By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
It used to be a snake-oil concept, and, for conventional doctors, it pretty much still is. But alternative doctors are increasingly coming to regard your blood’s pH level—a measure of its acidity or alkalinity—as an important indicator of health. I find this subject fascinating, and something we all need to give more attention to, especially since we can exercise some control over it by watching what we eat.
How pH Affects Your Health
We know that the more acidic the blood, the more compromised the body becomes. If pH slips too far to the acidic side—a condition referred to as acidosis—cells can develop a toxic overload and become debilitated. Acute acidosis can be caused by certain diseases, such as diabetes, but we all experience a low level of general metabolic acidosis.
The cells that make up your body are naturally alkaline, but they secrete acidic waste as a byproduct of using energy (metabolism). In people with a healthy pH balance, the body uses alkaline nutrients—such as calcium—to detoxify this waste before it can build up and damage the cells. Problems can develop when those alkaline materials are in short supply.
Our bodies function optimally when the blood pH is in a very narrow range of 7.35 to 7.45. When your blood moves out of this range, your body attempts to correct the imbalance by tapping its stores of neutralizing nutrients. Unfortunately, those nutrients are often taken from sources where they’re needed for other, equally important tasks.
Your bones, for example, are especially susceptible to drops in pH level because they are rich in calcium. In an acidic environment, bone tissue dissolves into some of its basic mineral constituents (alkaline salts), which are used as neutralizing agents. This process not only destroys the bone, but it inhibits any attempts by your body to rebuild it. Some experts consider acidosis to be the true cause of osteoporosis.
As the body becomes even more acidic, immunity and energy levels also suffer, and the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—the body’s basic cellular fuel—is impaired. Collectively, these effects make you more vulnerable to illness and age-related disorders.
Balance Through Diet
Although there have been no controlled studies on whether an alkaline diet can help heal acidosis-related health problems, the foods we eat can certainly have a major influence on our pH level—and that’s a big problem for most Americans. Our typical diet, which is loaded with animal protein, dairy, sugar (soda, cakes, and cookies), salt, wheat, teas, and coffee, set the stage perfectly for chronic, low-level acidosis. In fact, the acidic nature of the Western diet could be yet another reason for the high level of chronic illness in our society.
Cornell University nutritionist T. Colin Campbell, PhD, co-author of The China Study (BenBella Books, 2005), says that people who eat the most plant-based foods are the healthiest and tend to avoid chronic disease. This conclusion was reached after 20 years of studying the association between disease and dietary factors in rural China and Taiwan, the most comprehensive study of health and nutrition ever conducted.
Other experts have said the same thing. Patrick Quillin, PhD, former director of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and author of Beating Cancer with Nutrition(Nutrition Times Press, 2005), says that “many Americans have an acidic blood due to poor diet of meat and sugar, toxins, stress, and chronic infections that generate lactic acid.”
Dana Flavin, MD, a Connecticut physician and former toxicology researcher with the FDA, points out that fungal infections create a major release of hydrogen in the body, contributing to an acidic pH. She also notes that an acidic imbalance causes essential minerals to be leached out of the body— including potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium. While working for many years in integrative medicine in Europe, Dr. Flavin observed that “tumors grow like weeds in acid. They love acid. That is why we tried to alkalinize cancer patients and bring their urine pH level up above 6.5. They respond better to any therapy as a result.”
Now, most people won’t entirely give up their favorite acid-producing foods, but one way to maintain a health pH is to eat fewer of them—and to eat more alkalinizing foods, most notably vegetables, but also fruit, nuts, and legumes. In one British study involving 22,000 men and women, eating more fruits and vegetables, and less meat, resulted in more alkaline urine. The best foods for increasing the body’s pH level are cucumbers, avocados, green pepper, artichokes, and asparagus. I believe that anyone with heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, must add more of these foods to their diet. Another approach to consider is green drinks. I’ve been a longtime fan of green drinks to build chlorophyll, oxygenate the blood, and swing the pH in an alkaline direction.
Test Your pH Level at Home
Research has started to validate the use of urine pH as an indicator of the dietary acid-alkaline load. You can buy pH test strips at the pharmacy and check your urine pH level at home. If you find that your level is too acidic, diet modifications are in order. You may also want to try taking 1/2 to 1 teaspoon a day of baking soda with a glass of water. (Baking soda is highly alkaline.)
“pH Balance Is Another Reason to Watch Your Diet” originally appeared in the March 2008 issue of Dr. Sinatra’s monthly written newsletter, Heart, Health & Nutrition. HMDI has reprinted this article with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC (© 2008 Healthy Directions, LLC).
- Brown SE, Jaffe R. Acid-alkaline balance and its effect on bone health. Int J Integr Med.2000;2(6):7-15.
- Welch AA, et al. Urine pH is an indicator of dietary acid-base load, fruit and vegetables and meat intakes: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Norfolk population study. Br J Nutr.2007 Nov; published online.