Before diving deep into the myths surrounding the alkaline or blood pH diet, perhaps it’s a good idea to start off with what is it that it gets right. Like many trends in the diet world, they are built on a foundation of scientific facts, but these foundations are then misinterpreted or applied in various ways that are not scientifically proven. An example is the now infamous Atkins diet, which was based on good basic facts but was exaggerated into extremes and led to many eventual health issues for the participants (including the untimely demise of Dr. Atkin himself).
The theory underlying the alkaline diet, and which is true, is that foods not only provide your body with nourishment, but that foods are either acidic or alkaline depending on their contents, and can subsequently alter your own pH level, at least so far as your urine is concerned. Meats, dairy products and grains are acidic, while fruits and vegetables are alkaline. Many people refer to the acid or alkaline leftovers as ‘ash’ that is left behind in your body. The pH level of your urine is also easily, and readily measurable through pH sticks.
This diet has seemingly gained so much traction because of two factors. One, it is easy to measure the ‘results’ through pH testing of your urine, something that can be done at home, and whose level actually fluctuates depending on food. Second, although the premise has been repeatedly debunked, the diet itself actual follows some of the guidelines laid out by legitimate nutritional experts. The pH diet is focused more on fruit and vegetable consumption, and low grain, dairy and meat consumption. This ‘diet’ is what nearly all healthcare professionals, dietitians, and naturopaths will recommend. Increasing your consumption of whole foods, fruit and vegetables, while decreasing meat consumption is nearly always a good idea. Just leave pH levels out of it.
The alkaline diet takes a basic fact of the human body, and distorts it into a myth. Essentially it proclaims that in order to avoid common and serious ailments of the modern age, one much alkalize their diets. The health benefits touted by these ‘experts’ range from strengthening the bones, reducing plaque build up in the bloodstream, reducing the risk of stroke, boosting the immune system and even fighting cancer.
You might ask how alkalizing your diet and balancing your blood pH can have all these benefits? The short answer is that, it can’t.
pH Myths Debunked
1. Blood pH is regulated by diet
No matter how many fruits and vegetables you eat while trying to reduce the acidity of your body as a whole, you will never be able to reduce the acidity of your blood through diet. Yes, your urine reflects the acidic/alkaline levels in your diet, but your blood’s pH is regulated by the kidneys. A healthy blood pH level is around 7.4, and is only influenced by pathological conditions that are not remotely regulated or affected by alkaline foods. Most people’s pH level hovers solidly around 7.4. The claims about reducing the overall acidity of the body to ward off serious disease is false, primarily because you will never change your body’s alkaline level through what foods you consume.
If diet does not influence overall body pH levels, then how do the kidneys manage to do it? The kidneys produce something called bicarbonate ions, which absorb the acids from foods like meat and grains. When acid meets bicarbonate ions, it produces carbon dioxide (expelled through the lungs) and salt, which is excreted via the kidneys and eventually through the digestive tract. As the kidneys excrete salt, they are at the same time replacing the lost bicarbonate ions and the cycle continues, indefinitely. There is no way to influence the pH level through diet.
2. Blood pH is maintained by pulling minerals from your bones
The diet also proclaims that in order to avoid pulling vital nutrients and minerals directly from your bones to offset the acidic foods, you must offset the acid intake with more alkalis. If you do not alkalize your diet, you run the risk of osteoporosis. The myth that your body pulls minerals from your bones, has been clearly and repeatedly debunked by solid scientific research.
Based on the claim that acid based diets will eventually deteriorate bone health, one would think eating more proteins, meats and dairy products, would lead to the body extracting more and more minerals from the bones. However, research has shown that high levels of protein (or phosphates) actually clearly increases bone health through calcium metabolism as well as other bone health markers. There is no evidence suggesting that acidic diets have anything to do with bone density. Period.
3. Alkaline diets prevent cancer
Because cancer flourishes in an acid rich environment, wouldn’t it be beneficial to decrease acidic foods and increase consumption of the alkaline ones? As we have just seen, the foods you consume do not affect the overall pH of your blood or body, therefore they cannot affect the ability of cancer to propagate. Cancer, once started, actually starts to create its own acidic environment, the more it metastasizes the more acid it creates. Cancer will start in any environment, and has been found in lab conditions to begin in both acidic and alkaline environments.