Alkaline Water: pH-antastic or pH-addy?

Alkaline Water: pH-antastic or pH-addy?
I was first introduced to the concept of Alkaline water by my Korean relatives, who love ‘ionising’ their water. The sceptic in me needed to know more!


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?

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. Although our water supply has been deemed perfectly safe, it does need to go through a lot of chemical processing to stay this way and some are opposed to the idea of this.


Is alkaline water supposedly ‘healthier’?

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 has a neutralising effect. This is not currently in line with mainstream science, which says that our blood pH is already regulated by the body itself. 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 perhaps overly simplistic.


Is alkaline water beneficial in any way?

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 alkaline water. However this is really no different from the ways in which Big Pharma produce studies to back up their own line of pills and potions.

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 to a fundamentally healthier lifestyle is obviously going to be beneficial for your health, but not necessarily because of the reasoning provided. At the end of the day, if it is helping you maintain a healthy lifestyle than so be it, but take every claim with a pinch of salt.


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.


Nature vs 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 or 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. This is not currently backed by mainstream research.


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.

There doesn’t seem to be any pressing need to obsess over the pH of your fluids and we are lucky to live in areas with such ease of access to fresh drinking water. However if the alkaline trend is encouraging you to stick to a healthy lifestyle, there doesn’t seem to be any immediate cause for concern or negative side effects. As with any product, it just helps to remain unconvinced about some of the more substantial claims, until you have done your research and looked into both sides of the argument.