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Understanding The Hidden Dangers Of An Unbalanced pH: A Breakdown

Humans were created with very specific systems to maintain the body's overall survival. When it comes down to the human body and the regulation of the blood (and the pH of other bodily fluids) there are certain mechanisms and systems already in motion. These systems do anything and everything to make sure the acid in the body is regulated. Most conventional "experts" advise their patients to pay no attention to blood pH because typically, food cannot change the pH of blood as easily as most people may think. This information is slightly misleading and I will tell you why.

The built-in mechanism corrects your blood when you eat acidic foods. It pulls alkaline minerals from your bones and muscles to neutralize the acid and stabilize your body's overall pH. The purpose of the Alkaline Diet is to prevent your body from having to over-correct the disorderly irregulation. The more we introduce alkaline-forming foods into our diet, the less work the liver and kidneys have to do, thus allowing the body to effortlessly thrive. When this self-correcting mechanism is in overdrive it can cause loss of energy, vision loss, bone loss, muscle loss, and heart issues.

You may have heard the words, "Alkaline" or "pH" once or twice before--"pH" refers to the "potential hydrogen" in a substance, it is a measure of hydrogen ion concentration, and is a scale of acidity from 0-14, explaining how acidic or alkaline a substance is. pH less than 7 are acidic, while those with a pH greater than 7 are alkaline. The higher the pH, the more alkaline a substance will be. If a substance is not too acidic or too alkaline, it is considered to be "neutral", with a pH of 7. When a constituent is "alkaline", this just means it simply has the properties of an alkali; contains alkali; or has a pH of 7 or greater.

Why is pH important to the body? Well, if the blood pH does not remain at about 7.365, you will die. Alkali is a water-soluble base; it is a chemical compound that neutralizes acids.

Hydrogen is a chemical element with a symbol "H" and atomic number 1. It is the most abundant chemical in the universe. The most common form of hydrogen (H1) has one proton in the nucleus and one electron orbiting around it. Water, as we hopefully already know, is essential for all sustained life. Every single water molecule has two atoms of hydrogen for every one atom of oxygen. Hydrogen is also essential for DNA-- the helix structures are held together by hydrogen bonds. Without these bonds gluing the molecules arms together, there would be no double helix and then, no life.

I mention hydrogen because without it, we would not have water and without water we would not have life or the ability to understand pH in the first place. Water fuels 60% of the adult body and some living organisms are 90% water. According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, the lungs about 83% water, the skin 64%, muscles and kidneys 79%, and bones are 31% water! The average adult male needs around 3.3 liters of water per day, while the average adult female needs about 2.2 liters per day. (2) Water regulates our body temperature, it transports metabolized carbohydrates and proteins through the bloodstream, it assists the body in waste elimination (mostly through urination but is also vital for elimination of stool), it forms saliva, and it lubricates the joints. H2O is the baseline when discussing a substance and its pH. The pH level of water measures how acidic it is and naturally has a pH of 7.4. Drinking water with extracted mineral, eating acidic foods, and taking drugs can temporarily take the body out of balance. It is extremely important to understand the impact of hydrogen, water, and pH have on human organs and what it means to "balance your pH levels" or "alkalize your pH".

Two main medical conditions illustrating the overwhelming imbalance of acid and base in the blood are called acidosis and alkalosis. (3) Normal bodily functions and metabolism generate large quantities of acids that must be neutralized and/or eliminated to maintain blood pH balance. So, yes, it is possible to have "too much base." (pun intended) The lungs and kidneys are major organs involved in regulating blood pH. The lungs can either blow off excess acid through the exhalation of CO2 to compensate for metabolic acidosis, or to a lesser extent, hold on to acid through CO2 to compensate for metabolic alkalosis. When a person experiences acidosis, their blood pH falls below 7.35 and it can be caused by:

  1. Increased acid production in the body

  2. Increased excretion of base (alkali)

  3. Decreased acid production

  4. Consumption of substances that are metabolized to acids

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, alkalosis occurs when blood pH rises above 7.45 and this can be caused by:

  1. Electrolyte disturbance (vomiting until severely dehydrated)

  2. Hyperventilation

  3. Over-consumption of base (alkali)

Ultimately, any disease or condition affecting the lungs, kidneys, breathing, or metabolism has increased potential to cause acidosis or alkalosis. However, the imbalance can be reversed or restored by increasing elimination or by decreasing the flow. This leads me to my next topic of discussion--The misconception that different types of food can have an affect on the blood pH. Human blood is regulated by an acid-base homeostasis mechanism that ensures prevention of acidosis and alkalosis. Acid-base homeostasis is basically the process our bodies go through to maintain a constant pH level in the blood. When the lines of defense are tampered with by constituents or components of acidic or alkaline substances, malfunctions tend to occur. Acid-base homeostasis doesn't necessarily correct the pH but it merely serves to protect you in the case that your kidneys or lungs become overwhelmed with imbalance.

