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A Handle on your Health: Alkaline water: Health or hype?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Some of my nurses have been drinking alkaline water and swearing they are feeling better, so naturally I was curious. I began looking into the water craze and all the money people are spending on their water these days. There are several water fads at the moment but alkaline water seems to be one of the biggest. Is it the fountain of youth or another wishing well to throw money into?

What is alkaline water? The easiest way to describe it is it’s the opposite of acidic water. Sodas are acidic and have a pH below 7. Alkaline water has a pH above 7. Don’t worry we’re not getting into complicated chemistry here so don’t get anxious. Liquids tend to either be acidic or alkaline or neutral, as in regular old tap water, which has a pH of 7.0. Our body tends to have a pH of 7.4 or slightly alkaline. Alkaline water is water that has either been bottled naturally from mineral springs or made by an expensive ionizer. The water will have a pH usually somewhere between 8 to 9, which is about the pH of baking soda.

Advocates of drinking alkaline water claim it helps fight cancer, slows the aging process, increases energy, reduces blood pressure and cholesterol and glucose levels in diabetics, reduces osteoporosis, improves blood flow and treats acid reflux just to name a few. So what’s the science behind these claims? 

  • The cancer claim comes from research that found that inside cancerous tissue the environment is usually acidic. Producing an alkaline environment in rats seem to reduce the cancer cells ability to grow. Mineral water also seems to have anti-oxidative effects which should benefit your body in fighting cancer. 
  • Osteoporosis is a condition where our bones are losing minerals and becoming brittle. The claim here is that alkaline water can promote better bones because the alkaline environment has been found to reduce bone resorption (decay) and thus bones should be stronger however the effects in the study were small. 
  • How about living longer? Yes, but so far only in mice. The study had mice drink alkaline water for 3 years and they did indeed live longer than the mice that drank regular water. The effect may lie in the antioxidant properties of the water. 
  • When it comes to diabetics, in Shanghai they found drinking alkaline water truly improved their blood glucose levels, a little. They also found small benefits in blood pressure and cholesterol levels. 
  • Obviously if you have GERD or heartburn and you drink alkaline water the theory is that you are neutralizing some of the stomach’s acid thereby improving the symptoms. There’s some truth to this. 
  • A definite effect is in blood flow with alkaline water. Testing 100 people after strenuous workouts found there was a noticeable difference in blood viscosity in the group drinking alkaline water compared to regular water. The theory here is that if blood is less viscous then it flows better and thus provides more blood flow to the tissues that needs it after a hard workout. The slight increase in blood pH also allows the hemoglobin in the red blood cells to carry more oxygen. 

Are our bodies really toxic from acid build up? I truly cannot answer that question.  The belief by some is that our poor choices in diet results in the accumulation of acid and free radicals in our tissue that needs to be neutralized in order for our bodies to perform appropriately. Mineral water, which is naturally alkaline from the minerals it picks up after filtering through soil and rocks, supposedly acts as a neutralizer restoring our body to its normal pH of 7.4. 

Alkaline mineral or spring water does indeed have anti-oxidative properties. Everyone has probably heard the term “antioxidant” as something that is good for us. Skin care products with antioxidants are promoted as making our skin healthier.  Vitamins with antioxidants help protect our heart and vessels. Oxidants or “free radicals” in our environment may be involved in cancer so naturally if we drink mineral water with antioxidant properties we must be making our bodies healthier.  Right? Well maybe but there needs to be more research.  

You have two choices when it comes to alkaline water. You can make it at home with an expensive ionizer or buy bottles of mineral or spring water. Either way the stuff ain’t cheap when you figure you can get a gallon of water at your local supermarket for about a dollar. Alkaline water will cost you about 5 times the cost of regular water or more. The effects on your health may be beneficial, but better research is needed to know that for sure. Although drinking alkaline water is safe, there can be side effects such as nausea, vomiting, tremors, facial tingling and confusion. My opinion is if you want to try alkaline water it is generally considered safe to do so, but don’t expect too much. A cheap way to make your water slightly alkaline is just squeeze some lemon or lime juice in your water. Even though they have citric acid when added to water they actually react to produce alkaline water. I’ll have to let you be the judge of whether this is “the fountain of youth” or a flash in the pan

As always doctor’s orders, feel better.

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Dr. John Turner is a family medicine and emergency medicine doctor with 25 years of experience. He is also the owner of My Primary Care Clinic and My Emergency Room 24/7 here in Hays County. Dr. Turner may be reached at 512-667-6087.