With so much discussion of the need to alkalize, one of the biggest questions people have is whether or not to drink alkaline water.
A great deal has been written on the subject by many well-meaning individuals. However much of the information being circulated regarding the health benefits of alkaline water is either inaccurate or incomplete. Alkaline water can either be beneficial or not – depending on what makes it alkaline. The first part of this article addresses the reason alkaline water does not necessarily neutralize acids. The second part of the article discusses a number of issues with a particular kind of alkaline water known as alkaline ionized water.
Looking at the pH scale, a person might get the impression that anything with an alkaline pH would neutralize acids—and acids in the human body. But if this were true, then eating overly-cooked meat would reduce acidity in the body. It does not. Cooked meat is very alkaline; yet it contributes to acidity in the tissues of the body. And a lemon—one of the most acidic fruits—is well known to alkalize the body and to support a healthy, balanced pH. Likewise, the addition of alkaline minerals to water (calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium etc.) raises the pH, but does not contribute to the neutralization of acids. Why?
Buffers neutralize acids
Neutralization of acids depends on the presence of buffers. For example, if you add a weak acid to a glass of water with a pH of 8 that has no buffering capacity, the pH will immediately drop—just as you’d expect. But, if you add the same amount of acid to a glass of buffered water, the pH will barely change. A buffer neutralizes the acid, leaving the solution’s pH unchanged. Buffers contribute to alkalinity which is defined as the ability to neutralize acids. Alkalinity is different from the term alkaline which simply refers to pH. In water and in the human body, buffers are predominantly bicarbonates. They neutralize acids by scavenging hydrogen ions (H+).
So you can see that the consumption of acids or bases does not necessarily balance cellular pH. And while drinking alkaline water sometimes increases urine pH, it is not an indicator that the body’s pH is in balance. When measuring the fluids of the body, (particularly saliva and urine) several factors should be interpreted together to get an accurate picture. Equally important measurements of these fluids are: resistivity/conductivity, specific gravity, and rH2. One measurement without the others can be misleading. Measuring the pH of urine (a reflection of what the body is letting go of) is an oversimplification. Increased urine pH could also mean that the body is having to get rid of excessive alkaline minerals that are not in a form the body can utilize.
pH and the buffering capacity of water
A lot of people think pure water has a pH of 7. This is another misconception. Pure water (water without anything in it) can only have a pH of 7 in a vacuum. This is because pure water is empty/hungry. It immediately absorbs CO2 (carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere to form carbonic acid. The resulting water becomes slightly acidic but its acidity (opposite of alkalinity) is weak. It is too weak to have an acidifying affect on the body. So, just because water has a pH below 7 does not necessarily mean that it is bad water. Many natural springs and rivers have a healthy (buffered) pH that is slightly below 7. This enables the water to hold more minerals.
Carbonic acid is a weak organic acid (H2CO3). It is also part of the bicarbonate buffering system for water and for many biological fluids—including blood. In solution, carbonic acid dissociates into hydrogen ions (H+ ) and bicarbonate ions (HCO3-). The bicarbonate ion is a weak base. When acids are added to a bicarbonate buffering system, the bicarbonate ions re-associate with H+ ions to re-form carbonic acid. This reduces H+ ion concentration and brings the pH back up. The equation for the system is:
Under normal circumstances in the human body, there is much more bicarbonate than carbonic acid in the system (the ratio is approximately 20:1). This is an ideal buffer for biological organisms that produce acidic waste. The high bicarbonate concentration at equilibrium is able to neutralize a considerable number of metabolic acids.
By themselves, alkaline minerals do not neutralize acids and they are not easily absorbed in living organisms. (This is one reason the addition of alkaline minerals to water can sometimes do more harm than good.) Because they are not easily absorbed, alkaline minerals can end up as plaque, deposits in joints, and acid waste sequestered in the body. However, in combination with bicarbonates, these same minerals—carried along with carbon-containing compounds—become a part of a buffering system that neutralizes acids and provides the minerals in an available form. They can be utilized or excreted without harm. Read the article on the importance of bicarbonates in water
Alkaline water: Healthy or not?
