conducted in 2009, found that teens who very regularly swam in chlorinated pools were at higher risk from asthma and other allergies. In particular, the risk of hayfever doubled. Another study found, that when chlorine combines with urine, it was develop an irritant called trichloramine, which could well cause damage to the cellular walls which protect the lungs. It’s been theorised that the presence of this irritant could be putting children at greater risk of asthma.
Indoor pools have their own inherent issues, due to the fact that they are an enclosed space. Chloramines release gas into the air, and if it gets trapped in such a space, people will inevitably breathe it in. The build-up of chloramines in the air can be accelerated by the surface of the water being broken, and that’s kind of a given at a busy pool. All indoor pools are required to have some kind of ventilation system, but their effectiveness can vary dramatically. Inhale enough and you could be at risk of respiratory irritation, same as if you swallowed the water.
Fundamentally, most of the issues caused by chlorinated water are more due to the sanitation of the pool in question. If a lot of people are peeing in it, or doing anything else similarly disgusting, the health risk of being in or even near that water obviously rises. Equally, if the pool isn’t cleaned regularly or excess chlorine is pumped in to account for the unsanitary water, that’s also bad news.
The bottom line is this – if you’re going to swim regularly, do some serious research on how well maintained the pool is, and keep an eye on it when you’re there. Olympic or athletic swimming pools tend to be a better bet, simply because there’s more money involved. If you have children, it’s almost better to (if you can afford to) get your own above ground pool and use that; public recreational pools are often filthy during the busy summer months. In any case, chlorine is an excellent disinfectant, you needn’t worry about that, it’s just the people who use the pools you need to be careful of.

What’s in a wave?

Imagine looking out at sea,  waiting for that moment, a split second where instinct kicks in and says ‘GO’, tunnel vision on the patch of blue that’s gargling into adolescence and then catching it as it grows into adulthood.  You can’t tame it, with instinct and your surfboard you’re looking to own it at the expense of it possibly engulfing you; you do this with instinct and your surfboard.

It seems that good surfers have a keen eye for spotting where and when the perfect wave will break. The surfer uses their instinct to see the future of the landscape, but what is it that creates that perfect wave? 

The surfer’s perspective
Sat out upon the rolling sea, from the surfer’s perspective, the landscape at that point is an endless blue littered with the froth created by the wind chopping up the surface of water – these are called white-caps.
The whitecaps can form crests giving the wind more surface area to work with, creating a peak. Those small peaks start moving away from the wind, expending a bit of its energy by turning its choppiness into a nice rounded wave, which is called a swell. 
At this point it seems pretty weak and unassuming, as all that energy is underwater. This energy becomes apparent when the waves get closer to the shore and starts making contact with the land underneath. As the wave begins encroaching upon the land the wave’s energy is forced upward above the water surface, the front of the wave slows before the back of the wave causing to break; here we have the rideable wave.
The shape of the land beneath the water has a say in how the wave turns out; if the land is steep the wave will crash creating a barrel wave, if the slope of the land is more gradual then the wave will break slowly forming a ‘crumbling’ wave. 
 Barrel wave                                                                                        Crumbling wave
Img source (right): quiksilver.com/eddie
The physics of the wave
The waves make their way onto the shore in rows; sometimes the ones behind can catch up with the wave in front and add together creating a super wave. This is simply constructive interference.
If you picture the wave from the side you can see it as a series of orbital waves. This motion is a flow of energy from peak to the trough and back round again, making what is basically a large circle. When it comes into contact with the land this circular motion is forced upwards, essentially squishing it and disrupting the circular flow of the water, which causes the wave to break.
We know what creates the ideal wave and now we have the technology to actually make an artificial one. Professional surfer, Kelly Slater, rode an artificial wave in 2015. After years of research it was discovered that the best way to simulate barrel waves in the ocean was to use the wind (pneumatics). This was the wave that Kelly Slater surfed. 
By simulating ocean swells we can replicate an experience that is closely comparable to ocean surfing. Engineers have designed hundreds of wave pools for water parks, but the technology incorporated to make surfing waves today is a quantum leap in the evolution of surf pool technology. 
In the right conditions the water flowing back to the sea can form a rip current. This is the term for the water that’s moving from the shore back to the sea; the current can drag swimmers into the open water at a speed that’s too difficult to swim against. 
The weather can also change the intensity of the wave. For instance strong winds and pressure from a hurricane can create a series of waves that are formed in deep water, which intensify as they approach land.
The land at the bottom of the water can also massively affect the wave; Tsunamis for instance, are due to the land under the water shifting – different to tides which are created on the surface by wind and the magnetic force from the moon and sun. Tsunamis are caused by the energy beneath the surface; a volcanic eruption, submarine landslide or an earthquake can cause this huge surge of energy underwater that eventually makes its way onto the surface as it comes closer to the shore. 
Whilst the physics perspective is equally as stunning as the surfer’s, encouraging a safer perspective on the waves, nothing jars the surfer’s instinct; that wave is theirs for the taking and admittedly, it’s infectious… Let’s go surfing. 


