Is Alkaline Water Really Better For You?

Is Alkaline Water Really Better For You?

November 2, 2019 100 By William Morgan


[ intro ]
You may have heard of alkaline water—
it’s the newest health trend hitting grocery
shelves.
These products are essentially just water
treated to have a more basic pH between 8
and 10
instead of water’s usual neutral 7.
And supposedly, they take your internal chemistry
from acidic to alkaline,
leaving you more hydrated and healthy.
Drinking alkaline water can even prevent bone
loss and cure cancer!…
if the health gurus are to be believed.
But science doesn’t back it up as any kind
of miracle drink.
The claim is based on an old idea often called
the acid-ash hypothesis:
that a more acidic body leads to health problems
like cancer and osteoporosis.
And if an acidic body creates bad health,
then making things a little more alkaline
could prevent all sorts of diseases.
So for decades, folks have been coming up
with special diets—
and, now, beverages like alkaline water—
that are supposed to raise your bodily pH
and thereby cure cancer!… somehow.
But, there isn’t one “bodily pH”.
Human blood has a pH around 7.4, for example,
while muscles are a bit more acidic at a pH
of about 6.1.
And it’s not easy to change those numbers
with what you eat or drink.
For example, a study published in 2001 is
often touted as showing that special diets
can tweak internal pHs
but even it didn’t actually find much of
an effect.
The researchers prepared two meal plans for
8 volunteers—
an acidifying one, where the foods had higher
amounts of phosphate in them and participants
drank a low-pH water
and an alkaline one with loads of calcium
and a high-pH water.
But after 4 days on the alkaline diet, while
the subject’s pee was noticeably less acidic
the average blood pH only went up 0.014 units
on average.
That’s less than the participants’ daily
variation, and likely within the level of
error for the instrument used to detect it.
It’s actually a good thing they didn’t
find any big changes to blood pH based on
diet.
The range of pH where your cells work well
is really narrow
so big swings in either direction can damage
your organs and even be fatal.
That’s why your body has several systems
in place for keeping acid-base levels balanced.
For example, it can respond to decreasing
pHs by getting rid of one of the most common
acid forming molecules—carbon dioxide—
by well, breathing a little more.
But usually, it’s your kidneys that jump
into action.
They take whatever you have too much of in
your blood and put it into your pee.
And that’s why urine pH does change based
on what you eat or drink.
In that 2001 study, for example, the alkaline
diet raised the subjects’ urine pH by an
average of 1.02 units.
So if you wanted to alter your blood pH by
drinking an alkaline beverage, you’d have
to interfere with your kidneys—
which, just to be clear, is a really bad idea.
And other parts of the body also regulate
their local acidity,
either by making acidic or basic compounds
or by throwing whatever they don’t want
into the blood
and letting the kidneys take care of everything.
That means that your urine is pretty much
the only bodily fluid you can alter by chugging
alkaline water—with one other exception.
You do have some external control over the
pH in your stomach
—at least temporarily—
because you can directly neutralize some of
the acid there with what you put in it.
And it’s why alkaline water /might/ be effective
against one particular health issue: acid
reflux.
Acid reflux is thought to occur because acidic
stomach juices activate a digestive enzyme
called pepsin.
If there’s too much pepsin or it sloshes
up into your esophagus or other places it
doesn’t belong,
it binds to tissues and causes symptoms like
burping and heartburn.
And an article published in 2012 did find
that alkaline water can deactivate pepsin.
But that was done in dishes in a lab, not
in an actual human body.
And we already have lots of cheap, readily
available meds for neutralizing stomach acids—
that’s the whole idea behind antacids.
When you look closer at the other purported
health benefits of drinking alkaline water,
the evidence just isn’t there.
Take cancer, for example.
Some scientists noticed that tumorous tissues
are often more acidic than healthy tissues—
which is likely where people got the idea
that reducing acidity could cure or prevent
cancer.
And if that were the case,
you’d think that bladder cancers would be
especially susceptible to alkaline diets because
urine pH can actually be influenced by what
you eat.
But a study of over 27,000 men from Finland
in 2005 found
having a lower urine pH didn’t significantly
increase the risk of developing bladder cancer.
Similarly, many have claimed that alkaline
water can prevent or help treat osteoporosis,
a disease where bones become less dense and
more likely to break.
That’s because, if your kidneys slack on
the job, another way your body can buffer
too much acid is to pull calcium and bicarbonate
from bone,
and less calcium means less bone mass.
However, a study from 2010 found no association
between urine pH and a subjects’ bone mass
density or how many bones they broke.
And meta-analyses have failed to find any
connection between excreted acids and bone
health.
So for all the conditions drinking alkaline
water might prevent,
so far we haven’t seen a real case for any
of them.
And despite the acid-ash hypothesis existing
for half a century,
there hasn’t been any direct research showing
that an alkaline diet or alkaline water can
improve a person’s health.
Luckily, there don’t seem to be any side
effects, either,
so if you want to drink alkaline water because
you like the taste, more power to ya.
You’ll just have some slightly more expensive
pee.
Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow!
If you liked learning what actually happens
to all that alkaline water you’re drinking,
you might like our episode on what doctors
can learn by looking at your pee.
[ outro ]