If water is alkaline because of the presence of bicarbonates, it’s alkaline pH represents alkalinity which is the ability to neutralize acids. This water is typically only slightly alkaline, yet because of its buffering capacity it will assist the body in the removal of acidic waste. On the other hand, if water is alkaline without bicarbonates, it has little alkalinity and it does not have the capacity to neutralize acids. This kind of alkaline water can be detrimental.
The ocean is an example of a highly buffered solution. It is loaded with bicarbonates and fulvic acids that help the ocean digest acidic wastes from its large biological population without damage to the water or to its inhabitants. Prior to the onslaught that has hit the Earth’s oceans, dilute, microfiltered seawater was one of Nature’s healthy supplements.
Alkaline ionized water
This brings us to the subject of alkaline ionized water—produced by electrolysis in a machine called a water ionizer. Ionizers produce unnaturally alkaline water by splitting the water molecule. Alkaline minerals in the water end up as hydroxides (attached to the OH- ion). These compounds are not recognized by the body. If a person’s kidneys are functioning well, they will be excreted in urine. If not, they may end up as arterial plaque or as mineral deposits in joints and other tissues. There are other problems with alkaline ionized water.
Nature creates coherent liquid crystalline water using movement and weak electromagnetic fields. Those who sell ionizers believe that the strong electric current used during ionization produces coherent liquid crystalline water. It does not. Although electric current causes water molecules to align in the direction of the electric current, the overall degree of structure in the water is reduced. Water that has been treated in this manner is no longer capable of carrying the finely-tuned signals and other vibratory information that water is intended to carry within the human body.
Alkaline Ionized water is aggressive and imbalanced
One of the biggest arguments that has been used in favor of alkaline ionized water is that its strong electron potential neutralizes free radicals. While it is true that alkaline ionized water has a strong electrical potential (evidenced by negative ORP values*), the rH2 value (hydrogen potential) is a more accurate representation of electron potential than ORP alone. rH2 measures the reducing power of a substance without the skewing effects of pH. Understanding rH2 measurements and Biological Terrain Analysis helps in the realization that water with a strongly negative ORP value is out of balance for the human body. It may initially contribute to a reduction of the free radical load however, continued consumption and the aggressive neutralization of oxygen radicals upsets cellular redox balance which plays a pivotal role in immune function and metabolic homeostasis. Oxygen radicals serve as signaling molecules. Medical research verifies that their absence is equally as harmful as their overabundance. The ongoing consumption of alkaline ionized water tips the balance and it opens the way for other metabolic consequences. The chemistry of life is dependent on the balance between acids and bases. Without the presence of some acidic compounds, alkaline ionized water is imbalanced.
*The ORP of most fresh fruits and vegetables is slightly positive!
While alkaline ionized water has been in use in Japan for over 50 years, its use (until recently) has been restricted to clinical settings where the water was used in controlled amounts for short periods of time. There are no long-term studies to identify potential problems with either the extended or the exclusive use of ionized water. In the absence of controlled human studies, rats (with a shorter life span) have been the subjects of investigation. Studies have shown that long-term consumption of alkaline ionized water may cause cell death (necrosis), fibrosis, and other complications in the heart muscle in rats. Read abstract #1 Read abstract #2 Read abstract#3 Dr. Hidemitsu Hayashi, a cardiac surgeon and Director of the Water Institute in Japan, was one of the scientists who conducted early research on alkaline ionized water. His work determined that the benefits of alkaline ionized water were due to hydrogen in the water. Ultimately, he abandoned the use of ionized water in favor of other methods to produce hydrogen-rich water.
Nature is about balance—not extremes. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, taking strong “Yang” herbs and other substances (like alkaline ionized water) for too long, overheats and burns the body out. Ultimately, it contributes to aging. Alkaline ionized water can be therapeutic for short periods of time but it should not be consumed on a regular basis. It may contribute to arterial plaque, calcification of joints, and cardiovascular problems. In the authors’ opinion, consumption of this water for an extended period of time, is an invitation for trouble.
NOTE: Since the digestive process begins in the stomach—an extremely acidic environment—alkaline water (with pH over 8.5)—even if it has bicarbonates— should not be taken with meals. You might be surprised to discover how many people who drink alkaline ionized water end up with digestive trouble—and they have no idea it was caused by the water.