These three lines of defense are bicarbonate, protein, and phosphate buffer systems. Bicarbonate ion and carbon dioxide serve to support your metabolic function. (4) Protein hemoglobin serves as a super awesome buffer because it binds to small amounts of acid in the blood, assisting in acidic elimination before the blood pH is even affected. Isn't that amazing? Are you still with me? When the pH of the body becomes disrupted, the compensatory measures react to stabilize the acidic content. The most commonly addressed acidic imbalance is metabolic acidosis, in which the body accumulates too much acid. There are over 200,000 cases per year and it is temporary and curable within a few weeks. Risk factors of metabolic acidosis include:

There are several types of metabolic acidosis:

  1. Diabetic Acidosis (aka ketoacidosis), develops when acidic substances called "ketone bodies" build up during uncontrolled diabetes.

  2. Hyperchloremic Acidosis, caused by the loss of too much sodium bicarbonate, which can happen with diarrhea.

  3. Kidney disease (distal renal tubular acidosis and proximal renal tubular acidosis), associated with mutations in the basolateral sodium-bicarbonate cotransporter (NBCe1) and most commonly induced by drugs (6)

  4. Poisoning by aspirin, ethylene glycol (found in antifreeze), or methanol

  5. Severe dehydration

Lactic Acidosis, refers to the build-up of lactic acid. Lactic acid is mainly produced in muscle cells and red blood cells. It forms when the body breaks down carbohydrates to use for energy when oxygen levels are low. This can be caused by:

  1. Cancer

  2. Drinking too much alcohol

  3. Vigorous exercise over a prolonged period of time

  4. Liver failure

  5. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)

  6. Medications (salicylates/metformin)

  7. MELAS (very rare, genetic, mitochondrial disorder that affects energy production)

  8. Prolonged lack of oxygen from shock, heart failure, severe anemia

  9. Seizures

  10. Sepsis, a severe illness due to infection with bacteria or other germs

  11. Carbon monoxide poisoning

  12. Severe asthma

Respiratory acidosis, develops when there is too much carbon dioxide (an acid) in the body; it occurs when the body is unable to remove enough carbon dioxide through breathing. Causes include:

  1. Chest deformities (kyphosis)

  2. Chest injuries

  3. Chest muscle weakness

  4. Long-term chronic lung disease

  5. Neuromuscular disorders (muscular dystrophy)

  6. Overuse of sedative drugs (barbiturates, anti-anxiety, anti-depressants, zolpidem, eszopiclone, Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Valium, etc,.)

When discussing acidosis caused by diet, make sure to understand that it is about the acid/base changes caused by the components of the foods, not the food or beverages themselves. The body is subjected to excess acidic pressure by diet, beverages, drugs, and a disrupted metabolism. Primary sources of acidity in the common Western diets are sulfur-containing amino acids, salt, and phosphoric acids in soft drinks. Salt, (NaCl) is typically neutral in pH but research has shown it to account for 50% of the net acidity of the average American diet. (6) In more recent studies, research has shown dramatic clinical benefit throughout diet and alkalinizing supplements. (7) There are ways to combat this disruption-- A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, low in animal protein and sodium chloride actually has proven to reduce acid load and is associated with greater bone density. (8) (9) (10)

Acidic foods are more than likely to be devoid of all vital nutrients, super unhealthy, sugary foods, trans-fats, processed and refined foods; foods that contribute absolutely nothing beneficial to the human body. The standard Western diet consists of yeasts, sugars, trans-fats, fast-foods, pizzas, chips, and chocolate. As this damaging diet piles on top of those aforementioned buffering systems, the body goes into shock, trying to keep the blood pH and acidic level of other fluids at a slightly alkaline pH of 7.365. It is basically the buffering system's rescue attempt at maintaining acidic stability. Calcium is extracted from bones, magnesium is pulled from the muscle, the digestive system becomes overgrown with yeasts and other bacteria causing the intestines to become clogged, then leading to further health issues.

The summary is to eat alkaline foods to support your body's efforts to keep your pH at 7.365 so your organs do not shut down. Note that an alkaline diet is not aiming to change the blood pH, but to support in maintaining it because no matter what you do, your body is ALWAYS going to be slightly alkaline. If and when the blood pH falls out of it's normal range, then acidosis and alkalosis occur; both are extremely serious, can be fatal if left untreated, and are only escalated by disease. By continuing the vicious cycle of acidic food consumption, you give way to further organ damage. The alkalinizing food you eat helps maintain your health by preventing harmful disease so your body does not have to work so hard to neutralize the damage. No food will ever disrupt your blood pH level but extensive, fatal disease can. Acidic over-consumption over a prolonged period of time causes disease which has the potential to then affect your blood. Can you see the full circle here? The misconceptions with the claims behind the Alkaline Diet in terms of altering blood pH are inaccurate but the Alkaline Diet alone has been clinically proven to prevent disease because it is primarily built upon the foundation of consumption of whole and unprocessed foods.

The next time someone tries to tell you that you can change your blood pH with food, you will have some information stored for accurate feedback! For more information on acid-base balance, click here. If you are interested in tips for eliminating acidic foods, click here.

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