What’s With Alkaline Water?

by | Mar 22, 2017 | Nutrition

image source: alkalife
The Dirt:

Water is the most important substance for the human body– it’s over 50% of our body mass. But does the type of water you drink make you healthier? Alkaline water promises to balance out the acidity in your body, help neutralize free radicals, and protect against osteoporosis. Is it true?

You’ve made your grocery selections, the cart is full, and you’re walking the final stretch to the cash register. Small impulse purchases begin taunting you! Single serving beverage products line the long refrigerator, which probably looks something like this…
You must be thinking: Should it really be this hard to decide on a water purchase? Well, we were! The Dirt to Dinner team was astounded by the variety of claims being made by seemingly identical water products.
Marketing claims like artesian, distilled, electrolyte-enhanced, vitamin-enhanced, and more recently ‘alkaline’ often confuse consumers when selecting something as simple as water. If you are like us, you may be confused about these marketing claims. We wanted to know what this increasingly popular label really means. What is the scientific research behind it? And do we need to be drinking alkaline water to stay healthy?

The Importance of Water

We know water is important—there is no debate there. On average, a human could only survive 3 days without water, making it the most important liquid for our bodies. The tricky thing with telling you how much water to drink is that, based on scientific research, there is no formal recommendation that every individual should follow.
Although we know drinking water is critical for survival, more recent scientific studies on water have proven that the traditional recommendation of ‘8 servings of 8 ounces of water per day’ is actually unsubstantiated. Some nutritionists advise that you should aim to consume roughly half an ounce to one ounce of water per pound of body weight— but this can vary depending on the individual and lifestyle choices.

Hydrogen- the Powerhouse of Life

We know that water is important for maintaining a healthy body. But what we do not know is whether the type of water you drink matters for your health.
Before can we discuss alkaline water, let’s discuss hydrogen and review the pH (or potential Hydrogen) scale. Hydrogen is the powerhouse of life. It is present in 90% of all molecules of anything that is alive. It is found in humans, in the stars, and it powers the universe. On earth, we can find it in water (which of course is H20). As you know, living plants need water or they will die. Additionally, coal and oil are basically ancient plants as they hold the hydrogen atoms that power our daily lives. It is pretty cool to think that when we drink a glass of water, we are sharing the same type of power that is fueling our cars and the North Star!

The Potential Hydrogen (pH) scale

Water and any substance in water “dissociate” into positive and negative hydroxide ions (in the case of water, this is hydrogen and hydroxide ions) in varying degrees. The pH scale ranges from 0-14 and is a measurement that describes this dissociation. How much a water-soluble substance dissociates in water determines whether it is acidic, neutral, or alkaline. The ions in water balance each other out (this is why water will not conduct an electrical current) and so water typically has a pH around 7 (neutral). Anything below 7 has more hydrogen ions than hydroxide ions and therefore is categorized as acidic. Anything above 7 has a higherconcentration of hydroxide ions and is considered alkaline.

Different parts of the body require their own unique pH balance.

Different parts of the body require their own unique pH balance. For instance, human blood has a pH level of approximately 7.4, or slightly alkaline. If your blood pH drops below 7 or rises above 7.8, imminent death is almost guaranteed. This is because the cells and enzymes in your body can only function within a very narrow and specific pH range. Therefore, your body is equipped to maintain your pH within this range – a state referred to as homeostasis.
Additionally, your stomach is actually highly acidic, with an average pH level between 2 and 3.5, depending on the individual. And make no mistake—this is healthy! Your stomach needs to be acidic in order to properly break down food and protect your body against harmful pathogenic microorganisms.

“Everything we eat is broken down by stomach acid. The pH in our stomach is about 3—very acidic, due to the production of hydrochloric acid. Everything that is ejected by our stomach, into our intestines, is then immediately neutralized by digestive liquids and enzymes. Everything we eat and digest will end up at the same pH in our intestines. This means the initial pH of any thing we eat is completely irrelevant” (Source: Science-based Pharmacy)

What is Alkaline Water?

Alkaline water is water that contains alkalizing compounds. These compounds include calcium, potassium, magnesium and bicarbonate that help neutralize acidic environments. These acidic environments have been believed to cause illnesses like osteoporosis and cancer.
To combat the alleged threats for acidic environments, companies like Essentia believe that drinking water with an alkaline pH of 9.5, can help to balance out the acidity in your body and help keep your healthy. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how it works…
Recent misleading marketing claims have lead consumers to believe acidic environments are pressure-cookers for cancer that encourage the growth and spreading of cancerous cells. All of this really stems from the belief that alkaline environments are able to neutralize free radicals.

