Water is inextricably linked to the development of nations, societies and cultures, all of which puts considerable stress on water resources. The world’s population is growing by approximately 80 million people per year, implying that the demand for fresh water is increasing by about 65 billion cubic metres per year. According to the United Nations, global water demand is projected to increase by 55 percent in 2050, but this would
mainly be attributed to the manufacturing and agriculture sectors.
Fears that the global demand for fresh water will outstrip supply by the end of this century mean that companies and governments alike are searching for more sustainable ways of supplying fresh water to the thirsty population.
The bottled water industry was valued at about US$157 billion in 2013 and is predicted by Transparency Market Research to reach almost US$280 billion in 2020, growing at a CAGR of 8.7 percent from 2014 to 2020. Asia-Pacific is the biggest market in terms of both volume and value.
The increase in bottled water consumption is a global trend that is mainly attributed to increasing health concerns. Although tap water is safe for consumption in many developed countries, consumers opt for bottled water as they believe that it is healthier, cleaner and a better choice compared to other beverages since it has no calories, no sugar and no preservatives. The growing economies of most Southeast Asian countries have also driven the increased demand for bottled water, as majority of these countries’ tap water is considered unsuitable for human consumption, thus making bottled water a necessity rather than a value-added product.
There are many sources of bottled water, including spring water, purified water, mineral water and carbonated water. Each type of water is well-established in the water industry, and with the market over-saturated with big players and private labels, many will believe that there is no space for new innovations for this market sector. However, there is one particular trend that is slowly creeping into consumers’ line of sight.
Joining the market is the relatively new Deep Ocean Water (DOW). It is well-established in the markets of Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, but is slowly but surely making its way to the rest of Asia, and to the world.
The term ‘Deep Ocean Water’ refers to sea water located beneath the thermocline, which is roughly 200 m below sea level. Commercial DOW is drawn from depths between 250 and 1,500 m where it is unaffected by climate change, with temperatures stable within a range of six to nine deg C. In addition, depth-related pressure and low temperatures create water with a higher mineral density than water found on the surface of the ocean. One theory for this suggests that at a depth of 200 m, water is isolated from sunlight and air, resulting in the inability of plankton to photosynthesise, inhibiting the microbes’ growth. This creates near-sterile water that has balanced amounts of trace elements and inorganic nutrition.
DOW contains over 80 minerals and trace elements such as sodium, magnesium, calcium, fluorine and sulphur. These minerals are required by the human body but are difficult to obtain from natural food sources alone. The concentration of these trace elements in DOW, especially magnesium, is higher than in other sources of water.
Due to its balance of essential minerals, and the positive effects on health demonstrated by various studies conducted worldwide, interest in the use of DOW for the manufacture of functional foods and supplements is increasing.
WHERE IT ALL STARTED
As in many science fiction stories, deep oceans have often been suggested as the most likely site for the origin of life on Earth. Following this theoretical lineage, experiments using components from DOW to recreate life are currently underway.
The process of the formation of DOW starts with ice melting in Greenland. As sea currents move the water along, it collects minerals and trace elements on its journey towards the ocean. The dissolved minerals make the water denser and hence, it naturally sinks to the ocean floor, where it commences a one-way trip that takes 2,000 years to complete.
It flows southwards down the Atlantic Ocean, moves around the African Cape and then moves north across the Indian Ocean and into the western Pacific Ocean, coming close to land at Taiwan, Okinawa and Hawaii. It then flows back towards the south, towards Antarctica where the changing sea water temperatures caused by the summer sun force the DOW to the surface to feed the largest micro and macro food chains on Earth.
SCIENTIFIC TECHNICALITIES ON DOW AND HEALTH
The use of DOW for human wellness is not a new phenomenon. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans used Thalassotherapy (therapeutic uses of sea water) for relaxation, regeneration and stimulation.
In 1904, Dr René Quinton published his definitive work, dubbed ‘Marine Plasma’ or ‘Ocean Plasma’, which scientifically established the therapeutic virtues of seawater. His research showed that the concentrations of various salts and the pH balance of DOW, are similar to those of human blood, thus making the minerals easier for the human body to absorb and integrate into its metabolic processes.
During World War Two, the US Navy relied on much of Dr Rene Quinton’s work when they used seawater to substitute blood plasma to save their sailors’ lives when medical supplies ran out.
Since then, as many as 40 scientific studies published have shown that DOW is effective in maintaining good health, such as in the ability to reduce obesity. It can also be used as a preventive measure for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Further, it has been shown to be effective in the treatment of hypertension, fatigue and provides skin protection.
A 2015 study by Taiwanese researchers suggested that DOW has protective effects on diabetic rats. Their research, published in the Chinese Journal of Physiology, showed that DOW attenuates the effects of hepatic apoptosis induced by diabetes mellitus.
Another study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2013 showed that drinking DOW accelerates recovery from physical fatigue. This improvement appears to be associated with a complete elimination of exercise-induced muscle damage, suggesting that DOW contains components that complement and enhance the molecular and cellular complexity of humans to minimise entropic stress produced during prolonged physical activity in the heat.
In 2003, a Japanese research team published their study in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin regarding the pharmacological activity of DOW directly influencing the serum lipid values of cholesterol fed rabbits. A year later in 2004, the same group published new findings, showing changes to LDL cholesterol in dietary-induced hyperlipidaemia in rabbits, when comparing surface sea water to DOW and a control group. Their findings suggests that DOW may be useful for the prevention of hyperlipidaemia and atherosclerosis when compared to surface seawater, and it was found that a reduction in the LDL cholesterol level, and enhancement of (GPx) activity, were involved in these effects.
And in addition to these benefits for human health, studies in 2015 confirmed that DOW can increase the functional ingredient production of monascin and ankaflavin of red mould dioscorea, as well as triterpenoids, polysaccharide and flavonoids of Antrodia camphorate.
CURRENT USAGE OF DOW
DOW enjoys a good market space in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. In Japan, the city of Muroto has developed their own brand of Muroto mineral water using locally processed DOW. The Muroto water is also used in the baking industry, as a food fortifier, in the manufacture of sake, in functional beverages such as beauty, energy or sports drinks, and as a source of salt.
Given all its benefits, DOW has much potential to be the next out-of-the-box water resource as well as functional ingredient. Also, being slightly salty in taste, it will help give a different spin for products either by enhancing their flavour, or by giving them a slightly varied taste.