Flotation tanks – Do they work?

Picture it for a moment, you’re wearing nothing but a swimming costume, standing in a room full of white, unmarked pods. One of them is open, and you’re led over to one of the open ones. Once you get inside, you find yourself floating on the surface of a body of salty water, and then the lid closes. This is the point of a flotation tank – sensory deprivation, total darkness and almost total silence. 
This technology – if you can refer to it as such – has been around since the early 60s, developed by John C. Lilly. Lilly has become something of an infamous figure since then, his early experiments with isolation tanks set the standard for later development, but he also attempted to communicate with animals and later on combined his use of the tanks with copious amounts of hallucinogens, providing the inspiration for a novel (The Day of the Dolphin) and a film (Altered States), respectively.
Lilly’s work really started to gain ground when he met Peter Suedfeld, who had been developing his own work on isolation tanks since volunteering for a study at Princeton, only to find it basically involved being locked in a dark room for 24 hours. The two of them worked together until Lilly started leaning more heavily into taking drugs and making contact with other realms, but by then the basic blueprint for the flotation tanks you find today had been set.
Now, there are places to try it out the world over, mostly in spas and other health facilities, but there are also some places entirely dedicated to the outlandish practice. What does it do, exactly, though? You’ve probably read or been told that the act of floating in Epsom salted water, cut off from light and sound, induces a particularly intense meditative state, but there’s more to it than that.
Studies have shown that floating can be beneficial for skin, fibromyalgia, pain relief, blood pressure and even some motion disorders. What we don’t necessarily know is why it does all of these things. Some of it can be attributed to the act of actually floating in salt water, many people do in the Dead Sea, but on a more basic level, floating is an inherently relaxing thing. In the simplest terms, it allows you to remain in a position where virtually none of your muscles are engaged, and thus, your brain can focus on other things.
This is part of the reason why people find themselves able to achieve such a deep meditative state, and also why it takes a certain amount of time to kick in – usually about 15 minutes for most people. You are able to enter a state of deep thought and introspection not usually possible, and the benefits of this are easy to track. Any form of psychological stress and the knock on effects of it (lack of sleep, headaches, chronic anxiety, etc) can be effectively, provably addressed by floating, which is part of the reason why so many modern spas have at least one tank installed.
Recent history is peppered with examples of well-known people who turned to flotation tanks. Michael Crichton used one when he had writer’s block, physicist Richard Feynman was a fan (he actually used the one in John C. Lilly’s house) and more recently, podcaster, MMA mainstay and comedian Joe Rogan has become an outspoken fan. Of course, you could just as easily throw out a list of famous people who bought into some shallow fad like hoverboards or scientology, but there’s no trick or questionability to the effects of flotation, only their extent. The comparisons to being in the womb are in extremis, but rooted in logic, you’re in an environment you can’t experience naturally, and in a strange way it awakens a level of relaxation you couldn’t otherwise achieve.