Drink - Shane Watson finds herself drowning in water

When normal H2O no longer seems healthy, it's time to try "enhanced"

What next, you ask? Yoga for dogs? (Absolutely, in a park near you: dogs are "naturals", apparently.) Or how about a bottled water that is more hydrating than regular water? That's the claim being made for Penta, which has been molecularly restructured to be "bio-hydrating". (No, me neither.) Far from reaching saturation point, the bottled-water market appears to be only just getting into its stride. In the past few weeks, besides clocking the arrival of Penta in my local organic shop, I have stumbled on V Water, another brand taking regular H2O into areas you never imagined.

V is a new "purpose" or "enhanced" water, designed to provide hydration plus nutrition. "Purpose" waters were pioneered in Japan about six years ago, and have since become big in the United States. V represents a departure in that, unlike the American versions, it doesn't contain mountains of added sugar and preservatives, and unlike the Japanese, it isn't totally unpalatable to westerners. (I say not totally, but more about V's taste later.) It comes in three varieties - a de-stress formula, an energy booster and an immune-system protector - which sounds like just what the doctor ordered.

Actually, it turns out that V is what west Londoners ordered. The makers tested the product on people in the street (for which read, "women in Masai Barefoot Technology trainers who live within a power walk of Westbourne Grove"). They found there was a demand for an alternative to plain water, so long as the taste was very subtle, and for added nutrients, so long as they were natural and low-calorie. Also, MBT Woman wanted a fully recyclable, portable bottle with a wide neck (something to do with not smearing your lipstick). And she wanted the water itself to come from a nearish source, ideally a spring in a protected area of Tipperary (not really, but that's what she got).

I could go on. V is the water equivalent of Sienna Miller. It's the water Gwyneth Paltrow might keep in the fridge for a post-Ashtanga refresher. It is already (and it was launched only two months ago) the on-site water at Stella McCartney's HQ in Golborne Road. It tastes OK (though in my view you'd have to be really stressed to get down half a litre of the de-stress version) but also like it's doing good. Perfect.

Still, you can't help but see V as another means of capitalising on our collective hypochondria. I could almost guarantee that every female who reaches for V Shield - the immune-system protector, with Vitamin C, zinc, echinacea and ashwagandha - is already taking all its added ingredients in pill form and drinking three litres of water a day. When you get to a stage where you think water is underperforming for your particular health needs, you'd normally call that chronic neurosis, wouldn't you?

This article first appeared in the 23 May 2005 issue of the New Statesman, The nuclear charm offensive