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Alkaline water:

Legit health food or high-priced hoax?


By Ryan Andrews

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Some people believe that alkaline water helps our bodies metabolize nutrients and
expel toxins more efficiently than regular tap water, leading to better health and
performance.

Anecdotal evidence supports some of those claims. But so far, we don’t


have solid data supporting alkaline water’s use. Until we
learn more, save your money: Stick to tap water and supplement with
mineralized water if you like.

What is alkaline water?


Alkaline water is water that’s less acidic than regular tap water. This means it is rich
in alkalizing compounds, including calcium, silica, potassium, magnesium, and
bicarbonate.
Many people believe that the typical North American diet contributes to chronic low-
grade acidosis – a condition that may be associated with poor health outcomes
including heart problems, altered hormonal status, and the loss of muscle or bone.
Proponents of alkaline water believe that it can neutralize the acid in your
bloodstream and help your body metabolize nutrients more effectively, leading to
better health and performance.
Let’s take a closer look at these claims.

Water basics
Most of us know that water is a big deal. In fact, our bodies are largely made of the
stuff. No other substance is so important to our physiology or health. No wonder so
many of us feel concerned about increased pollutants and contaminants in our tap
water.
But before we completely dismiss North American tap
water, the good news is that it’s actually quite safe
compared to the water in many other parts of the world.
Tap water contains different dissolved elements that influence its pH level. Pure
water has a pH level close to 7. Alkaline water has a pH above 7.

Alkaline water & acid-base balance in the body


Our bodies do a fantastic job of maintaining blood pH within a tight range. This
means that “chronic low-grade acidosis” won’t appear on lab reports.
But what if those reports are deceptive? Proponents of alkaline water argue that
even if your pH levels look fine, your body could be drawing on stored buffers from
bone and muscle to maintain pH within the ideal range. And that would not be good.

Is alkaline water really best?


The human body is complex. Claiming that everyone needs to “alkalize” might be an
over-simplification.
For one thing, each organ system has a unique pH range. And since there are
various ways that the body maintains pH balance, if pH is out of whack, it’s important

to get to the underlying cause. Without knowing the cause, you


can’t determine whether alkaline water will really help
you.
Possible benefits of alkaline water

Alkaline water & health


While anecdotal evidence suggests that the pH of water could be relevant to health,
so far, there’s not a lot of firm data.

But focusing on the pH level of our water might be


somewhat beside the point. Because if alkaline
water is helpful, that might be due to the minerals it
contains rather than its pH level, per se.
Data do indicate that consuming alkaline or “hard” water can increase overall body

alkalinity.
However, this may not always be a benefit. For example, if someone has a kidney
condition, or is taking a medication that alters kidney function, some of the minerals
in alkaline water could start to accumulate in the body. For these people, high
alkalinity might lead to negative side effects.

Alkaline water & hydration status


If kidney patients should avoid alkaline water, athletes and exercisers are one sub-
group who might benefit from drinking it.
Why? Because alkaline water may allow active people to retain more fluid in the
cardiovascular system, while decreasing their urine output and blood osmolality.
That’s important because high plasma osmolality is associated with elevated risk of
death from stroke.
The research suggests that these effects might not be instantaneous, but rather,
gradual.

Thus: Alkaline water might improve overall hydration status in active people over

time. And proper hydration is important to our health. But again, this is a big
“maybe”.

Exercise
Physical activity and diet can alter pH balance. A diet high in fresh vegetables will
usually result in greater alkalinity.
So alkaline water’s benefits might be more obvious in people who do not exercise, or
those who eat a typical Western diet of processed foods. Meanwhile, folks who
exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet of whole foods might fail to notice much
change from drinking alkaline water.
But even if they don’t particularly notice a change, active people might benefit from
alkaline water for reasons that go beyond improved hydration.
Intense exercise spurs our muscles to produce more hydrogen ions than our body
can efficiently remove. Fatigue increases. Drinking alkaline water might enhance the
body’s buffering capacity and temper the acidity, thus improving our performance.
Note that mineral supplements (calcium, magnesium, potassium) decrease cardio-
respiratory stress and blood lactate responses, while improving power output in
endurance athletes. That’s why long-distance runners sometimes supplement with
sodium bicarbonate.
This practice would seem to support the benefits of mineralized water.

Toxins
Tap water is disinfected to protect us from bacteria and toxins. But when
disinfectants interact with organic matter in our tap water, disinfectant by-products
form. DBPs can lead to health and environmental problems – a good reason to avoid
them.
Alkaline water seems to break down some DBPs, neutralizing their dangers to us.
Meanwhile, alkaline urine might help to draw certain environmental toxins and
pharmaceuticals from the body, another potential benefit.
Sounds great, right? But other DBPs seem to thrive in an alkaline environment.
So all in all, alkaline water is not necessarily better at protecting us from toxins.

Gut health
Oxidation-reduction potential (ORP) is a measure of the tendency of a solution to
either gain or lose electrons when it is subject to change by the introduction of a new
species.
ORP seems to influence bacteria in the gut. Electrochemically activated (i.e. ionized)
water possesses a negative oxidation-reduction potential, which means

it might offer extra disinfectant properties, helping to protect us from dangerous

microorganisms.

Glycation
Glycation is a reaction that takes place when simple sugar molecules, such
asfructose or glucose, become attached to proteins or lipid fats without the
moderation of an enzyme. This results in the formation of rogue molecules known as
advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs). AGEs are associated with health risks
such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
Ionized water seems to result in lowered glycation levels and reduced liver damage
in rats with poor blood sugar control.
Now, rats are not humans, and it is tricky to extrapolate directly from animal studies
to human health. Even so, this evidence is worth weighing in the balance.