The Science Alkaline Water Companies Don’t Want You To Know About

This is a guest blog by my friend, fitness expert and strength coach Jiini Cicero, BS, CSCS. 

I have a reputation at my gym for being a myth-buster. Not a week goes by that a client doesn’t ask me whether a particular “muscle-enhancing” supplement is legit (usually not) or how many studies support creatine’s efficacy (a good many, actually).

I admit: sometimes I have to research these queries. Such was the case when a long-time client recently showed me her alkaline water.

A few months before, this client had begun one of those pH-balanced diets. You know, the ones that emphasize alkaline-forming foods and frequently include charts to differentiate alkaline and acidic foods. To boost her body’s alkalinity, my client was downing four or five bottle of alkaline water daily.

I was intrigued (though admittedly a little skeptical too) but also determined to get to the bottom of whether this so-called miracle water – and pH-balanced diets themselves – are legit or just the latest hype.

What I found surprised and even disturbed me.

What is a pH-Balanced Diet Anyway?

If you weren’t sleeping in high school biochem, you’ll perhaps recall pH is a measure of the acidity or basicity (alkalinity) of a solution. If said solution is less than 7, its pH is acidic; over 7, it becomes basic or alkaline. For the record, pure water has a pH of nearly 7.

Based on those measures, some foods fall into the acidic camp while others are alkaline. Acid and alkaline foods are easy to classify. Fruits and veggies are alkaline, for instance, while meat, dairy, and grain are acidic.

Here’s where things get confusing. Proponents of pH-balanced diets believe every food leaves an acid or alkaline ash or residue in your body. A food can be acidic but leave an alkaline residue, or vice versa. Lemons, for example, have a pH of about 2 – 3 but leave an alkaline residue.

According to a pH-balanced diet, then, if we eat too many foods that form an acid residue – again, not the same thing as an acidic food – your blood can become acidic and all kinds of bad stuff can occur like cancer, osteoporosis, and sprouting devil’s horns. Okay, maybe not that last one.

That’s where my friend’s chart comes in. Without much research to substantiate them, “experts” categorize foods as alkaline-forming and acidic-forming. As I quickly discovered, many of those lists contradict each other and offer no scientific validation.

Busting The pH-Balanced Diet Myths

You spend your Saturday night at a friend’s house or maybe a movie or club. I spend mine reading studies and consulting critics about pH-balanced diets.

All for you, dear reader: I want to bust some myths so the next time your smarmy vegan sister reprimands you for eating “acidic” meat or your mother warns you certain foods create osteoporosis, you’ll be able to intelligently reply.

Myth #1: You Want Your Body to Be Alkaline.

False. Body tissues have different pH levels. Your vagina, for instance, should be acidic, since yeast infections can fester if vaginal tissue becomes too alkaline. (Sorry, guys, if that’s too much information.) And your stomach is incredibly acidic: about 2.0, in fact. Trust me, you wouldn’t be alive if you had an alkaline stomach!

Myth #2: Meat Comprises Most of the Acidic Food in our Diet.

False. According to my friend Dr. Jade Teta, 70% of the acidic foods in our diet come from grains and dairy. Yes, meat is acidic, which is why you eat lots of veggies with your steak.

Myth #3: Sugar is Acidic.

False. Fat, sugar, and starches have a neutral pH because they don’t contain minerals, sulfur, or protein. Now, combining these foods with other ingredients can shift the balance to acidic or alkaline.

Myth #4: You Can Test Your Urine to Determine Whether You’re Acidic.

False. Yes, food can change the pH of your urine, but measuring that pH is fairly useless because that’s no indication about your blood pH or much of anything else for that matter. “Worrying about the pH of your urine makes about as much sense as worrying about the dirt in your trash,” says Monica Reinagel, the Nutrition Diva.

Myth #5: Food Can Change the pH of your Blood.

False. Blood pH is tightly regulated by your kidneys and other organs, which keep it at 7.4. Even slight deviations in blood pH can create serious and even fatal consequences, so your body has numerous checks and balances to keep that from happening.

Myth #6: Cancer Can Only Occur in an Acidic Environment

False. I hear this all the time: cancer can never occur in an alkaline environment, which becomes a legitimate reason to eat predominantly alkaline foods. Sorry folks, that’s just not true. At about 7.4, your blood’s pH is already alkaline, and like I said earlier, you can load up on alkaline-forming foods but it won’t affect blood pH.

Myth #7: Studies Show Acidic Foods can Trigger Osteoporosis, Muscle Wear, and Kidney Damage.

False. While these are all legitimate fears, do a PubMed search: very little evidence supports these theories.

Is the Fountain of Youth Alkaline?

