Your health and wellbeing depend largely on your body's pH balance. Alkaline foods and beverages can help restore this delicate balance by neutralizing acidity. Herbal teas appear to be particularly beneficial.
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The Importance of pH Balance
Nutritionists and other medical experts emphasize the importance of maintaining a healthy pH balance. According to a September 2014 review in BioMed Research International, an abnormal pH promotes the onset of certain diseases and may affect organ function. It can also diminish physical performance and contribute to the development of metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and insulin sensitivity.
When the body's pH is out of balance, your cells and organs cannot function properly. Your bodily fluids can become acidic, which in turn, may affect insulin sensitivity, glucose metabolism, muscle repair and other biochemical processes. As the researchers point out, normal blood pH is 7.4. Even a small decrease, such as 0.05 units, may result in acidosis.
Metabolic acidosis, for example, is characterized by excess acid in the body, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Diabetic acidosis, which tends to occur in people with uncontrolled diabetes, results from ketone buildup in the blood and urine. Its symptoms include muscle aches, fruity-smelling breath, rapid breathing, excessive thirst and headaches. If left unaddressed, it may lead to kidney failure, cardiac arrest and even death.
A pH above 7.4 may result in alkalosis. This condition causes nausea and vomiting, hand tremors, confusion, numbness in the limbs and muscle twitching. Without adequate treatment, it can affect your electrolyte balance and heart function.
Both alkalosis and acidosis result from abnormal blood pH levels. This imbalance typically results from an underlying disorder, points out the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC). Therefore, it's important to consult a doctor who can identify the root cause of your symptoms and prescribe appropriate treatment.
Alkaline Foods: Healthy or Hype?
Alternative medicine practitioners often recommend alkaline-forming foods to restore the body's pH balance. An alkaline diet includes most fruits and veggies as well as nuts, seeds and some herbs. Animal foods, alcohol, coffee, sugar, legumes and grains are considered acid-forming.
Clinical evidence doesn't support these claims, though. As the American Society for Nutrition points out, there's no proof that acidic-forming foods affect the body's pH balance and contribute to diseases. However, some foods, especially fruits and vegetables, have been proven beneficial in the treatment of chronic kidney disease and other illnesses caused by acid buildup, among other factors.
Furthermore, the American Dental Association states that acidic beverages, such as sports drinks, fruit juices and sugar-sweetened beverages in general, cause dental erosion and tooth decay. For example, popular drinks like Nestea Iced Tea, Snapple Peach Tea and Lipton Green Tea with Citrus are considered extremely erosive. Milo's Famous Sweet Tea, by contrast, is minimally erosive.
A July 2016 cohort study published in the Journal of Nutrition identified a link between dietary acid load and mortality. Subjects who followed an acid-base balanced diet — or an alkaline diet — had the lowest mortality rates. Diets characterized by excess acidity or alkalinity have been shown to increase the risk of death from all causes, especially heart disease.
Alkaline Herbal Teas Can Help
The above findings show that certain foods and drinks may reduce acidic load and help maintain the body's pH balance. Most herbal teas are alkaline and have a high pH value, according to a June 2010 study featured in Oral Health and Dental Management, a comprehensive review on this topic. Researchers compared several Turkish tea brands and concluded that herbal teas are significantly less acidic than fruit teas. The pH level of tea depends largely on steeping time.
Fennel tea, for example, has a pH of 6.7 to 7.1, depending on how long it's steeped. Longer steeping times result in a lower pH. The pH of mint tea ranges between 6.6 and 7.2, while chamomile tea has a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. Sage tea has a pH of 6.4 to 7.2. Nettle, sage and linden tea have similar pH values.
Fruit teas, by comparison, have a pH of 2.7 to 3.4, depending on composition and steeping time. The study authors recommend drinking water after consuming fruit teas to increase salivary pH and prevent dental erosion.
Another study, published in the January-March 2014 edition of RGO - Revista Gaúcha de Odontologia, analyzed 18 commercial teas on the Brazilian market. Scientists found that yerba mate and brewed teas, including black tea, lemongrass tea, chamomile tea and green tea, had the highest pH values. Therefore, these tea varieties can be considered alkaline and are unlikely to damage the tooth enamel. The lowest pH values were associated with ready-to-drink teas.
Based on the current evidence, it's hard to tell whether or not alkaline diets are nutritionally sound. However, most studies suggest that alkaline tea, fruits and vegetables may help maintain the body's pH levels within a normal range.
Read more: List of Non-Acidic Fruits and Vegetables
Furthermore, herbal teas and alkaline-forming foods, in general, are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that support optimal health. Chamomile tea, for example, contains phytochemicals that scavenge oxidative stress, fight inflammation and may protect against cancer, liver disease and diabetes. It also helps soothe the stomach and may relieve heartburn.
- BioMed Research International: "Importance of pH Homeostasis in Metabolic Health and Diseases: Crucial Role of Membrane Proton Transport"
- Medline Plus: "Acidosis"
- Medline Plus: "Diabetic Ketoacidosis"
- Medline Plus: "Alkalosis"
- American Association for Clinical Chemistry: "Acidosis and Alkalosis"
- American Society for Nutrition: "Alkaline Diets and Kidney Disease"
- American Dental Association: "The pH of Beverages in the United States"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Modest U-Shaped Association Between Dietary Acid Load and Risk of All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality in Adults"
- Oral Health and Dental Management: "The pH and Neutralisable Acidity of the Most-Consumed Turkish Fruit and Herbal Teas"
- RGO - Revista Gaúcha de Odontologia: "Evaluation of the pH and Titratable Acidity of Teas Commercially Available in Brazilian Market"
- NCBI: "A Systematic Review Study of Therapeutic Effects of Matricaria Recuitta Chamomile (Chamomile)"
- Harvard.edu: "Herbal Remedies for Heartburn"