Alkaline diets are popular among dieting health-oriented people. Drinking coffee is out. There go dairy and processed foods. Some get to the point of administering alkaline water and conveniently selling us products to purify, ionize, recharge and alkalize our water. Still, as much as the pH balance of the body is important, are alkaline diets really necessary or are they just a new fad?
But let us start from the basics. What is pH balance?
pH stands for “potential of hydrogen” and indicates the acid-base balance in our body. All bodily liquids contain hydrogen. In fact, the concentration of hydrogen ions in a solution is of the utmost importance for all living creatures. Many - if not all - reactions in the body involve exchanging hydrogen ions for something else which as a result changes structures and functions of various molecules, tissues and organs.
Now, most liquids in our bodies are alkaline. Blood and lymph are light bases. But the body has its acids, too. Stomach juice, tears, and urine, for example, are all acidic. What is more - the very state of being alive produces an unending fluctuation in the surrounding intracellular pH, usually making it more acidic. This acidic environment is required for many important enzyme associated reactions to take place since many enzymes function optimally at an acidic pH. In fact, the most important physiological activity of most cells - the energy-producing process I of breaking down carbohydrates to carbon dioxide and water) makes us acidic!
Now then, you should expect such a complicated, constantly acid-producing machine to have its mechanisms for neutralizing acidity and it has. The body has extremely powerful and efficient ways (called buffers) to maintain its homeostasis and pH.
So what’s the hype with alkaline diets?
Do we really have to get obsessed with becoming too acidic?
Research shows that 90% of the general population is far too acidic, which leads to a variety of negative health effects. Over time, being acidic is the main cause of degenerative diseases and aging. If you have an acidic body, you become energy-deprived, exhausted physically and mentally and you lose the radiance of skin and hair.
Unfortunately, most things we love to indulge in create acidity in our bodies - sugars, grains, cheese and yes, pizza. Vegetables, fruit, pure water and some herbs, on the other hand, are alkaline. But, c’mon, do you really believe you can survive on fruit, vegetables, and pure water? And never ever again even look towards cheese or Starbucks? Do not kid yourself - the body needs its proteins and carbs for maintenance and energy. But then, how are we to survive since our little indulgences are making us as sour as a lemon? i
The Truth About the pH Balance
Deviations of the blood plasma pH from its normal range of 7,35 - 7,45 by even 0,1 point in any direction are indeed very dangerous. These states are known as acidosis and alkalosis. They can be caused by metabolic disturbances such as diabetes, respiratory abnormalities or kidney failure.
There are also numerous other processes in the body that can lead to temporary imbalances. Hyperventilation, for example, leads to alkalosis as it excretes CO2, while hypoventilation causes acidosis as it retains the CO2. Vomiting, diarrhea, exercise - all of these can make us more acidic or alkaline. But the body will not allow that state to persist for long. If you’ve ever tried to hold your breath you will know this, as you most probably couldn’t hold it for long. That is because holding the breath causes accumulation of CO2 and H+ in the blood which makes the blood acidic.
Chemoreceptors in the aorta, carotid artery or medulla oblongata detect the increase of H+ in your blood and the brain’s answer is to make your resume breathing to normalize blood pH. There’s no arguing with those automatic, ingrained in the nervous system responses. They save our lives.
Our bodies are really smart and have many intelligent and sometimes intricate ways of maintaining the pH which gets disturbed only in cases of severe and advanced diseases and states.
These facts have been used by paleo adherents as a “proof” for their choice of eating. They insist that the blood buffer system will take care of the extra acidity, so you shouldn’t worry about eating as much meat as you like for example. This, they claim, it is a scientific fact. But when we take a closer look at our sophisticated body ecology, we’ll realize that this idea is not based on science at all. It is a myth. It is bunk science.
On the other hand, there are the vegans, the raw foodists, and the vegetarians who insist on eating more alkaline food to stay optimally healthy. Yet, many vegans and vegetarians are also too acidic and thus not so healthy.
As M.D., Ph.D. (Ayurveda) Medical Director of Jupiter Medical Center Scott Gershon explains “the concept that eating alkalizing foods and drinking “alkaline” water will make us more alkaline (understand - healthy) or neutralize our acidity has no scientific support. No food, drink or supplement can change the acidity of your stomach and actually you shouldn’t even think of doing so! Any food or drink that we ingest will get acidic in the stomach and then be neutralized in the small intestine by the strong pancreatic juice. Even Coca-Cola cannot change the acidity of your stomach or the bloodstream for long...”
Given the efficiency of our body’s buffering system, does it mean that alkalizing diets are also bunk science? Most probably. Dietary changes cannot change the pH of any body part except urine. In it, we can detect acidic or alkaline ash - a residue of the food we have eaten, but it has already exited our bodies, hasn’t it?
Following a wise, seasonal and balanced Ayurvedic diet is one simple way to keep your pH at an optimal level. Practicing yoga and meditation also balances your nervous system and thus helps buffer the usual stressors in life. Eat your veggies and spice them up as per your dosha or the season, but do not do it “to alkalize” yourself; do it because it is a better and more ethical way of eating.
Fruit and vegetables - if fresh and seasonable - are really the wiser choice as they are easier digestible, vitamin and fiber-rich and a good source of enzymes and water. If you follow Ayurveda’s simple wisdom, you will never have to worry about acidity, pH or any marketing hypes
So enjoy your meals, practice yoga, meditate, be smart and the best you can be!
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