What is pH Balance, and How Does Diet Throw it Off?

Wednesday Jan 15 | BY |
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A diet high in acidic foods can put a strain on kidneys, increasing risk of kidney stones and potentially, osteoporosis. Spinach is one of the most alkalizing veggies you can eat.

Have you heard that your diet may be too acidic? Or that if your pH balance is off, you could be more at risk for disease?

There are a number of proponents of the “alkaline diet” out there. Do their claims hold any weight?

What is pH Balance?

Take a short trip, if you will, back to chemistry class. pH stands for “potential of hydrogen,” and measures the hydrogen ion concentration in a solution. If you find more hydrogen ions (H+) than hydroxyl ions (OH-), the solution is more acidic. If you find more hydroxyl (OH-) ions than hydrogen ions (H+), they solution is more alkaline or basic. If you find equal numbers of both, the solution is considered neutral.

We use pH today as a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. Just like you may determine whether temperature is hot or cold by the number on the Fahrenheit scale, you can also determine whether a solution is more acidic or more basic (alkaline) depending on the number on the pH scale.

The pH scale goes from zero to fourteen, and rotates around “7” in the middle, which is the number for neutral solutions. Pure water, for example, is considered “neutral”—neither acidic or alkaline—and has a pH of 7. Anything above 7 is more basic or alkaline, and anything below 7 is more acidic.

What’s the Difference Between Acidic and Alkaline?

Understanding this difference can be a little tricky. In genernal, you can think of acids as being sour to the taste and producing a stinging sensation. Vinegar and the citric acid in lemon juice are good examples.

Bases or alkaline solutions have a bitter taste and are typically slimy or soapy in texture. Examples include baking soda and ammonia.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also adds that those solutions on the extremes of the scale, either way, are typically “reactive” and can be dangerous. Automobile battery acid is an acidic chemical that is reactive and can cause burns. Household drain cleaners often contain lye, which is a very alkaline chemical that is reactive, and can corrode tissues.

How Does This Apply to Diet?

In a study published in 2012, researchers noted, “There may be some value in considering an alkaline diet in reducing morbidity and mortality from chronic diseases and further studies are warranted in this area of medicine.”

The scientists go on to state that human life requires a “tightly controlled pH level in the serum [blood] of about 7.4 to survive.” This is a slightly alkaline level.

Over the last several thousand years, the human diet has changed significantly. The ratio of potassium to sodium has completely reversed, from10 to 1 to a level of 1 to 3. Because of our higher intake of saturated fat, simple sugars, and sodium, compared to what our ancestors consumed, our current diet may “induce metabolic acidosis”—create a more acidic environment inside us.

Usually our kidneys do a great job of regulating body pH. Particularly as we age, however, and if our kidneys function less than optimally, an acidic diet can increase our risk of health issues. According to preliminary research, these may include:

  • Kidney stones: Even if blood chemistry remains fairly consistent, an acidic diet can affect our urinary pH, which can increase the risk of kidney stones.
  • Bone disease: An acidic diet can sap up the calcium in our blood, flushing it out in the urine where it can’t be taken up by bones. Over time, the body could lose calcium supply and become more at risk for osteoporosis. Again, this is a more serious risk in the elderly and in those with less than optimal kidney function.
  • Loss of muscle: A three-year study indicated that a diet with a reduced acid load that was also rich in potassium helped preserve muscle mass in older men and women. Researchers speculated that correction of “acidosis” may preserve muscle mass, particularly in conditions where muscle wasting is common.
  • Back pain: There is some research that indicates chronic back pain improves with the supplementation of alkaline materials. An alkaline diet preserves more magnesium, and magnesium allows for the proper activation of vitamin D, which may help improve back pain.

Researchers have also speculated that an alkaline diet may help prevent other conditions like high blood pressure, stroke, cardiovascular health, and memory/cognition.

General Food Guidelines

The big question is—can we change the body’s pH through our diet?

So far, the answer isn’t clear-cut. Generally, the body self-regulates pH. The problem is that if we’re eating a very acidic diet, we could be making it much harder than normal for the body to do its job. It may have to rob the bones and teeth to get alkalizing minerals like calcium and magnesium to buffer the blood, for example—which can lead to thinning bones. It may upset the digestive system, or cause the urine to become more acidic, increasing risk of kidney stones.

To maintain optimal health and give the body what it needs to do it’s job—and to keep it strong and resilient against disease—we need to make it as easy as possible to maintain the proper pH balance. Constantly eating acidic foods, as we do in our modern western diet, puts the burden on the body to balance things out. On the other hand, eating a more healthy, slightly alkaline diet, may help smooth things over and actually help you feel better overall.

Though we’ll go into what foods can help you tone down the acid in your body in a future post, here are some basic guidelines to get you started.

Acidic Foods

  • Grain products, red meats, dairy products, fish, pale beers, sugars, coffee

Alkaline Foods

  • Most fruits, veggies, fruit juices, potatoes, red wine, stevia, almonds, soy milk, seeds

Do you try to follow a more alkaline diet? Please share your tips.

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Gerry K. Schwalfenberg, “The Alkaline Diet: Is There Evidence That an Alkaline pH Diet Benefits Health?” J Environ Public Health, 2012; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3195546/.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com


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  1. Khimmie says:

    hmmm. I was looking to see if the diet can control my feminine ph balance.
    Most feminine wash products irritates me..

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