Alkalinize or Die… Really? A Critique of Acid Alkaline Diets

By on March 1, 2009
don't believe the alkaline diet myth

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!?

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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?

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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.

lemons are part of an alkaline dietThis 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.

About Kerri Knox, RN

The author is a Registered Nurse and Functional Medicine Practitioner. With 20 years of experience in health care, she has the unique perspective of being solidly grounded in both Conventional Medicine and Alternative Medicine. She can help you to to find and repair the underlying causes of chronic illness, while empowering you to take charge of your own health. She is the owner and author of this blog and website.
Dr. John says:

Thanks Kerri for your thought provoking article! What I am wondering is this: From a Weston Price perspective, we need lots of buffering minerals obtained through a nutrient dense diet with lots of animal fats to extract the minerals. A super healthy primitive person would have plenty of buffering minerals to maintain an ideal pH level. A modern person who eats a nutrient dense diet but is overly acidic would need to get buffering minerals and bicarbonates from sources such as sodium bicarbonate, potassium bicarbonate and magnesium. I have learned that baking soda works to kill cancer, presumably because a high pH kills yeast. So, I think there is a benefit to having a more alkaline system, though that does not come from eating alkalizing foods, but from having lots of buffering minerals, as alkalizing foods don't contain much mineral buffers. What do you think?

KerriKnoxRN says:

Ahh, but I think that you hit the nail on the head. It’s the minerals that provide the benefit, not the alkalinity. So, is it ‘really’ beneficial to be alkaline? Or is it the minerals that give us the benefit? You mentioned that a ‘modern person eating a nutrient dense diet who is overly acidic’ might need buffering minerals, however, my answer would be that they are probably not eating a nutrient dense diet if they are ‘overly acidic’, and how did you measure this ‘overly acidic’ environment? And maybe the only reason that modern people need these extra minerals is that modern diets are denuded of these minerals, and so just need more minerals. But how did you determine that they ‘need’ to be buffered and ‘need’ bicarbonate? I can tell you when people need magnesium from their symptoms, but what objective or even subjective determination do you use to know whether people ‘need’ bicarbonate or to be more alkaline?

Interestingly, a ketogenic diet that is heavy in meats and fats and low in starches of any kind, also kills cancer. This is probably the MOST ‘acidic’ diet that anyone could possibly have. And ketones are highly highly acidic! They are 50 times more acidic than other molecules that effect pH.And the ketosis diet is proving effective at treating Alzheimers, seizures, diabetes, and even in reversing MS. So, if it’s ‘more healthy’ to be more alkaline, then a ketosis diet should be ineffective at best, at worse, it should make them sicker. I’ll probably be adding this information about ketones in the article since it’s pretty relevant.

As I mention in the last paragraph, I think that the advice of those who promote an alkaline diet is good for the most part (except the alkaline water nonsense), I just don’t think that their conclusions are based in fact (it makes you more alkaline). And while I’ve ‘heard’ that cancer does not live in an alkaline environment, I’ve seen no actual research that this is true, and the fact that the ketosis diet has been shown to cure or stave off the growth of cancer, somewhat debunks this idea. Interestingly, a study that I read long ago that I can’t seem to locate now, showed that green smoothies increased the acidity of the stomach, which is why they can help to relieve heartburn, as does apple cider vinegar and hydrochloric acid tablets. So, if green drinks INCREASE stomach acid, where are we getting this information that they make you more alkaline? And why does apple cider vinegar and HCL tablets improve health? As does drinking lemon juice, Kombucha tea, and lactofermented foods, all of which are acidic. Interestingly, one of the reasons that one takes probiotics is to increase the number of bacteria in the gut that not only help to lactoferment (more acid) in the gut, but they also produce fatty ACIDS and butyric ACID, both which are very healing and anti-inflammatory. So, a healthy stomach is highly acidic, and a healthy gut biome is designed to produce more acid!

Plus, again, when you say it ‘can’t live in an alkaline environment’ what does that even mean? The blood pH does not go out of a range between 7.35 to 7.45, so how are they measuring this ‘alkaline environment’ when urine and saliva are not accurately telling us what the alkalinity of body fluids is? I think that one would need to define what body fluids are alkaline in order to support this hypothesis, because urine, for instance, is often the exact opposite of the body fluids. For instance, if urine is alkaline, could the body be RIDDING itself of excess alkalinity because it’s TOO alkaline and needs to be more basic? So measuring the waste products of the body may actually be entirely counter-intuitive. The body may be wanting MORE acid, not less, if it’s elimination fluids are alkaline. No one has really answered these questions.

What we DO know is that you cannot change the blood pH without getting very very sick, and I have not seen anyone do direct measurements of lymph fluid in order to claim that ‘cancer can’t live in an alkaline environment’. And since blood and lymph would (presumably) be bathing the cancer, then those would be the fluids that we would need to measure as ‘alkaline’ or ‘acid’ to say that ‘cancer can’t live in an alkaline environment’. And since we know that blood is 7.35- 7.45, then we’d need to measure the pH of lymph fluid that bathes the cancer. As of yet, I know no one that has done that. They seem to translate ‘alkaline urine’ into ‘alkaline environment’ in the body, and this is not necessarily true, and actually may be exactly the opposite of reality.

Thanks for the thought provoking question.

