ALKALINE WATER: FRIEND OR FAD?

Hydration is important to our health, so are there added benefits to drinking alkaline water? Let’s check the facts.


BY: MASCHA DAVIS, MPH, RDN

You are likely already familiar with the health claims about alkaline water: prevent cancer, slow down aging, prevent osteoporosis, neutralize acidity in the body, and a slew of other miracle cures.  

But is it worth spending the extra dough on this supposed miracle product, or is it another too-good-to-be true fad?  Let’s see where the science weighs in.

First, a refresher on the role of pH and alkalinity in our body –

The pH scale is a measure of alkalinity and acidity of solutions, ranked from 0-14, with 1 being very acidic and 13 being very alkaline. The midpoint, 7, is neutral, which is right where pure water lands with a pH close to 7. Alkaline water is just that – more alkaline than regular water, with a pH between 7.4 and 9.5, depending on the source.

The delicate equilibrium in our body between acidity and alkalinity is referred to as acid-base balance. The acid-base balance in our blood is strictly controlled because even a minor deviation from the normal range can have severe effects. The body uses a few different mechanisms to control the blood’s acid-base balance. These mechanisms involve key organs, specifically our kidneys and lungs, as well as buffer systems throughout the body with our own naturally-occuring acids and bases.

So where do the health-promoting claims of alkaline water come into play?

Modern diets are deemed to have an increased acid load from their higher dietary protein content. One of the main theories that alkaline water proponents present is that acid-inducing diets lead to an accelerated degradation of bone calcium through urine.

Overall, there is inconclusive data on the role of acidity, bone health, and alkaline. In one meta-analysis, there was a lack of evidence support for a causal association between dietary acid load and osteoporosis, and its protective role in bone health. Another study showed a lack of evidence support that phosphate, an ‘acidic’ contributor in diets, had any detrimental effects on bone health and actually showed decreased urine calcium loss.

However, other studies have shown that there seem to be some benefits of alkaline-promoting foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Alkaline diets have been found to preserve lean muscle mass in seniors and women. Diets that are high in alkaline-promoting foods, which mainly include fruits and vegetables, are naturally high in potassium, magnesium and bicarbonate.  

Since muscle mass is important to fall and fracture prevention, these finding are significant to bone health as it indirectly protects the structural integrity of bones.  Aside from being linked to lower rates of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer and other chronic diseases, the components found in alkaline-promoting foods may naturally offer additional health benefits, such as reduction of risk of hypertension and stroke.

Are there any potential negative side effects of too much alkaline water?

For most people, taking in alkaline water or alkaline foods in an attempt to increase alkalinity of the body won’t be harmful, but there are a small number of people who should be careful. Those with kidney issues or people who are taking medication that alters their kidney function, shouldn’t overdo the mineral-based alkaline water because minerals can start to accumulate in the body.

In fact, drinking too much alkaline water actually has the potential to disrupt the body’s natural pH. This can lead to a condition called metabolic alkalosis, which may cause confusion, nausea, vomiting, hand tremors, muscle twitching, and tingling in the face, hands or feet.

So what’s the bottom line?

While it is possible that alkaline water and alkaline-promoting diets may confer some health benefits, there is no current hard evidence that suggests drinking alkaline water is truly protective of your health.

If you are interested in reaping some of the alkalizing benefits that you hear about, it may be better to focus on eating an overall alkaline-promoting diet full of fruits and vegetables. This will not only naturally increase alkalinity and provide numerous other health benefits, but it will help reduce the need to spend extra money on alkaline water (or any other fad water for that matter).

One more thing – don’t forget the big picture.

While it may be tempting to get pulled into health claims and dietary trends, it’s also valuable to step back and look at the overall picture.

With one in nine individuals in this world lacking access to safe water, we are fortunate to not be amongst the 750 million people who don’t even have clean water to use or drink. Our bodies naturally do a great job of maintaining pH within a tight range, and there’s likely no need to spend extra money on something that others may not even have access to. Instead, consider donating to a charity that helps bring clean water to others, like Water.org or charity: water.


Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN is a Los Angeles-based private practice dietitian who shares her love of health and wellness through a unique global perspective. From world-class U.S. medical centers to rural villages in Africa, Mascha has dedicated herself to traveling the world, spreading her love of healthy living through both her humanitarian work and private practice. Learn more at Nomadista Nutrition.

 

2 Comments
  1. Hi Susan – thank you so much for reading and commenting! I agree with you – it’s so important to focus on evidence based stories to combat the fads out there and really take a close look at health claims. Thanks again and hope you check out some of the other articles I’ve had the pleasure to work on with WellSeek! 🙂

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