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 and wellness 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.
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 ranges from 0 to 14 and is meant to measure how acidic or alkaline a substance is. Seven is neutral. Below 7 becomes increasingly acidic, above 7 increasingly alkaline.
What Do Balanced pH Levels Look Like?
As with most health-related barometers, a healthy pH balance is everything. Proper pH balance 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 as “good.” Again, the body’s pH levels are a delicate balance.
By far the most important measurement is your blood. For optimal cellular health, your blood pH level 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.
Can the Human Body Restore pH Balance on its Own?
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 peer-reviewed studies suggest 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, kidney stones, and other health conditions, 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?
How to Measure pH Balance
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, the normal pH level in your urine should fall in the 6.8 to 7.5 pH range.
What Causes a pH Imbalance?
Think about the acidic 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. What else can wreak havoc on pH levels?
Constant stress leads to the secretion of stress hormones, which can lead to chronic inflammation and an acidic environment.
When you’re stressed, do you breathe quickly? Rapid and shallow breathing—taking in oxygen too quickly—can lead to acidity.
Exposure to environmental toxins (heavy metals, pollutants, hormones, chemicals in food and plastics, beauty products, unclean tap water, etc.) can wreak havoc on your pH balance.
Infections also lead to an acidic environment which impacts your immune system, increasing the likelihood of continued illness. Secondly, over-the-counter medications can alter your microbiome and allow bad bacteria to thrive, which can negatively impact pH levels.
If you have a medical condition (like diabetes) it may lead to a higher pH level. If you have a diagnosed medical condition, check with your doctor to help determine your next steps.
Symptoms of a pH Imbalance
These are just a few of the symptoms you might exhibit as acid levels (or alkaline levels) increase.
- Skin problems
- Bowel issues
- Vaginal infections
Vaginal pH Balance
Good bacteria work to keep your vaginal pH balanced. For example, Lactobacilli bacteria live in the vagina and secrete lactic acid (which is what makes your vagina acidic). When vaginal pH levels are out of whack, it can lead to numerous infections:
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
- Yeast infections
- Atrophic vaginitis
- Urinary tract infections
Unbalanced vaginal pH levels can allow harmful bacteria to kill good bacteria, leading to these common infections. Vaginal health is important to your overall health, and restoring ph balance should positively impact your lady parts, too!
Think you have a vaginal imbalance?
- Vaginal discharge that is a cottage cheese consistency could be a yeast infection
- A foul-smelling vaginal discharge that isn’t clear or off-white might indicate bacterial vaginosis
- If you’re experiencing burning or see blood in your pee, you might have a UTI.
Women’s health is important to me (obviously!) and a healthy vagina is important to overall wellness. See your doc if you’re experiencing any uncomfortable symptoms and they may prescribe something to help balance your ph levels.