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What’s the Deal with Thick Water?

Social media has a particular talent for making things go viral.  Something that initially starts out as a small movement can literally spread around the globe in a matter of hours. Thick water is one of those trends that has gone viral in the past year.  Challenges on TikTok and YouTube have caused it to become particularly popular. Today, we’re breaking down the trend and disclosing what you need to know about drinking thick water, so you can decide whether it’s worth trying or not. 

What is Thick Water and What is its Purpose?

Thick water is simply regular water that has had a thickening agent added to it in order to give it a thicker consistency.  Thickening agents themselves do not change the taste of the water.  However, some thickeners and thickened waters do come in flavored options.

By looks alone, thick water is clear yet somewhat cloudy.  It often has the consistency of honey or molasses.  If it wasn’t for the evident cloudiness, it could be mistaken for regular bottled water. Overall, thick water is similar to regular water in terms of its:

  • Nutritional benefits
  • Hydration levels

Thick water provides the same nutritional value as regular water as it contains the same natural minerals that occur in regular water.  Also, thick water is equally as hydrating as regular water. However, some research shows that thickened liquids can lead to dehydration as they often suppress people’s desire and satiety for water.  Therefore, if you do drink thick water for medical purposes, you should be mindful about whether or not you’re drinking enough each day.

Dysphagia (gastrointestinal disease) diagnosis medical concept on tablet screen with stethoscope.

The prevalence of dysphagia in the general population is 16-23%, increasing to 27% in those over 76 years of age.

The purpose of thick water is to help people who have a hard time controlling liquids in their mouths.  Sometimes, people have a hard time controlling thin liquids such as regular water in their mouths.  For these people, very thin liquids often trickle down their airways and then into their lungs.  A buildup of liquids in the lungs can, over time, result in pneumonia or a lung infection. The struggle to control liquids in one’s mouth is often associated with or caused by a condition called dysphagia.  

Dysphagia and Thick Water

Dysphagia is common amongst the elderly and is typically associated with aging.  This explains why many nursing homes often blend food for their residents in order to make it easier for them to swallow.  Although, other risk factors for developing dysphagia include:

  • Certain neurological disorders including stroke and dementia
  • Certain nervous system conditions 
  • Cancer of the mouth or throat
  • Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
  • Certain developmental disorders

Common symptoms of dysphagia include:

  • Regular difficulty swallowing food and liquids
  • Regurgitation of food
  • Gagging when trying to swallow
  • Drooling
  • Feeling as if food or liquids are stuck in your throat and chest

If you experience these symptoms on a regular basis, then you may have dysphagia.  If you only occasionally experience trouble swallowing, then it is less likely that you have dysphagia.  Everyone at some point has had a hard time swallowing, most likely as a result of eating or drinking too much too fast.

Thick water helps those who experience dysphagia by making it easier for them to swallow water.  Because thick water is thicker than regular water, it is easier for people to control it in their mouths.  Unless you experience dysphagia or either a neurological or nervous system disorder, it is unlikely that you would be directed by a doctor to drink thick water. 

The Rise of Thick Water

Before the spring of 2020, few people knew that thick water even existed.  Unless you were purchasing it for medical reasons, you most likely had never encountered it. This is, at least, until it began showing up on social media platforms as a challenge.  On TikTok and YouTube, thick water became a part of something called the “Thick Water Challenge”.  In the challenge, people would fill a water glass with thick water and then attempt to chug it all at once.

It became popular not only because most people had never heard of thick water before, but because thick water, for many people, is a particularly unpleasant thing to consume.  Many people hate both the consistency and flavor of thick water.  The consistency in particular is something that, most often, turns people off.  So, the challenge became a funny way to see who could drink the water despite it being unappealing in terms of its consistency and taste.

thick water

Should You Buy Thick Water?

While the challenge may seem like harmless fun at first, it can have real consequences.  The consequences aren’t necessarily in regards to the people who attempt the challenge, but rather the people who depend on thick water for medical reasons. Right now, as far as we know, there is currently no shortage of thick water in the United States. 

Yet, because of its random gain in popularity from social media, there are risks of thick water demand going up without enough supply to sustain it.  Therefore, those who depend on thick water for medical reasons may not have sufficient access to it. Moreover, because the sole purpose of thick water is for helping people with medical conditions, we don’t suggest regularly purchasing it. 

