Have you been searching for a diet that can promote your overall wellness? The overly simplistic acid-alkaline theory of disease essentially maintains that excess acid accumulation in the body causes many diseases. While the advantages of an alkaline (high pH) diet is controversial, and researchers agree that further studies to explore its exact effects are warranted, a growing body of evidence indicates that it promotes cellular health and contributes to the prevention of certain diseases. Especially if you suffer from chronic pain, experimenting with this type of diet for six months could be beneficial.
The Role of pH in the Body
pH (the “power of hydrogen”) is a measure of the hydrogen ion concentration in solution. The pH scale ranges from 1-14, where a pH of 7 is neutral, below 7 is acidic, and above 7 is alkaline/base. To survive, the body requires and thus maintains through the lungs and kidneys, a tightly controlled slightly alkaline ~7.4 pH level in blood serum, including that in the veins and arteries. The natural level and function of pH in the body’s cells and organs, however, vary considerably: Skin [4-6.5 – protects from harmful microbes (bacteria/parasites/fungi/viruses)]; Urine (4.6-8.0 – limits microbe overgrowth); Stomach (1.35-3.5 – assists digestion; protects against microbes); Bile (7.6-8.8 – neutralizes stomach acid; aids in digestion); Vaginal Fluid (less than 4.7 – limits microbe overgrowth); Cerebrospinal Fluid (7.3 – protects the brain exterior); Intracellular Fluid (6.0-7.2 – balances acid production in cells). Cells that are more alkaline have a greater ability to detoxify and therefore maintain a higher energy potential.
~ The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (3rd Ed.), Michael T. Murray, ND, and Joseph Pizzorno, ND (2012)
Increased acid production, the loss of bicarbonate, and/or a reduced ability of the kidneys to excrete excess acids, can cause metabolic acidosis, the presence of excess acid in body fluids. The inability of overtaxed kidneys to detoxify excess acid can cause various symptoms including fatigue, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and breathing difficulty, and the health conditions discussed below. Doctors diagnose this condition with various blood tests, including an arterial blood gas (ABG; determines blood pH and the lungs’ ability to move oxygen into, and remove carbon dioxide from, the blood), and a basic metabolic panel (checks pH balance and kidney function). First morning urine testing can also indicate metabolic status. Healthy after-rest urinary pH, which increases proportionately with the increased consumption of alkalizing foods, ranges from 6.5-7.5.
Food pH & PRAL
Whether a food has an alkalizing effect on the body (the pH of the metabolic end product of the food), rather than whether it is acidic in its original state, determines its impact on overall wellness. This so-called Potential Renal Acid Load (PRAL) is assigned to 100g (3.5 oz) of every food, and the PRAL of a food portion is determined by multiplying PRAL by the total weight of the food consumed. A high/positive PRAL indicates that the food produces more acid, while a low/negative PRAL reflects an alkalizing effect. The amounts of five nutrients in foods determine their PRAL calculations. Protein and phosphorus are acid-inducing during metabolism, while potassium, magnesium and calcium contribute to an alkaline environment.
Research to date supports the viewpoint that high-PRAL foods are more taxing on the kidneys (and thus on the body overall), in that they require them to work harder to excrete the acid produced in order to maintain acid-base balance. The simplest dietary guideline is to eat less acid-producing foods and the right kind of protein in the right portions (no more than 6oz of high-PRAL protein at a single meal). Thus, it is ideal to consume: (1) low amounts of high-PRAL beef, poultry, fish, shellfish, dairy, some grains, and all forms of sugar, (2) higher amounts of neutral water and raw, unprocessed oils, low-PRAL vegetables, fruits, nuts, certain beans, and Celtic/Himalayan salts (in moderate amounts), and moderate PRAL lentils, eggs, and unprocessed soy (preferably organic). The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and Mediterranean diets follow these guidelines. For those who wish to fashion their own low-PRAL diets, the website alkascore.com can simplify the process.
The Impact of a High PRAL Diet on Health
Research to date has established that high-PRAL diets cause low-grade metabolic acidosis in the body, which not only reduces the body’s ability to combat and remove toxins, but also compromises cellular energy production. Metabolic acidosis is thus associated with the development of multiple metabolic alterations, including increased inflammation and pain, insulin resistance, diabetes, hypertension and other cardiovascular conditions, chronic kidney disease, bone disorders, low muscle mass, and excess cortisol production.
High acidity and certain diet components are well-known factors associated with increased risk of cancer. No studies to date establish a direct link between diet-induced acidosis and cancer. However, some researchers have found that acidosis may indirectly promote carcinogenesis, tumor progression, and metastasis at the cellular level, in concert with other factors that increase the risk for cancer, including obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Dietary Supplements That Protect Against Acidosis
Certain nutrients can help promote body alkalinity. Electrolytes (especially magnesium and potassium) added to water, or a multimineral supplement, can increase both blood and urine pH. Super greens/fruit powder supplementation is an easy way to provide the body with concentrated amounts of low-PRAL foods. While sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is a well-known means of addressing metabolic acidosis, it should not be consumed for more than two weeks. Although research addressing the impact of essential fatty acids on metabolic acidosis is limited, it appears that consuming a healthy balance of neutral pH/PRAL, anti-inflammatory fish, flax, hemp and other oils, including as dietary supplements, would be beneficial.
The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, are for educational purposes only and are not intended to take the place of a physician’s advice.
Submitted by Erika Dworkin, Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition®, Owner of the Manchester Parkade Health Shoppe (860.646.8178), 378 Middle Turnpike West, Manchester, CT, www.cthealthshop.com, nutrition specialists trusted since 1956. Erika is available for consultation and to speak to groups, including on Zoom.
All statements in this article are practice- or scientific evidence-based and references are available upon request.