If there’s a diet trend, leave it to Los Angeles to hop all over it. Such is the case with alkaline water, which is basically overpriced designer water with a higher pH level than regular water. Extra electrons in this special water, the story goes, can “clean up” free radical damage in your body.

Advocates claim among its benefits, alkaline water neutralizes acid in your bloodstream, prevents disease, increases nutrient absorption, and slows the aging process. That’s why my client was gulping this exorbitant stuff like we were suffering a drought tomorrow.

Dr. Joseph Mercola calls alkaline water “snake oil on tap” with little to substantiate it. “The reality is, most of the circulating information is distributed by clever marketers, with very little scientific validity to back up their claims,” he says.

Wait: that sounds a lot like pH-balanced diets!

More than just wasting money, alkaline water could also wreck your health. According to Dr. Mercola, “If you fall for this ‘water fad’ you could do some major damage.” Not to mention those nasty phthalates you’re putting in your body from plastic bottles!

Focus less on your water’s pH and more on quality. Always use pure filtered water and drink liberally. I use a liter-sized canteen and fill it three or four times a day. Many gyms have filtered water, and I have a purifier on my kitchen tap.

If you’ve got such a huge bank account to buy useless stuff like alkaline water – yeah, me neither – consider switching to pure filtered water and giving that extra money to a charity that funds clean water in impoverished countries.

Beyond the Hoopla: My Take-Away

If you haven’t guessed, I’m not crazy about pH-balanced diets, and neither were the highly credentialed experts I consulted. I didn’t find much science to support their validity. Besides, for most people they’re too confusing and contradictory.

That said, I do advocate a balance of acid and alkaline foods, which mimic what your Paleolithic ancestors ate. So if you eat a grass-fed sirloin, you want to load about half your plate with leafy and cruciferous veggies. If you have a few slices of cheese, throw them on an apple or salad to balance the acidity.

Your mother or maybe even grandmother taught you this stuff decades ago. As usual, they were on to something.

Visit Jini at www.Jinifit.com to get her free e-zine, fitness tips, and lots of other cool stuff. Follow her @jinifit.

jb@jonnybowden.com'

Author: Jonny Bowden

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, (aka "The Nutrition Myth Buster") is a nationally known expert on weight loss, nutrition and health. He is a board-certified nutritionist with a master’s degree in psychology and the author of fourteen books on health, healing, food and longevity including three best-sellers, “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth”, “Living Low Carb”, and "The Great Cholesterol Myth".

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15 Comments

  1. agdeters@aol.com'

    I know that the body regulates itself and must keep itself within the 7.4 pH range in order to stay alive. Of course the body will do whatever it needs to do to stay within that safe range, even if it means leeching minerals (like calcium) from your bones in order to do that. Hence, osteoporosis can occur. I personally feel less stiff and more flexible when I eat a lot of vegetables. I can usually tell when my diet has included too much acid. It makes me stiff and rather achey. I think there is a lot of truth that eating alkaline foods is better for one. Most of our food today is highly acidic, especially processed foods. I think most people would benefit from eating whole foods that include A LOT of vegetables that promote a healthy alkaline pH in the body.

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  2. info@linkspopularity.com'

    Once my neighbors drank alkaline water and on another occasion another friend also. Both, including members of their family got stomach problems after a couple of weeks. When they started I told them:
    Your stomach is highly acid and that has a good reason. At least the first part of your stomach, the second part is alkaline. If this acidity gets destroyed, then you will not be able to digest foods properly which brings you in real trouble. And alkaline water does just that. They immediately stopped drinking it and after 1-2 days only their problems disappeared. The same seems not to be the case when drinking plenty of fresh vegetable juice, which as well is alkaline. Based on the amount of water we use a day (coffee, tea, and all what we drink a day) this might be the reason. Or did you see someone who consumes 3 liters of fresh juiced vegetable juice a day? But 3 liters of water is very common, even more.

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  3. kvhaysbert@verizon.net'

    Thanks Dr. B! You cleared up several myths that I really believed. You are a blessings!!

    Post a Reply
    • michelle@jonnybowden.com'

      Folks, I did NOT write this blog. It was written by Jini Cicero. Let’s give credit where credit is due. :)

      Post a Reply
  4. kjrobinson54@gmail.com'

    I love your comment about “your mother or maybe even your grandmother taught you this stuff decades ago”… because stop and think about it. Our parents and grandparents weren’t actively involved in nutrition then anymore than we are today. The difference though, especially in our grandparents and great-grandparents days was the lack of processed and packaged foods. Therefore they ate what was available during the season it was available. There was no factory to make summer corn fresh and sweet in the middle of January and February etc.. When it comes to nutrition, unfortunately we have let the food processing industry hijack our own good health all in the name and convenience and emotional satisfaction. Nutrition isn’t a question of emotional stability. It’s supposed to be the question of efficient operation of the machine called the human body. We’ve come so far away from that it’s pitiful.