It certainly won’t hurt you if you do drink it for fun, non-medical reasons, but it serves no purpose in bettering your health and runs the risk of depleting the supply for those who need it most. Unless suggested by a healthcare provider, it is not necessary to purchase or make thick water.

Where to Buy Thick Water

You can purchase thick water from your local drug store or pharmacy.  There, you will find multiple options for thickened bottled water including different brands and flavors. Some of the most common brands include:

  • Thick-It AquacareH2o
  • Thick & Easy
  • ThickenUp

How to Make Thick Water

Additionally, if you don’t want to buy it bottled, you can also make thickened water yourself at home.  There are a couple of ways you can do so:

  1. Purchasing a commercial thickener
  2. Making a homemade thickening agent

Purchasing a Thickener

First off, you can keep things simple and purchase a commercial thickener.  Thickeners come in a couple of different forms:

  • Powders
  • Gelatins
  • Syrups

The powdered drink mix is usually the most commonly used thickener.  You can find each one of these forms in a pharmacy.  All you need to do is add the recommended amount to a liquid, mix, and then drink.  Usually, one tablespoon of thickening powder is required for every 4 fl oz.

Additionally, there is little to no evidence that one form of thickener is better or more effective than another.  Therefore, you are free to choose whichever one you like in order to thicken your water. Most of these commercial thickeners are made from a thickening agent such as starch or gum.  The most common thickening agents include:

  • Cornstarch
  • Xanthan gum
  • Guar gum

Additionally, there is little to no evidence that one type of thickening agent is better or more effective than another.

Homemade Thickeners

If you don’t want to go to the store to purchase bottled thick water or a thickener, you can also make your own homemade thickener. You most likely already have ingredients in your kitchen that can be used to make homemade thickeners. Some of them include:

  • Soup broth
  • Baby food puree
  • Instant potato flakes
  • Corn flour or cornstarch
  • Blended fruit

Just add small spoonfuls of these ingredients to your water in order to thicken them up. If you want to avoid flavoring the water, use cornflour, cornstarch, or instant potato flakes. Keep adding in spoonfuls of the ingredients until your water reaches its desired thickness.

thick it

Levels of Thickness

There are 4 common rankings of thickness that liquids fall into.  Depending on how difficult it is for you to swallow liquids will determine which level of thickness is necessary for you.  Generally, the harder it is for you to swallow, the thicker the liquid should be.

A common way of determining which category a liquid falls into is by using the Fork Test.  The fork test entails dropping a fork into a liquid to see what happens to it.  For the thinnest liquids, the fork will immediately drop to the bottom of the liquid and will have little to no coating on it when picked out of the liquid.  The thickest liquid will either sink very slowly or not at all and will have a thick layer of coating covering it.

  • Thin: These are liquids that haven’t had any thickener added to them and are, generally, very naturally thin.  Some of these include regular water, coffee, and cranberry juice.  A fork dropped into one of these liquids would sink right to the bottom and have almost no coating on it.
  • Nectar-thick: A mildly thick liquid, these liquids have either a tablespoon of thickener added to them or are, naturally, slightly thick.  A good example of this would be carrot or tomato juice.  If you were to drop a fork in tomato juice, it would slowly fall to the bottom and be lightly coated in the juice.
  • Honey-thick: These liquids either have about 2 tablespoons of thickener added to them or are, naturally, very thick.  Typically, liquids of this thickness level would not normally be consumed on their own.  Honey, for example, is a very thick liquid that people do not drink alone.  If a fork was dropped in honey, it would very slowly make its way to the bottom and it would be difficult to un-coat.
  • Pudding-thick: Lastly, the thickest type of liquid can be described as pudding-thick.  There are very few liquids that are this thick naturally.  To get to this level of thickness, you’d need 3 to 4 tablespoons of thickener.  A fork probably wouldn’t even sink in pudding and would be completely coated.  

Maintaining the Thickness of Water

If you’re not careful, you can easily turn your thickened beverage thin.  Check out these best practices to make sure you don’t accidentally undo or overdo the thickness of your water.

