Have you ever heard of the alkaline diet?
The idea of balancing our internal pH with an alkaline diet is an intriguing idea that has people buying alkaline water and taking shots of apple cider vinegar.
But, does this concept of alkaline vs. acidity have any merit? Will eating a more alkaline diet improve our health and reduce the risk of disease?
In this article, we’ll cover these popular burning questions:
- Can we physically change the pH of our body?
- Does eating an alkaline diet prevent cancer?
- Can adjusting the alkalinity of our diet promote weight loss?
What Does pH Mean?
The pH level is a measure of how acidic or alkaline something is on a scale of 1 to 14. A neutral pH is given a score of 7.
- A pH score below 7 is acidic.
- A pH score above 7 is alkaline.
Different parts of your body have varying pH levels. For example, your blood runs at a mildly alkaline pH of about 7.35 to 7.45 (1). However, your stomach has a much more acidic score of 3 to 5.5. A low pH in the stomach is necessary for proper digestion.
Even your vagina has its own pH! The vagina maintains an acidic pH level of about 4.7 or less to prevent harmful bacteria from setting up shop in our lady parts (2).
Can We Change the pH of our Body?
Our body keeps tight control of our blood pH. If it becomes too acidic or alkaline, it compensates by communicating with other organs that act as a “buffer system.” Our lungs and kidneys are the OG’s of buffer systems! They work hard to maintain a healthy and balanced blood pH level.
Things that dangerously affect blood pH include: diabetes, asthma, vomiting, infection, critical illness, severe bleeding, and drug overdose.
Unfortunate illnesses aside, does changing the pH of our body with certain foods benefit our health?
Some research suggests that a diet rich in acidic foods may temporarily lower blood pH to the more acidic range of the normal values (3). Remember, our blood is maintained at a tight pH of 7.35 to 7.45. So, we’re talkin’ very minuscule changes within the lower part of this range. Over time, however, some scientists argue that eating high amounts of acid-rich foods may cause a low-grade state of acidosis.
Alkaline vs. Acidic Foods
- Red wine
- Mineral soda water
- Grain products
Does an Alkaline Diet Prevent Cancer?
The relationship between a healthy diet and cancer prevention is well-known.
One of the popular arguments for eating an alkaline diet is for its proposed cancer prevention benefits. Does any research back up this claim?
We know a lot of things cause cancer. For example, smoking cigarettes links directly to cancer. On a MUCH smaller scale, some researchers think that acidity is another factor that may be connected to cancer development (3). But, there is no science to date proving that high-acid diets cause cancer (4).
On the flip side, does eating an alkaline diet prevent cancer?
Let’s think about which foods are more alkaline: fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. These are all healthy foods! There are many studies that show an association between eating higher amounts of these foods and a reduced risk of cancer (5-7).
This makes the research on alkaline diets and cancer prevention difficult. It is almost impossible to know whether the alkaline nature of these foods (by itself) prevents cancer.
Does an Alkaline Diet Promote Weight Loss?
Some people promote the alkaline diet for optimal health, wellness, and even weight loss.
The argument centers around research which concluded that 87 percent of our pre-agricultural ancestors (often referred to as “Paleo”), ate an alkaline diet (8). If our genes have not yet adapted to our current lifestyle (which some studies find), then it would make sense that our bodies would thrive on a more alkaline diet.
However, newer studies found that only about 50 percent of Paleo ancestors ate an alkaline diet. The other 50 percent of these hunter-gatherers ate a so-called “acid-producing” diet (9). The acid-load varied widely depending on climate and access to different foods. People in colder northern climates likely ate a higher animal fat diet (acidic foods), while those in warmer tropical climates likely ate more berries, seeds, and root vegetables (alkaline foods).
Essentially, the argument of the alkaline nature of the Paleo diet doesn’t have much merit.
If you’ve been following along with us for a while, you may know by now that there is no ONE best diet for everyone. We all have different genetics, bodies, levels of hormones, and lifestyles.
So, while the alkaline diet is a generally healthy diet and may help you lose weight, it is no magic cure in and of itself.
The Take-Home Message: Hype or Healing?
Despite the media hype around alkaline diets and alkaline water, there is almost no actual research to prove that 1) a high-acid diet causes cancer or 2) an alkaline diet by itself prevents cancer.
Our body is incredibly smart and maintains a tight pH balance to keep us safe and healthy. Although some foods may temporarily lower your blood pH, it still remains within the normal range.
However, foods that are considered alkaline-rich are overall nutritious foods! We know that a diet rich in these alkaline foods (like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds) promotes optimal health, reduces cancer risk, and helps us get to a healthy weight. Does this have to do with their alkaline levels? Probably not.
The alkaline diet is healthy because it is based on wholesome and unprocessed plant-based foods, not because it affects our pH levels.