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Alkalinize or Die… Really? A Critique of Acid Alkaline Diets
I became curious about the Acid Alkaline diets theory when I had lunch yesterday at a local Vegan restaurant called Cafe Gratitude. I happened to be there while an “Alkaline Water” distributor discussed the benefits of “Alkaline Water” and therefore his product. Being a Registered Nurse and having worked in hospitals for over a decade, I have the opportunity to actually SEE the pH of the blood and urine of many people close up and personal.
So, I already had a lot of questions with the inconsistencies of the Acid Alkaline Diets Argument- and the sales pitch at the cafe brought even more to mind when a serendipitous event occurred. I came home immediately after the water talk to find an article by Dr. Ben Kim on The Truth About Acid Alkaline Diets in my inbox and it inspired me to share my experiences of the inconsistencies of the Acid Alkaline Imbalance Theory of diets that echo those of Dr. Ben Kim.
Inconsistency #1: Eating an ‘alkaline diet’ will make your body alkaline
The body maintains a VERY tight pH range of the blood between 7.35-7.45 and it STAYS in that range, preventing any acid-alkaline imbalance. Anyone who is even REMOTELY out of that very tight range is SICK!! I’m talking in the ICU kind of sick. These people are often on IV medications to keep their blood pressure from being too low, they have an overwhelming infection, or they are on (or close to) having to be on life support… I’m talking SICK!
Additionally, when patients are on life support and their blood is acidic at all- under 7.35- then the remedy for that is to turn the breathing rate up- voila! An easy fix for acidic blood. In the MOST severe cases, we might put them on an IV drip that contains bicarbonate (an alkaline solution) that goes directly into their veins. But this is only for the sickest of patients. So, if breathing faster can make you more alkaline in a matter of seconds or minutes- why the obsession with the foods that you eat. This health trick is very well known in Eastern Traditions, although it is not well known in the West.
If you REALLY think that you want to be alkaline, and think that lifestyle will change this, then EXERCISE: go for a run, take baking soda, or even just sit and breathe fast. Breathing fast and deep is a sure way to become alkaline very quickly since you will blow off carbon dioxide (an acid).
Inconsistency #2: Lemon Juice is part of an alkaline diet, but Coca Cola is acid
The alkaline water presentation starts out with showing you the pH of a bunch of drinks: tap water, tea, soda and of course- their water. They go on to show how ‘bad’ sodas are because they are so acidic. But what they DON’T put on display is lemon juice. Lemon Juice and Sodas both have a pH of about 3- that’s VERY acidic. Yet EVERY resource on alkalizing your body states that lemon juice, while acidic- somehow alkalizes your body but sodas, with the same acidity, are acid to your body!
Now, I don’t know about you, but this sounds like nonsense to me.
Acid is acid. Lemon juice doesn’t have any magical properties where ITS acid is different than OTHER acids and so can alkalize your blood.
Inconsistency #3: Alkaline water is good- antacids are bad…
Most folks who are educated about natural medicine will tell you that antacids are bad for you. The stomach is SUPPOSED to be a highly acidic environment. Manipulating that environment with antacids can cause all sorts of problems- from not killing the pathogens in your food to not absorbing calcium and Vitamin B-12. Another interesting problem in the Acid Alkaline Diets Theory is that most alternative practitioners will actually recommend Hydrochloric Acid tablets to people who have heartburn or who have trouble digesting food! So, if the remedy for poor digestion is actually MORE acid- also the reason why it’s good to drink dilute lemon juice or apple cider vinegar- then why in the heck would you drink alkaline water at the same time!?
Inconsistency #4: Weston Price Debunked This With Healthy Populations…
This acid alkaline diets myth was debunked already by a dentist named Weston Price in the 1920’s. He traveled around the world studying groups of people who had no contact with ‘modern’ processed food and studied entirely varied groups of people from Fiji to Scotland whom he noted to have not ONLY perfect health, but no cavities and – interestingly- perfectly STRAIGHT teeth with NO IMPACTED WISDOM TEETH.