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  5. rdannegger@nc.rr.com'

    Good article. One area that you didn’t mention about PH confusion is Gerd/acid reflux. espeically about foods like lemons. The info is confusing and contradictory at times.

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  6. scrimcdh@netins.net'

    You ding the “experts” who don’t give much research to substantiate their claims, but I notice that you also do not substantiate your claims. Why don’t you share the research that backs up your position?

    Post a Reply
  7. julesoriginals@yahoo.com'

    I would agree with most of your points, especially about balancing meat with vegetables and paying attention to what you put in your mouth – however I disagree with a few. For example – food can affect the acidity of your saliva and urine and ultimately your bones – because in order to maintain blood alkalinity, your body has to use minerals such as sodium and calcium to offset the acidity of your food. Those minerals are stored in many places, but in abundance in the bones, liver and kidneys. The result is a reduction in serum and cellular level calcium and sodium which leads to low stomach acid, lowered urine acids and the body will remove calcium from the bones to maintain the blood ph level at a safe point. Urine ph is an indication of other issues – for example, very low urine ph, and very high saliva ph may be an indication of slow digestion. Slow digestion can lead to malabsorption of nutrients and putrification – which leads to toxicity. It is also connected with skin problems. High urine ph and low saliva ph can expect to see symptoms like anemia, high blood pressure, vascular problems, IBS, crown’s and a mineral shortage.

    Our body is a system and we cannot look to serum indications as the best, when in fact that are a sign of what’s happened in the last 48 hours, not what’s going on systemically over time and long periods of poor food consumption.

    I do agree that dairy and grains are leading causes of acidity – it’s one of the reasons you cannot take calcium from milk. And I completely agree that alkaline water is a waste of money.

    I encourage you to consider a couple of additional readings:

    The Chemistry of Man by Dr. Bernard Jensen
    Biologic Ionization as applied to human nutrition by Dr. Alexander F. Beddoe

    I would love to talk more on this topic because I think it’s undervalued and overlooked by many of those in the natural health field.

    Thank you
    Julianna
    Naturopath

    Post a Reply
  8. gregory@wealthywellnesscoach.com'

    Thank you so much for putting to rest one of my most vexing myths–acid/alkaline diets and balance. I’d long known that testing urine was not a good way to really find out what was going on in the blood–the stuff that actually interacts with every cell–but I needed to hear that the body will do everything it can to keep us in balance despite overloading on one food or another. I was conned into buying one of those very expensive alkaline water machines years ago and got so sick when I followed the protocol for super alkaline level water as a way to better health. Symptoms were many and awful. I’ll def be sharing this information.

    Post a Reply
    • cpiffer@gmail.com'

      I think it is common knowledge not to drink the high Ph water above 9.5? If you were drinking PH 11 super high water as you claim then that is probably why you felt sick. Or if you purchase one of those chemical adding ph boosters to raise the PH of water without testing it then that could also be it? :s

      Post a Reply
  9. mindbody@msn.com'

    Great listing. I’ll be saving this and sending it to clients when the question about pH balancing diets comes up again….and it usually does!
    Mahalo for your post!

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  10. nancy@flexhealthandwellness.com'

    Dr. Bowden, I am very disappointed in the above post. I have followed your blogs, read your books and actually met you at Clayton College’s conference a few years back.
    There are contradiction’s in your post today regarding grains and starches, which are both acidic, but according to your info above starches are not. There is no way sugar and starches are neutral when it comes to the human body.
    It is true that your body will hold its pH balance, but it does so by leeching calcium from the bones if necessary. This most certainly contributes to osteoporosis. Please refer to Vivian Goldschmidt, MA – Save Our Bones.

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  11. nornrisner@gmail.com'

    There is a reason your stomach is acidic…drinking alkaline water negates this and allows harmful bacteria to enter your system. These alkaline water machines are dangerous for your health. This alkaline water is ONLY good for disinfecting surfaces.

    Post a Reply
  12. ryanreed2598@yahoo.com'

    I do believe however that there is a huge benefit in drinking spring water or mineral water over tap, I am currently drinking evian which is expensive and would seem crazy but I feel so much healthier and energetic while drinking spring water verses filtered or tap. I have had stomach problems and when I am drinking spring water it seems to be so much better, spring water has bicarbonates in it which are good for the stomach, it does acure to me that a lot of Europeans seem to look a lot better Nd live a lot longer and the drink spring water.

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