So, the million-dollar question remains: Can alkaline water neutralize free radicals?

The basic premise behind the health claims of alkaline water proponents is that components of alkaline water have the ability to act as free radical scavengers by absorbing free radicals that damage DNA and potentially lead to cancer. The scavenger is the enemy of free radicals.
Free radical scavengers function by using two different methods: enzymatic reactions, which work by breaking down and removing free radical compounds, and non-enzymatic reactions, which work by interfering with the free radical chain reaction. Unfortunately, there is no scientific research that indicates components of alkaline water are capable of neutralizing free radicals.

Your body is already equipped with detoxification mechanisms

As we discussed in “Nix the Toxins,” your liver and kidneys function to detoxify your body if you are maintaining a balanced diet and have a fairly active lifestyle. If you are even debating over a “healthier” water choice, we are willing to bet you are a healthy person already. So, while it is reasonable to be concerned about what is in your water— don’t stress the pH level.
And we don’t expect you to have a perfect diet all time. It’s okay to have a cheat day every once in a while. Your body is fully equipped to deal with any acidity potentially created by your diet.

Your body is prepared to deal with acidity that can be created by your diet.

“Because blood circulates throughout the body constantly, it can compensate for any changes in pH in any of our organs. Carbon dioxide (CO2), a product of cellular activity, is the most prevalent acid in our body. The blood carries CO2 away and eliminates it in the lungs. The lungs are actually the body’s major acid eliminator while our kidneys provide a secondary pH protection eliminating acid in the urine albeit more slowly than the lungs.”  (Source: Science-based Pharmacy)

Your Body’s pH Level

The pH of your urine can change rather frequently and depends on the supplements you take, the food you eat, and the beverages you drink.
It is important to distinguish between the pH of your blood (7.4) and your stomach (2.0-3.5), and the varying pH of your body’s urine. Many alkaline water and diet devotees attempt to maintain an alkaline body by measuring the pH of their urine. But, this can change rather frequently and depends on the supplements you take, the food you eat, and the beverages you drink.
If you are dehydrated your urine will have a more acidic pH, typically between 6.0-7.0. But, as you drink water and other liquids through the day, your urine tends to become more alkaline, usually between 7.0-8.0 pH. If you measure your pH in the morning versus the evening in the same day, you can get pretty different results!
Not to mention, as the end result of the kidneys functioning as a filter for your blood, your urine actually eliminates waste to maintain your body’s homeostasis so the pH level of your urine is not a good indicator of your body’s pH.

The Osteoporosis Argument

In addition to the misunderstood “cancer fighting qualities” of alkaline water, there is also the belief that drinking alkaline water helps prevent osteoporosis.
When your body needs to neutralize acidity, your bones release calcium in order to create a neutral environment. In this case, it is argued that over a long period of time, if your bones are continuously excreting calcium, they will inevitably be weakened resulting in osteoporosis.

While this very basic premise does have some truth to it, scientific research indicates that although your bones typically release calcium in order to protect itself, your bones will replenish the calcium if you are supporting them through a healthy diet. Your diet should include a high vegetable content, healthy sources of protein, and calcium in order to protect bone health.

Is filtered water important?

Filtered water helps remove any contaminants that may be present in tap water and ultimately wearing on your body. Remember, you don’t always know where your water is coming from. Water filters will filter any elements that may be present in tap water. These can include iron, zinc, lead, chloride, the list goes on

The Bottom Line: 

The claims made by alkaline water products have not been scientifically verified. If you eat a well-balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables, your body will have what it needs to support its defenses against free radicals.  Scientific research does not indicate drinking alkaline water enhances your body’s ability to prevent osteoporosis or damage from free radicals.



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Fenton et al.: Causal assessment of dietary acid load and bone disease: a systematic review & meta-analysis applying Hill’s epidemiologic criteria for causality. Nutrition Journal 2011 10:41.

Gavura, Scott. “Your Urine is Not a Window to Your Body: pH Balancing – A Failed Hypothesis.” Science-Based Pharmacy. Science-Based Pharmacy, 17 Apr. 2011. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.

Shaw, Gina. “What Are the Best Sources of Drinking Water?” WebMD. WebMD, 2009. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.

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