pH 101: Acid-Alkaline Balance & Your Health
You may have heard about pH or the acid-alkaline balance in your wellness travels. I was oblivious to this concept when I began my health journey. But my overall well-being changed when I started to connect the dots between pH balance, inflammation and what I was eating and drinking. I’ve covered this topic in all of my books, but I realize that I haven’t blogged about it for years. Since many of you are new readers (and some of ya could use a little reminder), I thought I’d tackle pH again today. Let’s dive in.
So what the heck is pH?
Remember high school science class? Well, if you don’t, here’s a little refresher course: The body maintains a delicate acid-alkaline balance. Everything from healthy cells to cancer cells to soil quality and ocean life is affected by pH. The term pH stands for “potential hydrogen” which is the measure of hydrogen ions in a particular solution (don’t worry if you’re not science-savvy, I’ll make this easy to understand!). In our case, that “solution” refers to our body’s fluids and tissues.
The pH scale measures how acidic or alkaline a substance is and ranges from 0 to 14. Seven is neutral. Below 7 becomes increasingly acidic, above 7 increasingly alkaline.
As with most health-related barometers, balance is everything. Proper pH varies throughout your body for many reasons. For example, your bowels, skin and vagina should be slightly acidic–this helps keep unfriendly bacteria away. Saliva is more alkaline, while your urine is normally more acidic, especially in the morning. In addition, your body regularly deals with naturally occurring acids that are the by-products of respiration, metabolism, cellular breakdown and exercise. So clearly the goal is not to think of acid as “bad” and alkaline “good.” Again, it’s a delicate balance.
By far the most important measurement is your blood. For optimal cellular health, your blood pH must be slightly alkaline with a pH between 7.365 and 7.45. Our bodies are programmed to maintain this range no matter what, since even the slightest dip or rise in pH can have seriously dangerous consequences. Now here’s the possible problem: The Standard American Diet (SAD) is rife with acidic substances and foods—meat, dairy, highly processed food products and refined sugar. Environmental toxins can be acidic, too, and sadly, those are pretty dang hard to avoid.
Some research claims our bodies can self-correct in the presence of such acidic materials with no negative health impact—but other studies suggests our bods have to work harder to neutralize the acidic load, resulting in a gradual decline in health. The jury’s still out and further research is needed, but we do know that high acid diets are associated with gout and kidney stones, so it seems likely there’s something to the whole pH and food connection. To that I say, why not tip the scales in the alkaline direction?
The Relationship Between pH & Your Health
Think of the standard American diet (SAD). Most folks are shovelin’ in the acid multiple times per day with tons of sugar, processed foods, factory farmed animal products, etc. One of the biggest pitfalls of the SAD is the toll it takes on the body, especially the digestive system, liver, and kidneys. Inflammation, allergies, arthritis, skin problems, constipation, bowel issues, stress (physical & mental) and chronic disease LOVE this diet. Excess acidity also sets the stage for bad bacteria (like yeast and fungus) and even viruses that wreak havoc on our health.
We can potentially tilt the pH scale in the alkaline direction with a diet filled with mineral-rich plant foods. By eating a more alkaline diet (leafy greens, wheatgrass, veggies, sprouts, avocados, green juices and smoothies) as opposed to an acidic diet (high in animal products, processed carbs, refined sugar, energy drinks, etc), we flood our bodies with alkalinity, vitamins and other nutrients. Healthy food creates healthy cells. Conversely, junk goes in and junk comes out.
Look at your plate, peek in your glass. What direction are you moving in? On the pH scale, Soda = 2. Coffee = 4. Cucumber = 7. Get the picture? Burger, fries, diet cola, muffin, candy bar? Acid bath. Green drinks, salads, sprouts? Alkaline bonanza! Your goal is to make more energy deposits than withdrawals. Do you have to be perfect? NO. And it’s not even possible to eat a 100 percent alkaline diet and maintain good health anyway. Foods like beans, grains and nuts are overall quite healthy and essential to a plant-powered diet—yet they’re also slightly acidic. It’s the highly acidic foods we need to be careful about (but no one’s saying don’t have cake on your birthday. Please do.). Again, your goal is to fill your well more than you deplete it. Our bodies forgive the detours and exploration, as long as they don’t take place 24-7.
Testing Your pH
You may be tempted to start testing your pH like a mad woman to make sure you’re on track, but it’s really not necessary. I tested my tinkle a lot when I first learned about pH, but these days I’m comfortable skipping the strips, knowing that I’m doing what I can to contribute to my pH balance with the three diet and lifestyle practices below.
But if you’re still curious, you can test your urine at home with litmus paper strips (available online for about $10). Keep in mind that the pH of urine always varies, depending on what you eat and when, and that you should test your second urine of the day for the best snapshot of what’s going on inside.
Testing your urine can show you how well your body is excreting acids and assimilating minerals. For optimum sparkle, your urine should fall in the 6.8 to 7.5 pH range.
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Top 3 Ways to Support pH Balance
1. Start your day with a tall glass of lemon water and stay hydrated.
While lemons are acidic in their natural form, lemon water is alkaline-forming in the body. Drench your cells in alkalinity each morning with two cups of lukewarm, filtered water with ¼ fresh-squeezed lemon. Yes, there are fancy (and expensive) water ionizers out there, but you can also alkalize your water by simply adding lemon.
2. Eat more raw foods and drink green juices and smoothies.
Organic green juice, green juice, green juice and green smoothies! As mentioned above, leafy greens, wheatgrass, veggies, sprouts, certain fruits, nuts and seeds, certain grains and seaweeds flood our bodies with vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll and phytonutrients—and alkalinity. Unhealthy cells (like cancer cells) or viruses, bacteria and other nasty microorganisms hate oxygen. They prefer an acidic diet high in animal products, processed and refined foods, and synthetic chemicals.
3. Exercise, manage stress, sleep better and avoid nasty chemicals and cigs.
It’s not just diet that affects your pH. Lack of exercise and an overage of anger, drugs, cigs and stress can create inflammation and acidity in the body. Stress isn’t a laughing matter or a badge of courage. The work-hard, play-hard, deal-with-it-later approach is a big pH no-no. Emotional stress releases acid-forming hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that flood your system and muck up your soil. Whether it’s through more yoga, cat naps, meditation, breathing exercises, strolls in the woods or stress management counseling, reducing the negativity in your day-to-day is a powerful way to improve your cellular health.
Alkaline vs. Acidic Foods
How do we know if a food is alkaline or acidic, and by how much? The most common method is to incinerate a sample of the food and analyze the mineral content of the ash. Not something you can do with a chemistry set from Toys “R” Us. At any rate, if the ash is high in alkaline minerals, the food will probably have an alkalizing effect. That’s the theory, anyway. Because lab results and experts often disagree, the many books and Web sites that give alkaline and acidic food charts also disagree. Usually the disagreement is minor. In some cases, though, it’s much bigger.
Whether a food is mildly alkalizing or mildly acidifying doesn’t really matter very much. There are definitely shades of gray. What’s far more important is to understand what’s highly acidic and thus also inflammatory in order to make better choices. And I’ve added some resources to help you do just that.
More pH Reading:
- The Ultimate pH Solution by Michelle Schoffro-Cook
- The Acid-Akaline Diet for Optimum Health by Christopher Vasey
- Crazy Sexy Diet by moi
Just to name a few! You can also find many charts online.
Peace & peppy pH,