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Alkaline water – what the heck is it?
I’ll be honest…I’ve heard talk about this stuff. I’ve seen it in the store. But, before diving into the research for this article, I pretty much knew nothing about it. If you’ve found yourself in the same boat, I’d definitely encourage you to keep reading. I’m on a mission to answer all of your questions!
First things first…
What is alkaline water?
You may have to think back to your middle school science class to remember what exactly “alkaline” means. As you probably learned way back then, alkaline means that the pH of a solution is above 7 – which is to say that this solution is more “basic” than acidic.
What contributes to a solution’s pH balance?
That has to do with the available hydrogen ions in the solution. The more hydrogen ions there are, the less oxygen is available – this leads to a more acidic state. In that same vein, the less hydrogen ions, the more oxygen is available. More available oxygen = a more alkaline state.
So – if we apply this thinking to water – it would mean that alkaline water is less acidic (or more alkaline – has more oxygen) than your normal tap water. Recall back those middle grade science memories, and you may remember that the pH scale runs from 0-14 with 7 being neutral. To throw some numbers at you, tap water normally has a pH of 7. Alkaline water, on the other hand, can normally have a pH between 8 and 9.
Alkaline water can also contain more vitamins and minerals than regular tap water including calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium.
Makes sense so far, right?
Why would we ever need alkaline water?
Proponents of alkaline water claim that the need for it in our current society stems from a physiological condition called acidosis. Acidosis is a condition where a person’s blood becomes more acidic than it should be.
There are different types of acidosis (metabolic, respiratory, lactic), but looking through the lens of alkaline water, the acidosis most commonly thought to be helped by this type of water is called chronic low-grade acidosis. It is thought that the standard American diet, with its inflammatory properties, leads to this type of acidosis by increasing the amount of acid in the blood. This study (1) does a great job at laying out the links between dietary intake and increased acid production.
Proponents of alkaline water believe that it can help fight low grade acidosis with its increased pH value and, therefore, its ability to neutralize the buildup of acid.
What are the claims?
If you do a quick Google search, you’ll start to see all of the claims made by those who believe in the healing effects of alkaline water. These include anything from increased metabolism to decreased speed of aging and better nutrient absorption. There are even some people who believe that keeping your body in an alkaline state can help treat cancer.
There is a ton of anecdotal evidence out there that says people have experienced great results from drinking alkaline water.
In fact, the first time that I learned about alkaline water was from a post on Facebook. This guy claimed that adding alkaline water and foods into his diet cleared up his acne. He had tried all the common tips and tricks before and nothing ever worked for him. But as soon as he made that switch to an alkaline-focused diet on a regular basis – bam. Acne gone within 7 days.
It can be hard to argue with results like that.
What’s the research say?
When we start to dive into the research, though, things become a little less cut and dry. The scientific research just hasn’t quite caught up yet.
Alkaline water increases overall alkalinity
It does seem that alkaline water can increase the overall alkalinity of the body (2). That being said, this isn’t always a pro. For people with decreased kidney function, the minerals contained in alkaline water could accumulate in the body leading to health issues.
Alkaline water, dietary acidosis, and cancer?
In regard to alkaline water and cancer, this systematic review, conducted in 2016, found that “there is almost no actual research to either support or disprove these ideas.” (3) Unfortunately, for this systematic review, only ONE study fit the criteria. So, take that for what it’s worth.
Alkaline water and longevity
This study looked at a population of 150 mice over the course of 3 years. The mice were split into 3 groups – 50 watered with alkaline water from a home treatment device, 50 watered with alkaline water from a diluted alkaline solution, and 50 watered with tap water.
Statistical analysis showed that the mice watered with alkaline water had a longer lifespan compared to those mice consuming tap water. When the mice kidneys, intestine, heart, liver, and brain were compared, no significant differences were found between the different groups of mice (4).
It’s worth pointing out that this study was done on mice – and that doesn’t mean we can take that and apply it to how alkaline water would affect humans. But, it does give us a glance at the potential.
Alkaline water and blood viscosity
Athletes, or people who exercise regularly, might be one sub-group where the science is in favor of consuming alkaline water. This study showed that drinking alkaline water significantly reduced systolic blood viscosity (the resistance of blood to flow through the body) following exercise-induced dehydration compared to the control. It’s worth noting, though, that this study was funded by Essentia Water – a specific brand of alkaline water (5).
(Side note – always, always, always check your sources for conflicts of interest!!!!)
Alkaline water and hydration status
On the topic of exercise, another study showed that after 4 weeks, alkaline water did increase hydration status in people compared to tap water (6).
