What Is an Alkaline Diet?
An alkaline diet is one that helps balance the pH level of the fluids in your body, including your blood and urine. Your pH is partially determined by the mineral density of the foods you eat. All living organisms and life forms on earth depend on maintaining appropriate pH levels, and it’s often said that disease and disorder cannot take root in a body that has a balanced pH.
Although some experts might not totally agree this with statement, nearly all agree that human life requires a very tightly controlled pH level of the blood of about 7.365–7.4. As Forbe’s Magazine puts it, “Our bodies go to extraordinary lengths to maintain safe pH levels.” Your pH can range between 7.35 to 7.45 depending on the time of day, your diet, what you last ate and when you last went to the bathroom. If you develop electrolyte imbalances and frequently consume too many acidic foods, your body’s changing pH level can result in increased “acidosis.”
Wondering what exactly “pH level” even means?
What we call pH is short for the potential of hydrogen. It’s a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of our body’s fluids and tissues. It’s measured on a scale from 0 to 14. The more acidic a solution is, the lower its pH. The more alkaline, the higher the number is. A pH of around 7 is considered neutral, but since the optimal human body tends to be around 7.4, we consider the healthiest pH to be one that’s slightly alkaline, and pH levels vary throughout the body, with the stomach being the most acidic region.
Even very tiny alterations in the pH level of various organisms can cause major problems. For example, due to environmental concerns, such as increasing CO2 deposition, the pH of the ocean has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1 and various life forms living in the ocean have greatly suffered. The pH level is also crucial for growing plants, and therefore it greatly affects the mineral content of the foods we eat. Minerals in the ocean, soil and human body are used as buffers to maintain optimal pH levels, so when acidity rises, minerals fall.
How an Alkaline Diet Works
Here’s some background on acid/alkalinity in the human diet, plus key points about how alkaline diets can be beneficial:
- Researchers believe that when it comes to the total acid load of the human diet, “there have been considerable changes from hunter gather civilizations to the present.” Following the agricultural revolution and then mass industrialization of our food supply over the last 200 years, the food we eat has significantly less potassium, magnesium and chloride, along with more sodium, compared to diets of the past.
- Normally, the kidneys maintain our electrolyte levels (those of calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium). When we’re exposed to overly acidic substances, these electrolytes are used to combat acidity.
- According to the Journal of Environmental Health review mentioned earlier, the ratio of potassium to sodium in most people’s diets has changed dramatically. Potassium used to outnumber sodium by 10:1, however now the ratio has dropped to 1:3. People eating a “Standard American Diet” now consume three times as much sodium as potassium on average!
- Many children and adults today consume a high-sodium diet that’s very low in not only magnesium and potassium, but also antioxidants, fiber and essential vitamins. On top of that, the typical Western diet is high in refined fats, simple sugars, sodium and chloride.
- All of these changes to the human diet have resulted in increased “metabolic acidosis.” In other words, the pH levels of many people’s bodies are no longer optimal. On top of this, many are suffering from low nutrient intake and problems such as potassium and magnesium deficiency.
- This accelerates the aging process, causes gradual loss of organ functions, and degenerates tissue and bone mass. High degrees of acidity force our bodies to rob minerals from the bones, cells, organs and tissues.
Alkaline Diet Benefits
1. Protects Bone Density and Muscle Mass
Your intake of minerals plays an important role in the development and maintenance of bone structures. Research shows that the more alkalizing fruits and vegetables someone eats, the better protection that person might have from experiencing decreased bone strength and muscle wasting as they age, known as sarcopenia.
An alkaline diet can help balance ratios of minerals that are important for building bones and maintaining lean muscle mass, including calcium, magnesium and phosphate. Alkaline diets also help improve production of growth hormones and vitamin D absorption, which further protects bones in addition to mitigating many other chronic diseases.
2. Lowers Risk for Hypertension and Stroke
One of the anti-aging effects of an alkaline diet is that it decreases inflammation and causes an increase in growth hormone production. This has been shown to improve cardiovascular health and offer protection against common problems like high cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure), kidney stones, stroke and even memory loss.
3. Lowers Chronic Pain and Inflammation
Studies have found a connection between an alkaline diet and reduced levels of chronic pain. Chronic acidosis has been found to contribute to chronic back pain, headaches, muscle spasms, menstrual symptoms, inflammation and joint pain.
One study conducted by the Society for Minerals and Trace Elements in Germany found that when patients with chronic back pain were given an alkaline supplement daily for four weeks, 76 of 82 patients reported significant decreases in pain as measured by the “Arhus low back pain rating scale.”
4. Boosts Vitamin Absorption and Prevents Magnesium Deficiency
An increase in magnesium is required for the function of hundreds of enzyme systems and bodily processes. Many people are deficient in magnesium and as a result experience heart complications, muscle pains, headaches, sleep troubles and anxiety. Available magnesium is also required to activate vitamin D and prevent vitamin D deficiency, which is important for overall immune and endocrine functioning.
5. Helps Improve Immune Function and Cancer Protection
When cells lack enough minerals to properly dispose of waste or oxygenate the body fully, the whole body suffers. Vitamin absorption is compromised by mineral loss, while toxins and pathogens accumulate in the body and weaken the immune system. Alkalinity can help decrease inflammation and the risk for diseases like cancer — plus an alkaline diet has been shown to be more beneficial for some chemotherapeutic agents that require a higher pH to work appropriately.
6. Can Help You Maintain a Healthy Weight
Limiting consumption of acid-forming foods and eating more alkaline-forming foods can protect your body from obesity by decreasing leptin levels and inflammation, which affects your hunger and fat-burning abilities. Since alkaline-forming foods are anti-inflammatory foods, consuming an alkaline diet gives your body a chance to achieve normal leptin levels and feel satisfied from eating the amount of calories you really need.
Final Thoughts on an Alkaline Diet
- An alkaline diet is one that includes whole foods that have positive effects on pH levels of the blood and urine.
- Benefits of an alkaline diet can include better heart health, stronger bones, decreased pain and reversal of nutrient deficiencies.
- Foods that are emphasized as part of an alkaline diet include whole fruits and vegetables, raw foods, green juices, beans, and nuts.
- Foods that are acidic and therefore limited on an alkaline diet include high-sodium foods, processed grains, too much meat and animal protein, added sugars, and conventional milk.