A pH of 7.0 is considered the neutral tipping point between the two extremes of acidity (lower pH numbers) and base (higher pH numbers). Proponents of taking supplements to alkalize the body claim that maintaining an alkaline pH can help prolong your life and preserve your health.
Potassium bicarbonate is one of the alkalizing supplements backed by the widest body of clinical research. You can also purchase water with minerals added to make it alkaline or consume a diet (or supplements) rich in fruits and vegetables to sway your body toward an alkaline pH.
Why Use Alkaline Supplements?
In a 2012 issue of the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, researchers reviewed existing clinical evidence for background on the potential benefits of, and reasoning behind, an alkalizing diet.
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They note that the human body requires a tightly controlled blood serum pH level of about 7.4, and that because the contemporary human (presumably Western) diet is rich in saturated fat, simple sugars, sodium and chloride — as compared to earlier diets — and poor in magnesium, potassium and fiber, this may induce metabolic acidosis.
They also note that a diet with a high acid load — for example, a low-carbohydrate, high-protein regimen — doesn't change your blood chemistry much, but that it does cause many changes in your urinary chemistry. And of final note, the kidneys' ability to regulate acid/base balance slowly declines with age.
This is a subject of some controversy, as explained in a thoughtful review of data published in the April 2018 issue of Nutrients. The authors note that proponents of alkalizing supplements argue that an overly acidic body promotes bone loss to buffer those acid levels, while opponents maintain that if this were the case the body's bone minerals would be exhausted within just a few years.
Overall, the authors of the Nutrients review suggest that these disparate points of view can be synthesized by acknowledging that young people with healthy renal function are better able to manage the burden from a diet high in acid precursors, while older subjects with diminished renal function — and thus diminished ability to regulate their acid/base balance — could benefit from alkalizing therapies.
Read more: What Is Healthy Bone Mass?
Potential Benefits of Alkalizing Therapies
As a final note, although it's not the hottest topic of study, researchers are still examining whether an alkalizing diet can offer health benefits beyond preserving bone mass. In a study published in the March 2008 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that a diet rich in alkali-producing fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in potassium, may help preserve muscle mass in older adults.
However, not all health claims about alkalizing diets are necessarily true — or at least, many of them have yet to be convincingly confirmed. Of particular note, a systematic review published in a 2016 issue if the journal BMJ Open analyzed more than 250 abstracts and found only one study that met their criteria to analyze the relationship between alkalizing water supplements and cancer treatment.
Simply put, they found no proven link between an alkalizing diet or alkalizing water and cancer prevention or treatment.
Choosing Alkaline Supplements
If you do want to take alkaline pills or supplements to alkalize the body, which should you use? The Journal of Environmental and Public Health review notes that alkalizing potassium bicarbonate may help reduce bone loss in healthy older adults. Similarly, a high-sodium diet can contribute to metabolic acidosis, hypertension and osteoporosis; so reducing your sodium intake may be a simpler and cheaper way of helping your body alkalize.
The Mayo Clinic acknowledges common claims that drinking water with nutrients added to make it alkaline can neutralize acid in your bloodstream and alkalize your body — but they also note that these claims have yet to be scientifically verified. You can buy alkaline water in bottled form, or purchase mineral drops or powders that you add to your own water to make it more alkaline.
You can also modify your own pH by choosing alkaline foods — generally fruits and vegetables — or using nutritional supplements that are rich in fruits and vegetables for their alkalizing effect.
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Alkaline Diets Favor Lean Tissue Mass in Older Adults"
- Journal of Environmental and Public Health: "The Alkaline Diet: Is There Evidence That an Alkaline pH Diet Benefits Health?"
- Nutrients: "Acid Balance, Dietary Acid Load, and Bone Effects—A Controversial Subject"
- BMJ Open: "Systematic Review of the Association Between Dietary Acid Load, Alkaline Water and Cancer"
- Mayo Clinic: "Is Alkaline Water Better for You Than Plain Water?"