You’ve made your grocery selections, the cart is full, and you’re walking the final stretch to the cash register. Small impulse purchases begin taunting you! Single serving beverage products line the long refrigerator, which probably looks something like this…
Should it really be this hard to decide on a water purchase? On a recent trip to the grocery store, I was astounded by the variety of claims being made by seemingly identical water products.
Marketing claims like artesian, distilled, electrolyte-enhanced, and vitamin-enhanced lead you to believe that some water is healthier than others? The newcomer, alkaline water, promises to balance out the acidity in your body, help neutralize free radicals, and protect against osteoporosis. But is there any science that backs up these claims?
Water is essential— but does the type of water you drink matter?
The human body can only survive 3 days without water, but new scientific studies have shown that the traditional recommendation of “8 servings of 8 ounces of water per day” is actually unsubstantiated.
Some nutritionists advise that you should aim to consume roughly half an ounce to one ounce of water per pound of body weight— but this can vary depending on the individual and lifestyle choices.
Acidity versus Alkaline
Whether a substance is considered alkaline or acidic is determined by the pH, or potential Hydrogen, level. The pH scale ranges from 0-14, with 1.0 being the highest level of acidity and 14.0 being the highest level of alkalinity.
Water typically has a pH of around 7 (neutral). Anything below 7 has more hydrogen ions than hydroxide ions and therefore is categorized as acidic. Anything above 7 has a higher concentration of hydroxide ions and is considered alkaline.
Acidic environments in the human body are frequently labeled pressure-cookers for cancer. It is believed that acidity can encourage the growth and spreading of cancerous cells. Alternatively, it is believed that alkaline environments are able to neutralize free radicals.
How does water become alkaline?
Alkaline water is water that contains alkalizing compounds. These compounds include calcium, potassium, magnesium, and bicarbonate that help neutralize acidic environments.
To combat the alleged threats for acidic environments, companies like Essentia market their drinking water with an alkaline pH of 9.5, maintaining this can help to balance out the acidity in your body and help keep you healthy. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how it works…
We do not know if alkaline water neutralizes free radicals
The premise behind alkaline water health claims is that it acts as a free radical scavenger and absorbs free radicals that damage DNA. The scavenger is the enemy of free radicals.
Free radical scavengers function by using two different methods: enzymatic reactions, which work by breaking down and removing free radical compounds, and non-enzymatic reactions, which work by interfering with the free radical chain reaction. Unfortunately, there is no scientific research that indicates components of alkaline water are capable of neutralizing free radicals.
Alkaline Water versus Your Body’s pH Levels
The pH of your blood is 7.4, the pH of your stomach is 2.0-3.5, and the pH of your body’s urine varies.
Many alkaline water and diet devotees maintain an alkaline body by measuring the pH of their urine. But this can change rather frequently and depends on the supplements you take, the food you eat, and the beverages you drink.
If you are dehydrated your urine will have a more acidic pH, typically between 6.0-7.0. But as you drink water and other liquids through the day, your urine tends to become more alkaline, usually between 7.0-8.0 pH. So while drinking alkaline water might make a marginal difference on the pH of your urine, there are a lot of different influencers at play.
Unlike your urine, however, stomach and blood must maintain their pH levels in order for you to stay alive! Your stomach may fluctuate slightly depending on the foods you eat but will always remain more acidic than alkaline and your blood must remain at 7.4 pH.
Urine is not believed to be a good indicator of your body’s pH because your urine actually eliminates waste to maintain your body’s homeostasis.
Your body is already equipped with detoxification mechanisms
As we discussed in “Nix the Toxins,” your liver and kidneys function to detoxify your body if you are maintaining a balanced diet and have a fairly active lifestyle. If you are debating over a “healthier” water choice, we are willing to bet you are a healthy person already.
So, while it is reasonable to be concerned about what is in your water— don’t stress the pH level. Your body is fully equipped to deal with any acidity potentially created by your diet.
“Because blood circulates throughout the body constantly, it can compensate for any changes in pH in any of our organs. Carbon dioxide (CO2), a product of the cellular activity, is the most prevalent acid in our body. The blood carries CO2 away and eliminates it in the lungs. The lungs are actually the body’s major acid eliminator while our kidneys provide secondary pH protection eliminating acid in the urine albeit more slowly than the lungs.”
(Source: Science-based Pharmacy)
The Osteoporosis Argument
In addition to the misunderstood “cancer-fighting qualities” of alkaline water, there is also the belief that drinking alkaline water helps prevent osteoporosis.
When your body needs to neutralize acidity, your bones release calcium in order to create a neutral environment. In this case, it is argued that over a long period of time, if your bones are continuously excreting calcium, they will inevitably be weakened resulting in osteoporosis.
While this very basic premise does have some truth to it, scientific research indicates that although your bones typically release calcium in order to protect itself, your bones will replenish the calcium if you are supporting them through a healthy diet. Your diet should include high vegetable content, healthy sources of protein, and calcium in order to protect bone health.
Filtered water is more important than alkaline water
Filtered water helps remove any contaminants that may be present in tap water and ultimately wearing on your body. Remember, you don’t always know where your water is coming from. Water filters will filter any elements that may be present in tap water. These can include iron, zinc, lead, chloride, and more.