You have heard about “pH-balance,” but may be hard-pressed to describe what it means in terms of health and wellness.
The term “pH” is a measurement of the ratio of acidity to alkalinity in the body (and in other substances ranging from water to fruit to baking soda). Neutral is considered to be a pH of 7. There is not an infinite number here, it ranges between 0 to 14 -- the lower the number the more acidic the environment, while the opposite is true. Higher than 7 is leaning to alkaline.
However, that doesn’t answer the question – just what the heck does “pH” stand for? There is no “a” or “A.” pH has a Marvel Comic-esque translation: it means “power of hydrogen.” Coined in 1909 by Danish biochemist S.P. Sorensen, the p is “power” or in his native tongue, “potenz” and H for “hydrogen” is capitalized as all elements on the periodic table of elements are.
A sophisticated explanation that chemistry-lovers will appreciate is that pH is based on the logarithmic scale. “Each whole pH value below 7 is 10 times more acidic than the higher value and each whole pH value above 7 is 10 times less acidic than the one below it,” writes AnneMarie Helmenstine, PhD. She adds, “For example, a pH of 3 is 10 times more acidic than a pH of 4, and 100 times (10 times 10) more acidic than a pH value of 5. So, a strong acid may have a pH of 1-2, while a strong base may have a pH of 13-14. A pH near 7 is considered to be neutral.”
Your body has several mechanisms in place to try to regulate its pH level, primarily urination and respiration. A biochemical called bicarbonate, regulated by the kidneys, binds with hydrogen, which creates water and carbon dioxide, both of which are mostly eliminated through urination and exhalation, respectively. This process tends to keep acidity levels in check. And in another extraordinary self-correcting action, when the body is too alkaline (above 6.5), hydrogen is released into the blood to make it more acidic. This is the epitome of the word “homeostasis,” a body in balance!
When the body is too acidic, this is called acidosis, a state caused by the inability of the kidneys and lungs to maintain healthy pH. Acidosis is either respiratory or metabolic (kidneys). The former often occurs by obesity, abuse of alcohol and sedatives, and asthma. The latter is caused by diabetes, and by an illness such as norovirus characterized by aggressive vomiting and diarrhea.
When your body is too acidic, you will feel symptoms such as shortness of breath, headache, sleepiness/drowsiness, and fatigue. Chronic acidosis may lead to diseases such as bone disease, renal failure, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, heart diseases, weigh gain and chronic candida infections.
In her blog on Women’s Health Network, Susan E. Brown, PhD, explains, “Your body can usually handle an occasional heavy acid load without taking too much from your alkalizing reserves. But many of us are constantly producing excess acids, especially through our diet. Without a way to neutralize them, your body struggles to maintain a healthy blood pH and it can contribute to serious health issues, including heart attack, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.”
You can reduce your risk of acidosis (both respiratory and metabolic). First, you can (and should) also test your pH.
How can you test your pH?
You don’t need to have your doctor test your pH – you can do this at home as pH testing kits with color-coded charts for easy reading are readily available for purchase, such as this one that allows you to test either through your saliva or urine. The company notes that a level is 7 is “perfect,” while a level of 6.5 is acidic and below 6 is very acidic. Test two to three times per day for a week to 10 days to get an average number (as it can be affected by what you recently ate, among other factors).
If the results demonstrate that your body is slightly acidic and you want to raise your pH to 7 or even 7.5, you may want to identify the source of the acidity, which is likely in your dietary habits.
The Alkaline Diet
Of course there’s a specific diet for pH! And, although the alkaline diet isn’t as currently famous as keto or paleo, it does have its proponents and the reviews are pretty solid.
First, a look back. Modern Western diets tend to be highly acidic-forming (foods that coax the body into an acidic state). For example, approximately 10,000 years ago when the agricultural revolution occurred and more recently since industrialization (approximately only 200 years ago), there has been a dramatic decline in consumption of key nutrients such as potassium, which can lead to metabolic acidosis.
The alkaline diet in a (healthy) nutshell is heavy on fruits, vegetables, soy/tofu, seeds, nuts, and legumes. You must, however, omit the acid-promoting foods such as dairy, eggs, most grains and meats, along with the obvious culprits of processed foods. And no caffeine or alcohol.
According to one source, there are three pointers to help you be successful with the alkaline diet:
- “Focus on eating whole foods, like vegetables, root crops, fruits, nuts, seeds, spices, whole grains and beans (especially lentils).
- “Drink alkalizing beverages such as spring water and ginger root or green tea, water with the juice of a whole lemon or lime.
- “Dress salads or cook with high-quality fats such as cold-pressed virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil.”
Authors of one review of the alkaline diet believe that it has value in reducing morbidity and mortality from chronic illnesses. In this review of previous studies and clinical investigations into the health value of the alkaline diet, the authors found several standout benefits, including the results from an improved potassium to sodium (K/Na) ratio such as bone health, reducing risk of sarcopenia and hypertension; and an increase in growth hormone, which may improve heart condition as well as cognition and memory. The alkaline diet also increases magnesium content in cells; magnesium activates vitamin D, allowing the individual to reap the numerous benefits of D.
The review concludes, “It would be prudent to consider an alkaline diet to reduce morbidity and mortality of chronic disease that are plaguing our aging population.”
Speaking of which, one study found that older adults who follow an alkaline diet have more lean tissue and better-preserved muscle mass.
“Being pH” is not in the mainstream health consciousness – yet. But the concept and the science is too compelling to ignore. The lower your pH number, the worse your physiological outlook may be. In gambling, the number 7 is lucky, and in health, the number 7 is healthy!