Alkaline water is selling incredibly well. Its sales jumped from $47 million in 2014 to a whopping $427 million in 2017. Marketers claim that alkaline water can energize and detoxify the body, and lead to superior hydration. Not only that, it can also correct acidity in your tissues, which can then prevent or reverse cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, and other degenerative diseases.
Regrettably, there is virtually no rigorous scientific evidence that can back up such health claims. As a matter of fact, it may be harmful to drink this water on a regular basis. The following explains what alkaline water is and why it is impossible to achieve what marketers claim it can do in the body.
What Is Alkaline Water?
The concept of acidity or alkalinity of the body or of water is based on the pH scale. The pH scale goes from 0 to 14 and a pH of 7 is neutral. Anything with a pH below 7 is considered acidic and anything with a pH above 7 is alkaline.
The acronym “pH” is short for “potential of hydrogen”. pH is a measure of the concentration of hydrogen ions. The lower the pH, the more free hydrogen ions it has. The higher the pH, the fewer free hydrogen ions it has. One pH unit reflects a tenfold change in ion concentration, so there are 10 times as many hydrogen ions available at a pH of 7 than at a pH of 8.
Our blood is slightly alkaline, with a pH of 7.4. Pure water has a neutral pH of 7, while natural water ranges from around 6.5 to 8.5 depending on surrounding soil and vegetation, seasonal variations, and weather.
Bottled waters marketed as being alkaline typically claim to have a pH between 8 and 10. Some are from springs or artesian wells that are naturally alkaline because of dissolved alkalizing compounds such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, silica, and bicarbonate. Others are transformed by a process called electrolysis that separates the water into alkaline and acid fractions. There are also expensive water ionizing machines marketed for home use.
Origin Of The Alkaline Diet
The marketing claims behind alkaline water are based on an old idea called the acid-ash hypothesis. It says that eating certain acidic foods like meats, dairy, and eggs results in something called acid ash in the body, which increases your acid levels and causes adverse health effects.
In 2002, an alternative medicine practitioner called Robert O. Young turned the acid-ash hypothesis into a fad alkaline diet with a popular series of books called the pH Miracle. According to his books, an alkaline diet could treat all sorts of illnesses, from poor digestion to cancer. So far, no rigorous research studies have been able to back up the health claims behind the alkaline diet. In 2017, Young was sentenced to three years in jail for practicing medicine without a license.
Why Alkaline Water Cannot Turn The Body Alkaline
Marketers claim that their special water can turn the body alkaline. The truth is that they do not even understand the basic chemistry of how the human body works!
The main reason why drinking alkaline water cannot produce the health benefits claimed by the marketers is because one simply cannot alter the pH of the blood or the body this way.
Our diet, including the water we drink and the medications and supplements we take, can only alter the pH of our urine. Home test kits to measure the pH of urine do not relay any information about the body’s pH at all.
The lungs and kidneys are the organs that regulate the body’s pH, which is always kept in a very narrow range because all our enzymes are designed to work at pH 7.4. Even a small fluctuation, as little as 0.05 in our blood, can become life-threatening. That is why patients with kidney disease and lung dysfunction often rely on dialysis machines and mechanical ventilators respectively to avoid even a small disruption of pH balance in the blood.
In the stomach, where stomach acid is secreted, the pH is 1.5 to 3.5. It is a very acidic environment because the acid is necessary to break down the food and to kill all the germs and bacteria that may be in our food.
When we drink alkaline water and it comes in contact with the very acidic stomach, it is immediately neutralized because alkaline water has no buffers. A buffer is a chemical that can react with small amounts of either acid or alkaline substance to prevent changes in pH. An example of an alkaline buffer is baking soda (or sodium bicarbonate). Our lungs use bicarbonate as a pH-stabilizing buffer to maintain a constant blood pH.
Marketers claim that as the stomach acid neutralizes the alkaline water, bicarbonate ions are released into the blood, resulting in an alkalizing effect. This could only be true if the alkaline water effectively neutralized all the stomach acid, like baking soda would have done. But in reality, it is impossible for alkaline water to neutralize any significant quantity of stomach acid to create this “net alkalizing effect”. As it happens, it is the other way around, the stomach acid completely neutralizes the alkaline water!
Alkaline Foods And Cancer
Proponents of an alkaline diet and marketers of alkaline water believe that overly acidic diets cause the body to become too acidic, which increases your risk of cancer. Although it is true that the immediate environment around cancer cells can be acidic, do know that it is due to differences in the way tumors create energy and use oxygen as compared to healthy tissues, not the acidic foods (such as meats, dairy, and eggs) that you eat.
Similarly, understand that their proposed answer to increase your intake of healthier alkaline foods like vegetables, fruits, and alkaline water can do nothing to change your body’s pH. Veggies are good for you but for a different reason – they are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which are anti-inflammatory and cancer-protective.
Alkaline Water For Detoxification And Hydration
Initial health improvements reported by people who drink this type of water can be attributed to the simple fact that they are drinking more water, resulting in improved hydration and detoxification. There is the placebo effect as well.
Moreover, alkaline water may contain higher mineral concentration, which is known to have beneficial health effects, especially when one’s diet consists of mainly processed or junk foods that are very low in nutrients.
Keep in mind that drinking too much highly alkaline water on a regular basis may not be a good thing. It may lower the stomach pH and compromise digestion. For people who already have insufficient stomach acid production, it may even allow bacteria or other harmful organisms to survive.
For individuals who have a kidney condition or are taking medication that alters their kidney function, the minerals in alkaline water can start to accumulate in their bodies.
However, if you are suffering from acid reflux, the alkalinity may give you some degree of short-term relief the same way TUMS or other antacids that contain alkaline ions will do though neither addresses the root cause of your problem.
In short, do not buy alkaline water as you will be wasting your money. It cannot make you healthier, just your wallet lighter. If you want to drink alkaline water, simply add some baking soda! People who market alkaline water are no different from the snake oil salesmen of yesteryear!