  1. Ice cubes: If you like your thick beverages cold, be careful of adding ice cubes to them.  This could easily make your thick beverages become very thin.  Therefore, if you want to add ice to your thick beverage, be sure to use ice cubes that are made out of thickened water
  2. Increasing thickness: If you have thickened a liquid with a commercial thickener, know that once the thickener is added, it will increase the thickness of your liquid overtime.  The longer the thickened drink goes unconsumed, the thicker it will get.  Therefore, prepare the water you think you will drink one cup at a time rather than making large stocks of it.
  3. Liquid-based foods: Don’t forget that liquid-based food such as soup also requires thickener.  Add them to soup or any other watery food that gives you trouble.  ]
  4. Thin foods: In addition to liquid foods, some foods change into liquids once they warm up in your mouth.  Gelatin and ice cream are two good examples.  Either avoid these foods or add a thickener to them.
Selective focus of bottle of pure potassium sorbate food additive beside a petri dish with white solid powder substance

Potassium sorbate is used to inhibit molds and yeasts in many foods, wine, yogurt, dried meats, apple cider, rehydrated fruits, soft drinks, and baked goods.

Thick Water Ingredient Skepticism 

While bottled thick water does well for people who suffer from dysphagia, it lately has come with a degree of skepticism in regards to some of its ingredients.  In particular, certain brands of thick bottled water have come under fire over the use of specific preservatives. Two of the preservatives in question are:

  1. Potassium sorbate
  2. Calcium disodium EDTA

The brand Thick-It is one of the most popular thick water brands in the country.  Their popular Artesian Mineral Water product, named the Thick-It Clear Advantage Thickened Water, contains both of these preservatives.  The skepticism is there because some people are not certain whether these preservatives are safe for consumption or not.   

To begin with, potassium sorbate is a common chemical additive found in dozens of food and home products.  It helps prolong product shelf life by preventing the growth of bacteria, fungi, and mold.  Even if you’ve never heard of it before, there’s a good chance it’s sitting somewhere in your home right now. Common places you’ll find it include:

  • Processed meats and cheeses
  • Baked goods
  • Cosmetics
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Contact lens solution

Secondly, calcium disodium EDTA is another chemical food additive that works as a preservative and flavoring agent.  Unlike potassium sorbate, EDTA preserves the color and flavor in foods.  Similarly, though, there’s a good chance some of the food in your cabinet contains EDTA. You’ll most likely find it in:

  • Cleaning products
  • Paper and textiles
  • Cosmetics
  • Salad dressings and sauces
  • Canned foods

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates food additives in the United States.  They determine what is safe to add to food and what is not safe to add to food.  They also determine what amounts of certain additives are safe to add to food. 

Both potassium sorbate and calcium disodium EDTA are two of the additives that the FDA regulates. According to the FDA, both ingredients are safe for consumption.  However, that does not convince everyone that either of these ingredients is safe for them or good for their health.

For example, potassium sorbate is commonly contaminated with lead, arsenic, and mercury.  Additionally, it is known to cause allergic reactions. Calcium disodium EDTA is also known to cause an upset stomach and decreased appetite.  One study done on rats showed that consumption of the additive caused frequent and loose bowel movements.

Overall, according to the FDA, as long as you consume the additives within reasonable amounts, it won’t cause any harm to your health.  None of the research that the FDA has conducted has yet found that either of these additives are bad for your health.  Despite the reassurances, if you are still concerned about consuming preservatives, then try making your own homemade thickener.

In Conclusion: Should You Drink Thick Water?

Unless you suffer from a particular medical condition, there is no need to drink thick water.  If you really want to try it, though, the best way is to try by making it at home with your own homemade thickener. In conclusion, thick water can be a lifesaver for those who need it.  It is far more important than any TikTok or YouTube challenge.

Bonus tip: Make your own homemade thickener with the cleanest water possible to maximize the benefits you get from water!

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Joshua Perkins

Joshua spent ten years as a water systems technician in California before settling down with his wife and two young children in Nashville in 2018. Through all of his experience, he learned the benefits and shortfalls of so many different types of water filtration systems, from pitchers to whole-house installations. He started Water Filter Authority in 2019 to empower other families to make the right decision for their long-term health and wellness.