Dr. Friedman’s Health Blog

ALKALINE WATER: Healthy or Harmful?

By: Dr. David Friedman

Alkaline water is the latest craze! It’s now available at most health food stores, grocery stores, and even gas stations! Many people are purchasing their own alkalinizing water systems for their homes.  For a hefty $6,000.00 you can buy a popular top-of-the-line Kangen water system, sold through a network marketing company. The health claims being made about alkaline water are endless and include weight loss, clearer skin, reduced wrinkles, reversing arthritis, preventing and curing autoimmune disease, diabetes, and even cancer! But what exactly is alkaline water, and does it really work?

The goal of this magic elixir is to raise the body’s pH level and make it more “alkaline.”  The pH level is a measurement of how acidic or alkaline a substance is. A pH scale of 0 is the most acidic level and a pH of 14 would be at the very high end of the alkaline scale. To put this into perspective, club soda has a pH level of 3 (acidic) and kitchen drain cleaner has a pH of 14 (alkaline.)   Regular water measures right about in the middle of this spectrum, with a neutral pH of 7. Advocates of alkaline water believe our drinking water should have a much higher pH.  One popular brand of alkaline water boasts having a pH of 14+.  It’s believed that drinking alkaline water will help us neutralize our body’s acidity and create an environment that is less conducive to the formation of disease. 

It’s important to note the difference between naturally occurring alkaline water compared to the brands sold in stores and the pH regulating machines purchased through a network marketing company.  Natural alkaline water occurs when water passes over rocks and picks up minerals, which increases its alkalinity.  This is called “spring water.”  It's sourced from natural springs and has a moderate alkaline pH level typically around 7.8. However, most alkaline water available on the market is not taken from the source. Instead, it goes through a chemical process called electrolysis. Electricity is used to raise the water’s pH.

With all the alkaline water health claims being made; unfortunately, none are backed by science. However, I did find one study from 2012 that showed drinking naturally carbonated artesian-well alkaline water may help deactivate pepsin, the main enzyme that causes acid reflux. Okay, that makes sense considering this is a condition caused by too much acid build-up in the stomach. This is why Alka-Seltzer works so great at helping ease indigestion. “Alka” literally means alkaline seltzer water. This heart-burn medication contains sodium bicarbonate, which is what lowers the pH of an overly acidic stomach.  But, even if you do suffer from occasional indigestion or heartburn, would you drink  Alka-Seltzer throughout the day and drink it to wash down your meals? Of course not.   In fact, the manufacture warns, “Do not take Alka-Seltzer for more than 3 days in a row. If symptoms persist, speak to your doctor or pharmacist. If you take more Alka-Seltzer than you should, you need to go to your nearest Accident and Emergency Department or contact your doctor immediately.” Yet,  many people drink alkaline water every single day as their primary beverage.  

The truth is, drinking alkaline water can actually cause digestion issues and several other negative side effects. It lowers the natural stomach acidity, which is needed to kill bacteria and pathogens. Our stomach needs to be acid, not alkaline. That’s why it secretes gastric acid.   Too much alkalinity can cause gastrointestinal issues and lead to metabolic alkalosis, a condition that produces a decline in cognitive health, disorientation, nausea, muscle twitching, tingling in the extremities or face, and hand tremors.  Alkaline water also decreases calcium absorption and can negatively affect bone health. Alkaline water has also been found to cause liver failure in children

I had a patient who came in to see me that was suffering from severe gut-wrenching pain. It was so bad she would have to lay in the bed curled up for several hours. I did a complete history which included her diet. I learned that she was drinking a popular brand of alkaline water (pH of 10,) which she believed was a healthy choice. When I asked her how long she had been drinking this, she told me six months. That just so happened to be the exact time when her gut issues began.  I recommended she immediately stop drinking this alkaline water and within 72 hours her gastrointestinal issues completely resolved. 

We don’t need to drink electro-charged water to increase our pH. Our body already has an innate ability to regulate its own pH.  This is called homeostasis. For example, lemon juice in its natural state is acidic with a pH of 2, but once metabolized in the stomach, it actually becomes alkaline at a pH of 7. Scientists are baffled how this happens because it’s difficult to duplicate the pH of the human body in a petri dish.  We have an amazing ability to balance our body's internal environment, beyond the scope of what current science can fully understand.

When we look at the pH variations of the body, the need to create alkalinity makes no sense.  Our stomach is highly acidic (pH of 2,) which is needed to digest food and destroy pathogens. However, our blood is always slightly alkaline with a pH of 7.4.  And the normal pH of urine is around 6, which is acidic. The body needs to maintain an acidic AND alkaline pH to be healthy. This is known as acid-base homeostasis.

I get pitched by Kengan distributors all the time with the claim, "All diseases can’t survive in an alkaline environment."  That's actually not the case when it comes to our blood. Since our blood is always alkaline,  that means ALL human diseases can survive just fine in an alkaline environment. If alkaline water actually did what these distributors claim and this water was able to raise the pH of our blood it would be fatal! Humans can’t survive if their blood increases to a pH of 7.8.  Lucky for us research shows what we eat and drink does not significantly affect blood pH.   However, what we eat and drink can change the pH of our urine.  Excreting acids in the urine is one of the main ways the body regulates the pH of the blood. So if you eat a hamburger, your urine will become more acidic several hours later as your body removes the metabolic waste from your system. Monitoring urine pH is a great measurement of our waste but a poor indicator of the overall body pH.

Eating alkaline foods like nuts, fruits, and veggies is certainly healthful, but so are acidic foods like poultry, eggs, whole grains, and fish. The body’s innate balancing system knows what we need.  It’s not necessary to play chemist and manipulate the body into changing its pH levels. In fact, it could be dangerous!    Instead of focusing on changing the natural chemistry of the body, it’s far better to focus on consuming a non-inflammatory diet, consisting of clean, pesticide, and chemical-free plant foods, wild-caught fish, and pasture-raised chicken, as nature intended.  


About the Author

Dr. David Friedman is the author of the award-winning, #1 national best-selling book Food Sanity, How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction. He's a  Doctor of Naturopathy, Chiropractic Neurologist, Clinical Nutritionist, Board Certified Alternative Medical Practitioner, and Board Certified in Integrative Medicine.  Dr. Friedman is a syndicated television health expert and host of To Your Good Health Radio, which has changed the face of talk radio by incorporating entertainment, shock value, and solutions to everyday health and wellness issues.

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