Well, this acid alkaline diets hypothesis had been promoted in his time and so he wanted to see if there was any validity to it. So he noted the foods that the groups ate, and most of them had what would be called ‘acid’ diets. The African Masai men, for instance, subsisted on milk, meat and cow’s blood their entire lives as a ‘warrior’s oath’. No fruit, vegetables or grains their entire life. A group of Scottish people on a remote island lived on almost nothing but oatmeal and fish. Bulgarian peasants (in another study) who were legendary for their longevity subsisted on fermented goats milk as the main staple of their diet, often having nothing else for days at a time. All of these groups remained far more healthy than most modern day ‘alkaline diet’ proponents.
So, Weston Price took samples of a typical day’s diet and determined the alkaline and acid content of the foods both by observation and by burning the samples. And all of the samples that he tested from healthy people were what today’s food proponents would call both an acid diet. What Weston Price determined was the ONLY consistent variable that made populations go from healthy to unhealthy, was eating modern processed foods, mainly flour and sugar, while foregoing traditional foods.
Current peer-reviewed research has also debunked this concept as well. This analysis of multiple studies, entitled Causal Assessment of Dietary Acid Load and Bone Disease shows that there is no evidence to support the contention that a so called alkaline diet is beneficial for the bones.
Inconsistency #5- Gut Health Depends on an Acid Environment
Gut health, particularly the extremely important gut microbiome, is receiving more and more attention from researchers as possibly being a more important contributions to our health than we could have imagined. The trillions of microorganisms in our digestive tract outnumber our own body cells by an order of magnitude, and provide on the order of 300 times more genetic diversity in our bodies than our own genome gives us. And fermenting these bacteria in our gut with probiotics, prebiotics and other foods we eat almost always produce acid by-products. The bacteria in our gut produce lactic acid, Butyric acid, and short chain fatty acids, among just some of their fermentation products that keep us happy and healthy. In fact, gut health, and hence our overall health, is reliant on an acid environment, as outlined in a quote from a research article on resistant starches and the gut microbiome,
“…lowering intestinal pH… inhibits the growth of pathogenic bacteria,
increases the absorptive potential of minerals, and inhibits absorption
of compounds with toxic or carcinogenic potential”
Resistant Starch Intakes in the US
In other words, you need an acid digestive tract in order to be healthy! So we know that the blood pH cannot be changed to any significant degree outside of the tight range of 7.35-7.45, and now we know that the digestive tract needs to be acid to be healthy, so when people say that you need an ‘alkaline system’ to be healthy, what do they mean? What specific body fluids are they talking about that need to be alkaline? Most proponents of this system suggest using urinary test strips to test for alkalinity, but urine is a waste product and is not indicative of what is going on in body fluids. In fact, if the urine is alkaline, it means that the body is getting RID of excess base products. So, since the body is ELIMINATING alkaline products, it could mean that you are TOO alkaline and need to be more acidic. So, the fact that the urine can become alkaline could mean exactly the opposite of what proponents of the alkaline diet think it means. If you are eliminating alkaline products, then couldn’t that mean that you are too alkaline and need to be more acidic?
Inconsistency #6- Ketogenic Diets Reverse Many Diseases
Medical ketogenic diets, in a similar vein but somewhat different from the Atkins Diet, are getting more and more attention in the press for treating and even reversing many so called ‘incurable’ diseases. From an ‘acid-alkaline’ perspective, not only are these diets full of meat and fat and would be considered HIGHLY acidic, according to the theory, but they are designed to purposely produce acids called ‘ketones’ that are 50 times more acidic than other molecules found in the blood. And these diets are increasingly being shown to improve or even reverse problems such as obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, virtually untreatable neurologic conditions that include Alzheimers and intractable seizures that are unresponsive to any other medical interventions, and even to reverse cancer! Interestingly, it’s the highly acidic ketones that are the key to the healing powers of this diet. So, if being acidic is so bad for you and we should always strive to be alkaline, why is the most acidic diet that one can possibly imagine be the solution to many health problems?