Alkaline water’s mineral content
There are some sources that claim that the health effects experienced by drinkers of alkaline water can be attributed to something besides the actual alkalinity. As I mentioned earlier, alkaline water can be rich in many minerals. These include calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium.
All of these minerals are VITAL for optimal body function, and, as expected, followers of the standard American diet aren’t getting them in the quantities that are preferred by the body. It would make sense, then, that consuming these minerals in alkaline water would increase health status if the person was deprived in the first place.
So – what to think?
Should we all go out and start buying alkalinized water by the gallon? Not so fast. First off, there’s just not a whole lot of scientific data out there. And the existing data are mixed.
It is true that drinking alkaline water can increase the body’s overall alkalinity. That being said, it is really important to determine the root cause of why a person’s acid/base balance might be out of whack. Maybe it is dietary, but it could also be something else. Getting to the root cause is essential.
An increased body alkalinity isn’t always a great thing either; there can be some negative health effects depending on your personal health history. The body wasn’t meant to be kept in a completely alkaline state. As with most things, moderation is key.
Where to find alkaline water
I’m a huge proponent of experimentation when it comes to your own health. If you think something may benefit you, it’s definitely worth a shot to try it out.
If you would like to incorporate alkaline water into your diet, here are a few ways to do it.
Buy it at the store
Because of the hype around this water, you can find alkaline water at some grocery stores or online. A few popular brands include: Essentia, Alkaline88, Real Water, and Evamor.
In fact, most bottled mineral waters are alkaline on their own, so that’s another option (but not always guaranteed).
I have pretty strong feelings against buying a lot of bottled water. This mainly stems from the fact that plastic bottles are wreaking havoc on our environment. Knowing this, I really try to do my best to not buy plastic water bottles and would personally not take this route. Or if I did, it would be very infrequently.
Invest in a water ionizer
You can also buy an ionizer and make your own alkaline water at home. Through ionization, a process that splits the hydrogen ion away from the oxygen thus increasing the amount of oxygen, this machine turns your tap water alkaline.
Ionizers are expensive (like, really expensive). There’s also some debate as to whether they actually work or not. I’ll go ahead and tell you right now that I’ll take a hard pass on investing in an ionizer.
There are also alkaline water pitchers that you can buy on Amazon. They work similarly to a Brita pitcher, but help to turn your water alkaline. I haven’t tried any of these products, though, so buy at your own risk. If you do try one out, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
I’m not completely sold on alkaline water’s benefit yet. This is mostly because the research just really hasn’t been conclusive. I’m also not one to completely ignore anecdotal evidence either. There’s plenty of that out there.
If you’re interested in alkaline water, try incorporating it occasionally. Unless you have prior health issues regarding your kidneys, it really shouldn’t hurt anything (besides, perhaps, your wallet?). As always, consult your doctor if you have questions about including it in your diet.
I also think that the importance of a well-balanced, fruit and vegetable-rich diet should not be overlooked. The minerals that make alkaline water beneficial can also be found in REAL FOODS.
Revolutionary, I know. 🙂
This list, from Dr. Axe, includes some alkaline-promoting foods to add into your diet. If you’ve been Paleo for awhile, you’re probably already eating a lot of these.
- Lemons and limes
- Green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach
- Wheatgrass juice
What are your thoughts on alkaline water? Is it something you would try? Have you already tried it and experienced results – either positive or negative? Let us know!
- Robey, I. (2012). Examining the relationship between diet-induced acidosis and cancer. Nutrition & Metabolism, 9(1), p.72.
- Precision Nutrition. (2017). Alkaline water: Legit health food or high-priced hoax?. [online] Available at: http://www.precisionnutrition.com/alkaline-water-legit-or-hoax [Accessed 17 Jul. 2017].
- Fenton, T. and Huang, T. (2016). Systematic review of the association between dietary acid load, alkaline water and cancer. BMJ Open, 6(6), p.e010438.
- Magro, M., Corain, L., Ferro, S., Baratella, D., Bonaiuto, E., Terzo, M., Corraducci, V., Salmaso, L. and Vianello, F. (2016). Alkaline Water and Longevity: A Murine Study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2016, pp.1-6.
- Weidman, J., Holsworth, R., Brossman, B., Cho, D., St.Cyr, J. and Fridman, G. (2016). Effect of electrolyzed high-pH alkaline water on blood viscosity in healthy adults. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 13(1).
- Heil, D. (2010). Acid-base balance and hydration status following consumption of mineral-based alkaline bottled water. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(1), p.29.
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