The Truth About Alkalizing Your Body (June 2020 Focus on Food Article)

Picture of Miriam

There are mannnnny myths about nutrition and health that overwhelm the internet and regularly pop up in popular books and the mass media. You might strive for a more “alkaline body” or how to make your body more alkaline in order to achieve optimal health. Excess acidity, so we’re told, is the root cause of every disease you care to name, from back aches to cancer. To fight it, we must micromanage our intake of alkaline-forming and acid-forming foods, and even take alkalizing substances, such as sodium bicarbonate, to make our bodies more alkaline.

So… let’s dive into this.

the ph scale

Do you recall chemistry? Acidity and Alkalanity are measured using the PH scale which is 0-14; 0 being highly acidic, 7 is neutral, and 14 is the most alkaline (or “basic”).

The pH scale is also logarithmic, which means for example that a pH of 3 is 10 times more acidic than a pH of 4, and a pH of 8 is ten times more alkaline/basic than a pH of 7.

The myth that we need to “alkalize” our bodies is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of human physiology.

chemistry

Each section of our body has its special highly controlled pH. Here are a couple examples:

The stomach operates correctly at an acidic pH of around 2, rising to 4 or 5 after a meal. If the stomach becomes less acidic, we absorb less iron from our food.

The acidity of the small and large intestines (except for the last part of the small intestine, which has a mildly alkaline pH of 7.4) is carefully maintained by various digestive secretions and also by beneficial gut microbes that produce lactic acid, short chain fatty acids, and other acidifying chemicals from the foods we eat. This acidic environment actually prevents the overgrowth of pathogenic (disease causing) organisms. There are essential, life sustaining chemical reactions happening in our blood continuously, and they can only happen in a narrow range of pH levels.

Did you read that?? ESSENTIAL. So if it doesn’t happen… we can’t survive.

weighing balance

Some people may say “cancer can’t thrive in an alkaline environment.” Something interesting to think about. Leukaemia and lymphoma do not thrive in alkaline environments within the blood and lymph tissue (which contains a pH around 7.4). Again, essential and life sustaining chemical reactions that are continuously happening in our blood can only happen in a narrow range of pH levels. If it doesn’t stay within these levels, the body shoots out countless buffering mechanisms involving blood proteins, phosphate, and bicarbonate from the lungs and kidneys in order to maintain the proper pH.

red liquid

Again, you would not survive if there was anything that overwhelmed those buffering mechanisms and made the blood either too acidic (below 7) or too alkaline (above 7.7).

The bottom line is that each section of the body has a unique pH range that is necessary for its proper function, and which is carefully maintained by a range of powerful mechanisms.

You simply can’t “alkalize your body,” nor should you put your focus there to do so.

fruits and vegetables

After saying all of that, you can make it a bit easier to maintain the pH your body needs by making more nutritious food choices (whole foods, plant-centric – especially green leafy veggies) and exercising regularly. Funny enough a lot of alkaline-forming foods are: fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. More acidic foods are: cheese, meat, chicken, and fish.

You’re simply taking the load off all those buffering mechanisms which would have to work harder to maintain optimal pH if your diet was high in acid-forming foods. And this does have significant health benefits, including a reduced risk of kidney disease which begs the question of if taxing the kidneys too hard over time with certain foods does have an effect.

So hopefully this should give you liberty to load up your plate or bowl with health-promoting fruits and veggies (they’re beneficial for just about every element of physical and mental health), but I beg of you please don’t fall for fallacy that “alkalizing your body” is of any importance and something you should spend your brain power and money on. Many people ask how to balance ph levels in body. Alkaline vs acidic body should not be your worry. Let your body work its magic automatically but all the while supporting this beautiful miracle you were born with, with nutritious foods and regular exercise.

Are you ever going to get tired of me saying the same recommendation? 😉

-Miriam Jirari MPH, RD, CPT, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor
Studio SWEAT Dietitian

1. T Colin at Center for Nutrition Studies

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