Inconsistency #7- The statements of the ‘father’ of the alkaline diet, Dr. Robert Young.
Dr. Robert Young is often seen as the ‘father’ of alkaline diets, but his ‘science’ is nonsensical. Here’s an oft quoted statement of his that is in response to someone saying, “Hey, lemons are acid, how can they be alkaline”. His response is:
“It’s actually true that if you took some pH paper and tested lemon juice it would test acid, but once the lemon juice is metabolized in the body, the inherent alkalizing mineral salts contained in the lemon juice (and the bicarbonates that it pulls into the blood during digestion) leaves a residue of alkaline ash in the bloodstream. Also because of their low sugar content, lemons and limes do not ferment in the blood.”
So, point by point, it makes no logical sense:
a) “…once the lemon juice is metabolized in the body, the inherent alkalizing mineral salts contained in the lemon juice leaves a residue of alkaline ash in the bloodstream”. So, where is this ‘residue’ in the bloodstream? This is literally nonsense. What kind of ‘residue’? Where? How does one test for this ‘residue’? And how does URINE testing confirm that the BLOOD has some ‘alkaline residue’? Researching his contention on pubmed, there are LOTS of studies on blood residue- in archaeology where they test ancient dried blood. There is nothing that references some ‘residue’ that shows up in the blood of humans who are still walking and talking.
b) “(and the bicarbonates that it pulls into the blood during digestion)”. Bicarbonate does go into blood during digestion to buffer acid, but it leaves a ‘net neutral’ state from pulling bicarbonate from other body tissues. Pulling bicarbonate into the blood from ingesting acid doesn’t somehow leave a ‘net’ alkaline. And if this were true, then why doesn’t acid in sodas do the same thing? He explains…
c) ” lemons and limes do not ferment in the blood.” and that must be why sodas are ‘bad’ acid, but not ‘good’. However, this is total nonsense. To ‘ferment’ something , you need to have either bacteria or yeasts, but the blood is STERILE and does not contain bacteria or yeast. Hospitals confirm this all of the time by taking a sterile blood sample and putting it onto a petri dish, in an attempt to grow organisms in the blood. If they succeed in growing an organism on the blood, it means that you are VERY VERY ill and are, most likely in the hospital receiving intravenous antibiotics for a diagnosed blood infection known as sepsis. The blood does not ‘ferment’ because you ate some sugar. That is ridiculous. It’s both ignorance of the human body and the process of fermentation, which REQUIRES live bacteria or yeast.
This is outlined in a study with a title that even tells you how blood ‘normally’ is. In Prevalence and Antifungal Susceptibility of 442 Candida Isolates from Blood and Other Normally Sterile Sites, they show that when candida is found in the blood and is left untreated, there is a 65% mortality rate!
Inconsistency #8- The Saliva of Omnivores is More Alkaline than Vegans
A study entitled Oral Implications of the Vegan Diet showed that long-time vegans actually had more acidic saliva than omnivores. The study actually tested the pH of saliva of both omnivores and vegans and found that the saliva pH was between 5-6 in the vegan group, while it was 7-8 in the omnivore group. Additionally, the vegan group had more cavities and dental erosion than the omnivore group. While this does not say anything about the blood or other body fluids of the vegans, it certainly shows that a so-called ‘alkaline’ diet does not make all body fluids more alkaline, and it concurs with other studies that show a vegan diet can contribute to increased tooth decay and dental erosion, a commonly echoed complaint of vegans.
While the acid alkaline diets argument is full of holes…. many of their METHODS that they use to support health, are completely valid. Let me explain… Eating the right foods- fruits, vegetables and pasture raised animal products makes a HUGE difference in your health and provides a whole host of minerals and vitamins that ward off problems such as Magnesium Deficiency. A whole food diet, as is the basis of the alkalinity argument, can be your primary method to improve and maintain your health. However, it’s processed foods and grains that lead us to poor health, not the acid or alkaline content of foods.