When you have that cheeseburger or piece of cake for dinner, you might think about the consequences it can have on your waistline or your cholesterol levels. But what you probably don’t consider is how it is affecting the alkalinity of your body.
Yet, based on current research, whether your body is mostly acidic or mostly alkaline may be one of the most important factors that determines how healthy you are and what diseases you contract.
Without appropriate pH levels in and around living organisms and cells, life on earth wouldn’t be possible. Human life depends upon a tightly controlled pH level in the serum. The pH level necessary for human survival is between 7.35 to 7.45 (slightly alkaline).
However, the net acid load of the human diet has changed a lot from the hunter gatherer civilization to the present day. As agriculture became more widespread over the last several thousand years and industrialization occurred over the last 200 years, potassium has decreased compared to sodium. Chloride also has increased compared to bicarbonate found in the diet. The ratio of potassium to sodium previously was 10 to 1. In the modern diet, it’s now 1 to 3.
The modern diet is deficient in magnesium, potassium and fiber and rich in saturated fat, simple sugars, sodium and chloride. This results in a diet that sends the body into a state of metabolic acidosis.
Most people in the western world have a highly acidic body, the result of eating plenty of animal-based protein, dairy products and grains. Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, often lacking in the Australian diet, send the body into a more alkaline state. And it’s this alkaline state that can benefit your health.
Although the intracellular pH of most cancer cells is normal, the extracellular pH of malignant solid tumors is acidic—ranging from 6.5 to 6.9. This is because cancer cells convert glucose into lactic acid. Normal tissues, on the other hand, are significantly more alkaline, 7.2 to 7.5.
Extracellular acidosis is toxic to most normal cells. But cancer cells can adapt and thrive under these harsh conditions.
The tumor cells use this acidic environment to their advantage since the acid pH stimulates tumor cell invasion and the spread of cancer (known as metastasis).
It’s thought that acid from the tumor diffuses into adjacent normal tissues where it changes the structure of the tissue in a way that permits local invasion of the cancer cells. This was backed up by a study where regions of the highest tumor invasion correspond to areas of lowest pH (acidic) and tumor invasion didn’t occur in regions with normal or near-normal extracellular pH.
The lower the pH in tumors—as measured by their lactate levels—the better the prognosis. The more acidic the tumor, the worse the outcome.
When tumors are more acidic, they can invade and spread throughout the body easier. Angiogenesis—the process by which tumors spawn new blood vessels to ease the cancer’s spread—also increases in an acidic environment, as does the tumor’s ability to be resistant to cancer drugs.
When scientists pretreated tumor cells with acid before injecting them into animals, metastases occurred at a higher rate than in animals injected with tumor cells not pretreated with acid.
At the same time that an acid environment has accelerated the rate of cancer spreading through the body, creating a more alkaline environment has inhibited the spread of cancer. In mice with experimental breast cancer that were given sodium bicarbonate orally, the growth rate of the primary tumors wasn’t affected, but the pH of tumors increased and the formation of spontaneous metastases decreased.
Make No Bones About It
Researchers have linked eating a Western-type diet to osteoporosis. On the opposite end of the spectrum, administering an alkali-type diet to human subjects results in improved bone health.
Researchers have estimated that the quantity of calcium lost in the urine after eating a modern diet over time could be as high as almost 480 grams over 20 years—or almost half the skeletal mass of calcium.
Researchers also demonstrated that neutralization of acid production in postmenopausal women resulted in calcium and phosphate retention, reduced markers of bone resorption (the process by which bone cells known as osteoclasts break down bone) and an increase in a marker of bone formation called osteocalcin.
As you age, your muscle mass declines. This puts you at risk of falls and fractures. Research is starting to uncover that sending your body into an alkaline state may reduce this decline in muscle mass. One three-year study found that an alkaline diet rich in potassium, including lots of fruits and vegetables, resulted in preserved muscle mass in older men and women.
There’s more evidence that an acid state is linked to decreasing muscle mass. Conditions such as chronic renal failure that result in chronic metabolic acidosis speed up the breakdown in skeletal muscle.
Acidity, Blood Sugar and Heart Health
Researchers think that abnormalities in intracellular pH regulation may be one of the driving forces behind development of type 2 diabetes and the associated cardiomyopathy and hypertension that diabetes patients often suffer.
Acidity also can affect the way your blood vessels function. In large arteries, intracellular acidosis is associated with widening of the blood vessels, whereas in small arteries, it leads to narrowing of the blood vessels.
Beating Back Pain
One study found that chronic low back pain improved in 76 out of 82 patients after supplementation with alkaline minerals. Mean pain scores dropped significantly by 49 percent (from 41 to 21 points) after four weeks’ supplementation. With supplementation, there was a slight but significant increase in blood pH and intracellular magnesium.
According to the researchers, “The results show that a disturbed acid-base balance may contribute to the symptoms of low back pain. The simple and safe addition of an alkaline multi-mineral preparation was able to reduce the pain symptoms in these patients with chronic low back pain.”
The first step in making your body more alkaline is not to eliminate or sharply decrease protein intake. You need protein to prevent osteoporosis and the loss of skeletal muscle mass known as sarcopenia. Eating slightly less protein is okay, but don’t go overboard.
Instead, increase your intake of fruits and vegetables and only indulge in sugar and grains as rare treats. Be certain to have several servings of fruits or vegetables with each meal. Substitute fruits and vegetables for grain-based snacks. Cut back on salt intake, as sodium chloride can trigger metabolic acidosis in a dose-dependent manner. Avoiding alcohol, soft drinks, caffeine and all processed foods is another important step and drink plenty of purified water.
Another option? Supplement with magnesium, which has an alkalinizing effect. Aim for 500 mg per day in divided doses. Taking too much magnesium at once can cause diarrhea.
You can also try supplementing with bicarbonate. Potassium bicarbonate may be a better option than sodium bicarbonate, especially in regards to protecting bone health as noted earlier in the article.
Alkalinity for Optimal Health
More and more research is suggesting that our bodies are healthiest when they’re in an alkaline state. Taking small steps to make your body more alkaline can reap big rewards.