Something in the water: Alcohol not the only reason behind liver damage for Scots

AT last the news Scots have been waiting for . . . the reason we suffer more alcohol damage to our livers than the English isn’t just the booze we drink, but the water.

Research revealed this week, from London University’s Birkbeck College and led by Professor Roger Williams, who was George Best’s surgeon, suggests the minerals present in England’s hard water offer some protection against alcohol damage while the Scots soft water does not. Despite our alcohol consumption being roughly the same, we have a higher level of liver disease.

English water passes through permeable substances such as limestone, bringing valuable minerals such as calcium and particularly magnesium with it. That may be the stuff that furs up kettles, irons and pipes, but studies show it could explain a 34 per cent lower risk factor for ALD (alcoholic liver disease).

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There are no government plans for artificially hardening our water, despite the fact that magnesium has also been identified in some studies as being important for overall health and reducing sudden deaths.

Our soft water has traditionally been regarded as superior because it tastes sweet, makes a great cuppa and doesn’t leave nasty deposits on appliances. Now Scots who previously thought of bottled water as a waste of money might give it a go.

Knowing which water to buy isn’t always as simple as reading the label. Mineral waters must come from a defined source and have a consistent mineral composition itemised on the label. Other bottled waters may or may not have that information and (with the exception of spring water) can be made up of water from different origins – including the public supply. And while in this case magnesium seems to be beneficial, it may not be a case of the-more-the-merrier as there are maximum approved levels for minerals laid down in our public supplies.

It’s a complex business, so the water we drink is likely to remain the water we prefer – or can afford – whether from bottle or tap. And prices can vary hugely.

n San Pellegrino, the connoisseur’s water, is a pricey indulgence at £1.19 for 1 litre or £5.91 for a 6x1 litre pack. It does taste very good . . . but who knows whether that has anything to do with the high magnesium content of over 52mg per litre.

• At £3.09 for 6x1.5 litre bottles, Highland Spring is more pocket friendly, but it has less than a fifth of the San Pellegrino magnesium at just 10.1mg per litre.

• So does Sainsbury’s Caledonian Scottish Sparkling, but that costs 47p for two litres.

• Volvic, a popular brand, costs £1.15 for 6x1.5 litres. It has 8mg magnesium per litre.