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Acid-Alkaline Balance and Its Effect on Bone Health
Susan E. Brown, Ph.D., CCN, and Russell Jaffe, MD, Ph.D., CCNInternational Journal of Integrative MedicineVol. 2, No. 6 – Nov/Dec 2000In our bones, most North Americans are in woeful shape. Our bone health crisis worsenseach year, despite intensive public health and disease treatment efforts. In this article, wewill suggest that the preoccupation with the consequences of osteoporosis, rather than afocus on its fundamental causes, underlies our inability to solve the contemporaryepidemic of poor bone health.Osteoporosis can be seen as a "hidden tax of high-tech living." We pay this tax as aconsequence of chronic metabolic acidosis, which robs us of our mineral reserves andimpairs efforts to rebuild the bone matrix. The basis of, support for, and a comprehensiveresponse to this situation are detailed below.Following are the basics of bone growth and turnover. Understanding these basics canhelps prevent or repair osteopenia and osteoporosis, as detailed later in this article.Bone growth largely halts after puberty. However, "bone tissue in adults is not dormant --our bones are continuously being remodeled through repeated cycles of destruction andrebuilding."
Healthy people balance osteoclastic bone destruction with osteoblastic bonerebuilding.
The normative remodeling half-life of bone is five years. This means thatevery 10 years a healthy person will have an entirely new skeletal structure.While bone-remodeling processes constantly attempt to renew bone, the skeletal structureof a typical North American senior citizen is not healthy. In the United States, half of allCaucasian women aged 65 and over, and at least one in five men, will experience one ormore osteoporotic fractures during their lifetime.
Currently, about 10,000,000 NorthAmericans have been diagnosed with osteoporosis. An additional 18,000,000 NorthAmericans have osteopenia and face a high risk of bone fracture or related complications.Direct medical costs related to osteoporosis exceed $14 billion per year. This representsabout one-third of the total cost to our nation for osteoporosis-related ill health.Furthermore, in 1999, 1,167 scientific articles on bone health and osteoporosis wereadded to the index Medicus database, representing about half of the peer-reviewedstudies published on the subject that year. According to the National Institutes of Health(NIH) Public Information Office, $136.7 million federal dollars were spent in 1999 onosteoporosis research. Despite these great efforts, a solution to our current bone healthcrisis still evades us, and fracture incidence increases, particularly in younger people.
The Link Between Osteoporosis and Metabolic Acidosis
From a broad systemic perspective, primary osteoporosis is seen largely as secondary tometabolic acidosis. First, we will discuss the causal link between acid-alkaline balanceand bone health, and then we will present options for restoration and maintenance of bone health throughout the full life span.In contemporary Western society, diet/lifestyle-induced metabolic acidosis is more therule than the exception. As detailed below, the excess acid load promoting metabolicacidosis is acquired by:1. Dietary choices (excess protein, fat, phosphate/phosphoric acid, and sulfate/sulfuricacid);2. Maladaptation to stress (distress-induced excess cortisol and adrenaline); and3. Immune hypersensitivity (delayed allergy) reactions.For 80 years, it has been repeatedly confirmed that bone responds to an acid load bydissolving its basic buffering mineral salts. For background, the average adult skeletoncontains a large but finite amount of Ca
(50-65,000 mEq, 99% of total body stores) andMg
(1,060-1,600 mEq, 50% to 80% of body stores). Bone minerals serve as a sizeablereservoir of buffer, usable in the control of plasma pH. Extensive research hasdocumented the following
:1. Urinary calcium excretion is associated with bone loss.2. Urinary calcium loss in the face of an acid load strongly suggests cellular potassiumand sodium deficits.3. Bone loss is accelerated in the face of magnesium deficit.4. Urinary calcium excretion parallels total acid excretion until substantial calcium andmagnesium deficits accumulate.5. Upon significant depletion of buffering mineral salts, compensation for acid load isreduced, intracellular and first-morning urine pH is concomitantly reduced, and theconsequences of metabolic acidosis are accelerated. As an equilibrated specimen,first-morning urine pH is a useful clinical approximation of the cellular and systemicacid/alkaline state.Less appreciated, however, are the following facts:1.
A variety of alkaline buffering salts (including those of sodium, potassium, zinc, andother minerals) are stored in bone. They are also lost from bone in the obligatorybuffering of excessive metabolic acids.
The contribution of contemporary dietary patterns to the induction of excess metabolicacids has been clinically underestimated. These fixed acids, which must be neutralizedwith alkaline buffering mineral salts, are largely the result of less healthy dietarychoices.
The mineral deficits in our soil and water reduce the availability of minerals in theconventional food supply.
Compensated chronic metabolic acidosis is more the rule than the exception. Theresults are depletion of bone tissue and a disposition to chronic illnesses.
Thus, although osteoporosis is a complex and often multi-faceted disorder, we proposethat primary
osteoporosis is largely secondary to acquired and reversible chronicmetabolic acidosis.
Small Change, Big Impact
Bone is sensitive to small changes in pH. In
studies document that even one-tenthof a point drop in pH does the following.
Greatly stimulates osteoclastic activity2.
Inhibits osteoblastic action; and3.
Induces a multifold bone mineral loss.A 500%-900% increase in osteoclast cell-meditated rat bone resorption was noted with just a 0.2 pH unit change.
Acidosis also induces mineral dissolution, independent of osteoclastic activity. For example, a human study on acute fasting showed a venous pHdecrease from 7.37 to 7.33 (4/100
of a pH unit). This caused a significant calciumrelease from bone, which was independent of osteoclast of PTH activity.
Acid-Alkaline Bone and Body Balance
It has been said that “the body is alkaline by design, but acidic by function.”
Thehuman body has also been described as largely dilute seawater encapsulated in amembrane skin. Our immune defense and repair mechanisms, and a host of cell andsystem enzyme catalysts, all do their best in an exquisitely narrow pH range. The healthypH range of oxygenated arterial blood is 7.35 to 7.45, and that of the carbondioxide-laden venous blood is 7.31 to 7.41. To remain viable, the body must remainslightly alkaline. The viable human arterial blood pH range is just 7.4 ± 0.5 pH units.Even minor variations from these values are biologically costly.
For intracellular cytoplasmic pH, the healthy range is 7.4 ± 0.1. An acidic tilt to cellular
pH alters cellular metabolism dramatically and adversely. This results in:
Swelling and impaired function of mitochondrial electron transport, with reducedATP energy production and more rapid ATP energy consumption;
Increase in intracellular free water with less efficient metabolism, proteinsynthesis, and increased membrane free radical production;
Increase in interstitial "third space" water (fluid retention), particularly in anysusceptible (distressed) organ;
Accelerated bone resorption;
Reduced bone formation;
Nitrogen wasting (accelerated catabolism);" and
Suppression of growth hormone and other pituitary hormones.

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