I was first introduced to the concept of Alkaline water by my Korean relatives. ‘Ionising’ your drinking water seems to be big over there and as Tech savvy and progressive as they otherwise are, I remained slightly skeptical. Nevertheless I don’t like to have an opinion on something without doing any of the reading. As well as this, the home machinery required to alkalise your fluids is often clunky and expensive, so why bother?
What is alkaline water anyway?
Water that’s less acidic than regular tap water, therefore rich in alkalising compounds: calcium, silica, potassium, magnesium and bicarbonate. Pure water is close to pH 7 (neutral), alkaline water is slightly above this (and anything below pH 7 = acidic).
So what’s wrong with normal water?
Nothing. As you know, our bodies are mostly made up of water, so it’s no wonder that so many of us are concerned with the increasing number of horror stories surrounding contaminants and pollutants entering our supply. In spite of these claims, European water is generally tightly regulated and deemed safe, making such concerns seem rather trivial especially when compared to the quality and access in more impoverished parts of the world. However it is always legitimate to want to investigate for yourself and understand further!
Is alkaline water supposedly ‘healthier’?
It probably isn’t. The foundation for the belief that alkaline water is healthier comes from the notion that modern day lifestyles and chronic stress lead to ‘acidification’ of the body / blood stream and that eating or drinking alkaline produce therefore neutralises this. There is no scientific basis for this.
In fact when you look closely at the science, our body regulates its pH itself, without any external help. Acid-Base balance in the body is a complex state of homeostasis, however much like the liver being able to detoxify you without the need for a juice cleanse, our blood can balance its pH just fine without the need for alkaline water.
Proponents argue that this is deceptive as even if pH readings look fine, your body could be drawing on stored buffers from bone and muscle to maintain the ideal range, whereas mainstream scientists disagree. Each organ system has it’s own unique pH range (your stomach needs to be acidic for digestion, as well as to kill off harmful bacteria and pathogens before they enter your bloodstream for example), so simply saying that everyone needs to ‘alkalinise’ themselves is overly simplistic and pseudoscientific. If your pH is out of whack, you need to investigate the root cause using legitimate testing in a hospital before it can be treated.
Is alkaline water beneficial in any way?
Although alkaline water may not live up to the main claims of its proponents, it can still be beneficial to some degree because of the minerals it contains (as mentioned above) rather than its pH per se.
Some supportive studies do exist – for example, scientists in Shanghai found that 3-6 months after drinking alkaline water, people with high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high blood lipids had lower measures in each of these factors. A 2016 study also showed that the water reduced blood viscosity after exercising, which may help reduce cardiovascular strain by improving hydration. However there were many limitations to this study, the main one being that it was sponsored by Essentia Water…. A company that sells the alkaline water.
People that support alkaline water, usually support an alkaline lifestyle / diet. Unsurprisingly these diets list things like stress, sugar, bad fats and refined carbs to be ‘acidic’, with wholesome and unprocessed foods being ‘alkaline’. Making this switch is obviously going to be beneficial for your health, but not because of the false reasoning provided. If it helps you to think about it this overly simplistic way using two very regimented categories, then so be it! Just don’t take the reasoning too seriously.
Are there any dangers?
Yes, for example if you have a kidney condition or are taking medication that alters kidney function, some of the minerals in alkaline water could start to accumulate in your body. Always check with your health professional before making drastic lifestyle or dietary changes.
The alkaline water industry is also plagued with tales of salesmen preying on the terminally ill, reassuring them that their alkaline water / contraption will cure their acidic cancer… convincing them with confusing pseudoscientific statements that are not supported by decades of mainstream research.
Nature v Nurture
Alkaline water does exist naturally in nature, it occurs when water passes over rocks like springs and picks up minerals which increase its alkaline level. However when you buy alkaline water in a shop / make it at home, it’s usually done via electrolysis which uses an ioniser to raise the pH. Manufacturers say this works by using electricity to separate water molecules that are more acidic or alkaline, funnelling out the acidic parts of the water…. all a bit namby pamby and not backed by modern scientific priciples.
Some Interesting Take Home Points
Although lemon and lime juice is acidic, they contain minerals that change the composition of water and adding just a squeeze to your glass can actually make it more alkaline. This is only guaranteed using distilled water as tap or boiled may contain other additives….
The issue many health professionals have with alkaline water is not about safety, more the unsubstantiated claims surrounding it. You can’t believe all the marketing claims – having them backed up by biased, industry funded studies is one thing, having them backed up by not much altogether is another. Simply spending your energy focusing on a healthy lifestyle that includes real, wholesome foods as well as unprocessed, non-sugary or carbonated drinks should be enough.