During a medical procedure some time back, my wife’s doctor told her to stay hydrated and recommended she drink Gatorade or Smartwater. (Or is it “Smart water”? Even Glaceau, now a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, can’t seem to decide.) We know from its advertising campaign exactly how Gatorade was invented, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it actually works. We also know that the early formulations were so horrible that they made people throw up — i.e. when you stick enough electrolytes in water to make a serious difference, and you don’t balance it out with something else, the resulting concoction makes people vomit. Why? Well, because it’s basically salt water.

Smartwater claims to have electrolytes in it. I’m sure it has some electrolytes in it, but the question is are there enough to make a medical difference? I have serious doubts and can find no evidence to support any claims for Smartwater being any superior to tap water or other bottled waters except for claims by nutcases and obvious shills.

Searching the web for answers is no use. Almost no-one who cares about bottled water seems to have two brain cells to rub together. Someone will ask a question on Yahoo Answers or some similar website about the product and get replies from people who haven’t even bothered to read the label (no, it’s not probably distilled, it is totally frackingly obviously distilled because it says so on the label) or joke about how it’s overpriced on the basis that all bottled water is overpriced. Yeah dude, I get that, but what do you think the profit margin on soda is? Well, it’s not like I’ve ever found a useful response to any kind of question on a website like that.

I did find an interesting blog entry on the topic. Although purportedly about Smartwater, the entry only gets to its alleged subject in the second-last paragraph, being mainly a swipe at bottled waters in general. When it does criticize Smartwater it seems to lump it in the same category as Gatorade and argues that it’s overkill for ordinary people. It did quote a chemist from UCSB (but Dr. Laverman appeared to be talking about Gatorade, not Smartwater), whom I am attempting to contact. I’ll update this entry if I receive any more information.

Anyway, I leave you with two bits of information that might be relevant:

Smartwater has some amount of Calcium Chloride, Magnesium Chloride, and Potassium Bicarbonate in it. First of all, if you dissolve a bunch of this stuff in water, calcium will react with carbonate and precipitate out, and the extra CO2 will make the water fizzy. There’s obviously not enough of these salts in Smartwater to have that effect. Second, you might wonder what this stuff tastes like. Well, according to Wikipedia, calcium chloride tastes extremely salty, magnesium chloride tastes bitter, and potassium bicarbonate tastes slightly alkaline. (Other equilibrium products, such as potassium chloride, are also salty.) Smart water isn’t salty, despite using even saltier salts than Gatorade uses from which we might conclude that it’s not going to have enough electrolytes to make a difference.

Second, Glaceau’s other products are all highly dubious. E.g. its “Vitamin Water” is sweetened with “crystalline fructose” which sounds really cool, right? “Crystals” are obviously healthy. Of course “crystalline fructose” is what you get by dehydrating high fructose corn syrup. If these guys were trying to make a genuinely healthy drink, they sure didn’t try very hard.

So, based on circumstantial evidence at least, Smartwater is a confidence trick. It’s certainly not much worse in this respect than any bottled water, but it’s pretty sad that some doctors seem to have fallen for it.

Post Script

I contacted Glaceau directly and received the following information from Glaceau customer relations:

we add a unique and purposeful combination of electrolytes to smartwater®. one liter of smartwater® contains 10mg of potassium, 10mg of calcium, and 15mg of magnesium.

By contrast, Gatorade contains 440mg of sodium and 120mg of potassium per litre. Evian contains 78mg of calcium, 24mg of magnesium, and 4mg of sodium, but makes no claims about electrolytes. Indeed, from what I can tell, smartwater contains less in the way of electrolytes than most typical mineral or spring waters you might buy, and probably less than your tap water.