Dani says:

actually i learned that it is not the acidic or alkaline value of the food but the acidic or alkaline residue left in the digestive tract, which goes into your blood stream, after you body has had its way with foods. in an interesting twist, many acidic foods leave alkaline residue in the digestive tract, like lemons.

and in fact the ph range of the foods humans can safely consume is only about a half point or so either way from neutral – look up food safety. the actual point is that the way we are designed to eat is not the way modern man eats – and the burden of processed foods screws up our alkaline-acid balace. as far as being ICU sick goes, i do not believe you. this is why:

i just bought a roll of ph urine test paper. my 11 year old tried it first thing in the AM yesterday and the paper was blue – alkaline. i tried it first thing this AM and the same paper off the same roll was yellow – acidic. i am currently in cancer treatment for the second time, after a 3 yr remission, have had only 2 treatments. and i am no where near sick enough to be in an ICU, nor will i be. yet this paper shows my AM urine as 5.0-ish and my 11 yr old as 7.0-ish. so what you are talking about is actually outside the range of 'too acidic for the human body's good health' that anyone can be walking around with.

and as far as cancer and alkalinity go, it has indeed been demonstrated over and over again that a too acidic body – that is too far from the alkaline range that blood is – provides a lovely environment for cancers. and by the way, while i need to clarify this, it is my understanding that it is not necessarily the blood in your body that you are trying to alkalinize again, but the digestive tract, which runs from mouth to butt, and affects the health of every organ system. yeasts do not thrive in alkaline environments, but they do infect organ systems, so i think you are confusing your science. just sayin. 🙂

KerriKnoxRN says:

So, you are saying that you can alkalinize the digestive tract without alkalinizing the body? And you are saying that the 'residue' in the digestive tract is alkaline or acid? And THAT has something to do with health? HOGWASH!!! Please read the works of Weston A. Price. This alkaline/acid bunk was being thrown around during his time too and the PERFECTLY HEALTHY native cultures that he studied ate MASSIVELY 'acid forming' foods like butter, eggs, meat, etc.- sometimes to the exclusion of everything else and sometimes saw ZERO vegetables for much of their lives. But as long as they didn't eat PROCESSED FOODS they remained healthy. It's SUGAR that caused your cancer, as many studies have shown, NOT 'acid forming foods', whatever that means. So, sorry but YOU are confusing your science. Stop eating sugar and processed foods and cancer rates will go down dramatically. Dr. Price thoroughly debunked this. As far as you 'not believing me' about people with BLOOD ph's just SLIGHTLY outside the range of 7.35-7.45 being VERY sick, that's your problem. Ask ANY respiratory threapist, ICU or ER doctor or ICU nurse and they will tell you the exact same thing. If your BLOOD ph range is even SLIGHTLY outside the norm, there is something VERY wrong and you will be very sick. I WORKED with Arterial Blood Gas measurements for OVER A DECADE- so I have some authority on this, and it's why I began questioning this 'alkaline/acid' thing to begin with. As I get more and more experience working with actual people, the more I disbelieve the theory. It doesn't work in real life, people who eat 'acid forming' foods but not processed foods can be ENTIRELY healthy and have ZERO cancer rates, no heart disease, no diabetes and little degenerative disease in general. Sorry, go back to the drawing board. It's PROCESSED food that is the problem, and that has ZERO to do with 'alkaline/acid' balance. So, please show me your independant peer reviewed studies that show that "it has indeed been demonstrated over and over again that a too acidic body provides a lovely environment for cancers". You HAVE no peer reviewed studies on this, just a bunch of people who 'believe' it. It's a belief and not science. Good luck.

KerriKnoxRN says:

Oh, and by the way. Another reason that I determined that this was complete hogwash was because, being an ER nurse, I was in the unique position of being able to test dozens of urine samples every day. And the results of testing the urine of the sickest people and the healthiest people that came into the ER door was that it was COMPLETELY RANDOM what the pH was. I might have a kid with a cut finger and a lady on a ventilator with the same urine pH. Then one kid who fell off a skateboard might have a pH of 5 or 6 while the next kid the same age who fell off his skateboard had a pH of 8. There was simply ZERO correlation between the pH of 'healthy' people and EXTREMELY sick people. Sorry, but I'll take my sampling of hundreds of healthy and sick people versus your sample of TWO anyday….' John Perkins says:

We'd be all the smarter for your kind work. 🙂' John Perkins says:

"Yet EVERY resource on alkalinizing your body states that lemon juice, while acidic- somehow alkalinizes your body!"

I like your article and agree that proper foods and exercise seems to always be the trick. But from what I read it is not lemon juice but to put a real lemon squeezed into luke warm water. It apparently raises the alkalinization of the water and has several positives besides;

Lemons are antiseptic
Lemon water has excellent digestive properties and can ease heartburn, bloating and other digestion problems
Lemon water cleanses and stimulates the liver and kidneys
Lemon juice contains calcium, magnesium and potassium
Lemon juice has been known to relieve asthma
Lemon water (hot) offers relief from cold and flu symptoms while providing some much needed Vitamin C
Lemon juice is a great skin cleanser

From personal experience I have seen a difference in my health, for better, when I include a little lemon squeezed into my water. Maybe that should be a regular part of the balanced diet. I do agree that Coke is not good from the scientific point and from personal experience as well, especially as I get older.
Thanks for bringing the subject to my attention.

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