Any time we start using terms like pH, a streak of terror may pass through your soul as you are transported back to high school chemistry class. Don’t be afraid, from now on we will use the term “cupcakes” instead of pH. Actually pH isn’t too scary, it means “potential Hydrogen”. So the more free hydrogen in a solution, the lower pH it has. I know it seems counter intuitive to have a lower pH with more hydrogen, but that’s just the way it is. It’s important to remember when dealing with pH scale, which runs from 0 to 14, that a one number deviation in pH is actually (log)10 more acidic or alkaline. For example, a pH of 5 is 10 times more acidic than a pH of 6. A pH of 1 is 100,000 times more acidic than a pH of 5. So lets review terms real quick because if you don’t know the terms, you’ll be more bored than a….(unapproved quip removed by wife)
Acid: pH below 7
Neutral: pH equal to 7
Alkaline: pH above 7
Base or Basic: Same meaning as “alkaline”
Normal pH Value of:
Stomach Acid: 0.6
Pancreatic fluid: 8.1
Cerebral Spinal Fluid: 7.3
I will admit I’ve always been skeptical about this topic. Mainly because I know that the body is maintained with a very complex and amazingly accurate pH regulatory system. Bottom line is, if you are still breathing, your body is maintaining pH homeostasis. To put this in perspective, stomach acid is 10 million times more acidic than your blood! So when you eat food, its ALL very acidic when it leaves the stomach into the small intestine. So how does the body keep from digesting itself or making the body a virtual acid bath? The stomach has a mucus barrier that keeps stomach acid from directly coming in contact with the stomach lining. When this does happen, we get “stomach ulcers”. The acidic food that leaves your stomach also gets neutralized by alkaline pancreatic fluid containing bicarbonate a little further down the digestive tract.
So it seems a little odd to suggest that by eating alkaline foods or drinking “alkaline” water, you will increase your body’s pH. Really what happens is you simply neutralize the stomach acid thus creating mineral salts. For example, lets say you take coral calcium, which is a popularly touted remedy for balancing pH of the body. It is primarily calcium carbonate with some minor trace minerals. When you take this supplement, it reacts with the stomach acid to form Calcium Chloride, because an acid and a base form a “salt” with neutral pH. Calcium Carbonate + HCl (stomach acid) = Calcium Chloride salt and carbon dioxide gas. If you don’t believe me take a big dose on an empty stomach and see if you belch or not! It will pretty much be a bath bomb in your gut!
Dr. Weston A. Price points out in his book “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” that good health is more related to the mineral content in nutrition:
“It is my belief that much harm has been done through the misconception that acidity and alkalinity were something apart from minerals and other elements. Many food faddists have undertaken to list foods on the basis of their acidity and alkalinity without the apparent understanding of the disturbances that are produced by, for example, condemning a food because it contains phosphoric acid, not appreciating that phosphorus can only be acid until it is neutralized by combining with a base.”
The theory of Acid/Alkaline foods originated with a French Chemist named Marcellin Berthelot who invented the means to measure calories in a food sample around 1864. He would incinerate a food sample in a water bath and calculated the difference in water temperature. From this he determined how many “calories” or units of heat-energy a food sample contained. He then started measuring the pH of the incinerated ash, and coming up with pH values that were acidic for some foods and alkaline for others.
Then came along Dr. Otto Warburg, who in the 1920’s -1940’s, was known for his research in the biochemistry of sugar metabolism, which he won a nobel prize for. While examining tumors, he observed that cancer cells often live in an acidic, and hypoxic (low oxygen), environment. From this observation he determined that cancer is caused by acidic, low oxygen conditions. Later on scientists realized that the tumor was creating these conditions, due to the anaerobic respiration cycle, thus creating lactic acid buildup in the tumor. This is the same thing that happens with muscle tissue when you start feeling the “burn”. When oxygen debt happens, cells move into a less efficient cycle of producing energy called anaerobic respiration, or the fermentation cycle, in which lactic acid is a by-product. It was Dr. Warburg’s research that stimulated the masses into concluding that acid=bad, alkaline=good. If Dr. Warburg was correct, more then likely we would all have muscle cancer.
To sum this up, proponents of “alkalinity diets” make lists of food that are “good” to eat and “bad” to eat. They test foods by burning them to ash then dissolving the ash in water and checking the pH of the solution to see if it is alkaline or acidic and then suggest the calculated pH will have an effect on the body’s systemic pH. Really what occurs is that foods with a high potash or potassium content (fruits and vegetables) will always be alkaline, because of the potassium hydroxide that forms from dissolving ash in water. This is how people used to get raw materials for soap making in the old days. They would collect all the wood ash and pour water through it to get sodium or potassium hydroxide, which is a very strong base. Foods with high phosphorus, or sulfur content, like dairy, coffee, tea, meat, grains, etc, will form acids of those elements, phosphoric acid, or sulfuric acid. It’s really not about the pH of food, it’s about the mineral content, as the famous Dr. Price points out. Whether acid or base, the body will neutralize both to form salts, which are used by your body for fueling life processes.
So is pH important? Yes! We would not be alive if the pH regulation system of the body was off by just half of a pH point. It’s a system you just don’t have control over, and what you eat does not change your systemic pH values. The “alkalinity” diet is still a good idea, and you should follow it, because your diet will consist of a lot more vegetables. I just don’t want you to get the wrong idea about it and waste your hard earned money on expensive products claiming to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.