I had a good laugh the other day in one of my favorite cafes as the barista and I joked about how it’s so funny that “What kind of milk would you like?” has become such a prevalent question…and often a hard one to answer with so many competing opinions out there. In much the same way, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to determine what type of water one ought to drink. These days, water comes in so many forms: with electrolytes, with reverse osmosis processing, in varying degrees of alkalinity, and there’s even water that boasts it will make you smarter.
Christine B., a reader from Carlsbad, CA, wrote to me last month to ask my thoughts on the necessity of drinking alkalized water (i.e., water with a high pH level). I’ll share some thoughts here based on many years of experience and research.
The Importance of Alkalinity…and the Difficulty of Assessing It
To maintain optimum health, and to aid in preventing the body from being a welcoming breeding ground for cancerous cells, it is desirable to keep the body from becoming too acidic. The optimal pH for the body is 7.4 (on a scale of 1-14, with 1 being highly acidic and 14 being extremely alkaline). While there are various tests out there for measuring body pH (using blood, urine or saliva samples), one thing to keep in mind is that various systems of the body have different pH levels. So, it can be difficult to really get a feel for the general pH of the body unless multiple tests are performed and repeated.
In the past decade or so, the consumption of alkaline water has been promoted by many marketers (and not so many scientists) as a way to help the body avoid falling into an acidic state, and even boldly been called a way to prevent cancer. While alkaline water can be purchased in jugs, a more common way it is marketed is through Multi-level Marketing schemes that sell alkalizing machines. Now, if you’re like me, your first thought whenever an MLM product is presented to you is that it must be some kind of fad or scam. And this is exactly why I did a lot of deep looking into alkalized water in recent years as various friends tried to get me interested in it. In the course of my own research, I ultimately have decided that alkaline water (or machines to make it) is not a worthwhile investment for the following reasons:
- Lack of solid scientific evidence: I have yet to see any solid, scientifically-sound studies that show significant benefits of alkaline water. There are a few demonstrating that some trace minerals are higher in people who live near more alkaline water sources (but note that the pH of the water in question is not as drastic as that of water processed by an ionizing machine), but nothing showing any relationship to cancer prevention or other drastic results. I have seen plenty of studies by marketing companies and “new-age” health practitioners (many of whom are tied up in MLM schemes) that lack scientific rigor, but I will remain skeptical of the claims that champions of alkaline water make until I see some solid evidence that indicates the true benefits of high-pH water.
- History: For many centuries, humans thrived drinking water in its natural state. Of course, today, most of us receive water via taps, and by the time it reaches us, it is far from natural, with things like chlorine and fluoride having been added. I am certainly not endorsing tap water, unless you happen to live in a place where your water source is relatively pure and untreated (if you live in the US, you can find out more about water quality and processing in your are by contacting your local municipality, which must by law provide information on third-party assessments of the local water supply). Luckily, many of us have access to water that has been filtered or cleaned through health food stores, water stores or other sources, and I would encourage you to find a clean, local source of water and to arrange to have enough on hand to meet your needs.
- Love thy Belly: In Ayurveda, we warn against drinking water (especially cold water) with meals, as it can extinguish our agni, the digestive fire that burns in our belly and helps us to process and metabolize food. If we think about the quality of the fluids and enzymes in the stomach that support healthy digestion, they are acidic by nature. So, when we continually dump alkaline water into our stomach, it offsets the stomach’s natural acidity, and the body must expend energy to return our digestive enzymes to their required pH level. Now, if the water in your area is by nature a bit on the alkaline side, I wouldn’t worry. It’s my understanding that the pH of water that has been artificially alkalized via ionizers is that it falls far beyond the alkaline pH of naturally occurring alkaline water, and therefore would be more disruptive to stomach pH.
In lieu of seeking out alkalized water, here are a few ideas for regulating the number of acidic inputs into the body:
- Minimize consumption of acidic foods: Avoiding meat, dairy and refined sugars are great ways to reduce the body’s acidity, and there are other health benefits as well. While you don’t need to forego these completely, they should be consumed sparingly for the most radiant health results. Opt instead for vegetables and plant-based foods – especially raw foods, if they are appropriate for your body’s constitution – to keep things on the more alkaline side.
- Test your water: Whether you have a home filter or purchase water from a local source, you can easily get pH strips to make sure that it’s not too acidic. A pH between 6 and 9 is considered neutral, and most water falls in this range. If by chance your water has a pH lower than 6, you may want to consider another healthy source.
- Get water from the source: One of my favorite activities, especially on road trips, is to bottle my own water as it bubbles up from a natural spring. To see if there is a spring near you, check out Find a Spring here. Water straight from the earth tends to be the perfect pH…just as nature intended.
- Add lemon to your water: For a touch of alkalinity, adding a slice of lemon to your water is a great idea (and tastes great, too!). While we commonly think of citrus fruits of acidic (which they are in the mouth), they are alkaline in nature once metabolized by the body. It is my understanding that a little lemon juice in water is more easily handled by the stomach than high-pH alkalized water.
If you do drink alkaline water some of the time, I don’t believe there to be any harm, based on the research I have done and my own personal understanding of its effects. I would personally be wary of drinking alkaline water that has been ionized by a machine all of the time, because it departs so drastically from the way water has naturally been consumed for thousands of years.
Remember that the body is innately wise, and has its own mechanisms for regulating pH. So, a few highly-acidic inputs now and again will be course-corrected by the body when it’s in a state of health. And likewise, a few highly alkaline inputs will also be integrated in a way the body can handle. If you are undergoing treatment for cancer, it is of course more necessary to be mindful of acidic inputs. At the end of the day, my philosophy of sticking to a mostly plant-based, organic, whole food (i.e., non-processed) diet is the best advice I can give for maintaining a pH that supports that body in its optimal state.
What’s on your mind? Ask any questions related to diet or lifestyle in the comments below, and I’ll address them in an upcoming post.
Be well, Meredith