A few weeks ago, Marwan showed me a video of a woman and her cute kids testing the pH of different brands of water. She was very excited to find which bottles contained alkaline water! My only thought was, who cares what the pH is? Then a few days later, my mom sent me the same video and asked if she should be drinking alkaline water. With that, I had to find out what this trend was about and if there is any medical evidence to back it.
To be honest, my first thoughts were “this is such a first world problem!” I mean, we are testing bottled water, a luxury in most parts of the world. But the reality is that I do live in a first world country and maybe there is some merit behind the claims.
What is Alkaline?
First, lets start with some basic definitions. pH is a number demonstrating the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. A pH of 0 is completely acidic, a pH of 14 is completely alkaline, and a pH of 7 is neutral (neither acidic or basic). Your blood is normally in a pH range of 7.35 to 7.45, close to neutral but slightly alkaline.
If your were to test pure water, that is to say, the only molecule in it was H2O, the pH would be 7. This is completely neutral. But our water sources tend to have minerals, metals, and other “contaminates”. To make water more alkaline, minerals like calcium and potassium are added to raise the pH, aka mineral water.
The claim is that a Western diet produces a chronic, low-level acidosis in our bodies and this is overall bad for our health. I have seen google claims about acidic states causing everything from the common cold to cancer. For your average healthy person, testing the blood for pH, CO2, and HCO3 levels would not correlate that there is a chronic acidic state occurring. This is because your body regulates pH very well. These claims of acidic states leading to health concerns are mere speculations.
That said, there are some medical reasons to limit your acid production. These concepts apply when your body is no longer able to properly regulate the body’s pH, usually in the end-stages of a chronic disease. When our body metabolizes food, it release components that may be more acidic or alkaloid. High protein diets are more acidic, high fruit and vegetable diets are more alkaloid. Using these concepts, we can alter a patients diet to help with a chronic medical condition that hinders your body’s ability to neutralize your blood. For instance, COPD is a condition that can lead to high levels of acid in the blood. When these patients require tube feeding, we use a specialized nutrition that results in their metabolism producing less acid.
Outside of having a chronic medical condition, healthy patients are able to neutralize and regulate pH levels. This is a complex process that your body does very effectively, no matter what your diet may be like.
My Final Thought on Alkaline Water
As a doctor who loves nutrition and prevention, I say go for it! It isn’t going to hurt to buy mineral or alkaline water (it might hurt your wallet). But if you are that concerned about your pH, consider your whole diet. Eat more fruits and vegetables and less animal products. Do I think that there is any proof that it is the pH that makes you healthier, not really. But it certainly will help your health if you are drinking plenty of water, staying away from animal products, and inhaling as many fruits and veggies as you can get your hands on!