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Hard water

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Hard water

UWI researcher points to kidney stones danger in Jamaica’s piped supply

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Observer staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, January 25, 2019

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CONTRARY to the widely held view that Jamaica ranks among countries with the highest quality water in the world, doctoral student Darrion Walker yesterday disclosed that the nation’s water has led to the development of kidney stones in some citizens.

Walker made the revelation to the Jamaica Observer yesterday during a sit-down with other researchers at The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, ahead of Research Days scheduled for February 6 to 8.

Stating that the country’s underground basins are extremely rich in calcium carbonate, the PhD student said that the commodity has one of the highest concentrations of the chemical compound in the world with 320 milligrams per litre.

Calcium carbonate is a dietary supplement used when the amount of calcium taken in the diet is not enough. Calcium is needed by the body for healthy bones, muscles, nervous system, and heart. It is the carbonic salt of calcium (CaCO3).

Walker, whose area of study centres on the evaluation of kidney stones using X-ray fluorescence, said that 97 per cent of the 70 participants in an ongoing research noted that they consumed only potable water through pipes. The study is limited to patients scheduled to undergo surgery.

He made it clear that he was not blaming the National Water Commission (NWC) for the volume of calcium carbonate and sodium in the water it provides to customers. However, he pointed out that the 97 per cent of respondents in his survey “indicated that they drank NWC water as their only source of drinking water”.

Kidney stones form when urine contains more crystal-forming substances — such as calcium, oxalate and uric acid — than the fluid in urine can dilute. At the same time, urine may lack substances that prevent crystals from sticking together, creating an ideal environment for kidney stones to form.

Walker stated that while Jamaica’s water is ranked worldwide among the highest quality, in terms of purity and is bacteria-free, it carries an unusual “hardness”. As a result, he recommended that Jamaicans filter or boil water before consuming.

“One of the things we look at with our participants is their work address and their home address because it gives you an idea as to where their water supplies come from. So we try to find out if there is any correlation. The unfortunate thing, however, is that the data would be biased, seeing that our participants mainly come from KPH (Kingston Public Hospital) and UHWI (University Hospital of the West Indies),” said Walker.

“When we interviewed the participants, most did not drink the required amount of water, normally 2.5 litres a day, which would roughly be about eight glasses daily. Those persons who did drink water oftentimes signalled that they drank either NWC water or water from rain and stuff like that. What you find is that Jamaica, in terms of our wells and our basins, has very hard water. This can contribute to the calcium concentration in your diet and it can contribute to increased calcinosis in the kidneys,” he added.

Calcinosis is the formation of calcium deposits in the skin, subcutaneous tissue, muscles, and visceral organs.

In the meantime, Walker noted that 95 per cent of people living with kidney stones are not aware that they are. The other five per cent require medical attention. The prevalence of kidney stones worldwide ranges from between 1.7 per cent to 8.8 per cent.

“With the recent studies on climate change, what we have found was that in areas of increased temperature or high temperature, persons are at a higher risk for kidney stones formation due to dehydration. A study conducted in America showed that those living in the southeast have 50 per cent more prevalence to kidney stones than those who live in America simply because of the heat,” Walker stated.

Research Days 2019 is being held under the theme: ‘UWI Mona: Driving Research for Social and Economic Development’. The UWI says the annual event will feature research directions being taken by faculties and students.

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