What is pH and Why Should I Care?
Dec 28, 2011 12:31PM
● By Sharon M. Weinstein
Does it really matter if our bodies are acid or alkaline? The pH level, or measurement of acid/alkaline balance, of our internal fluids affects every cell in our bodies. More than 76 trillion cells are in the human body, and an alkaline pH of bodily fluids is healthy for all of them. According to studies by Barry M. Brenner, M.D., alkaline is best. So, how do we maintain a balanced pH level for good health?
As the old computer adage goes—garbage in: garbage out. If you put acid into the human body, you get acid out (see Biomedx.com/Microscopes/RRIntro/RR7.html). Ideally, we need to be balanced, but that does not mean 50/50. The best level is 10 percent acid and 90 percent alkaline. If we are too acidic, we face what could be termed corrosion. Think of the way a battery looks when it is corroded. Over a long period of time, an imbalance of pH contributes to poor health and invasion by bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Because the yeast and fungi are feeding on our internal nutrients, fatigue, illness and body weight changes may result from acid-base imbalances. The “stress hormone” cortisol, a natural steroid, is released in the body during times of stress, along with the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, that instigate the “fight or flight” response to a perceived threat, including fatigue and illness.
There is confusion over whether or not eating acidic foods causes acidity—in the stomach, yes—but in the bloodstream—no. To clarify: foods are classified as acid-forming or alkalizing depending on the effect they have on the body. An acid-forming food contributes hydrogen ions to the body, making it more acidic. An alkalizing food removes hydrogen ions from the body, making it more alkaline. This is based on the effect foods have on the body after digestion, not on how they taste.
What exactly is pH?
pH (potential of hydrogen) is a rating system that indicates the acidity or alkalinity of a liquid. Every liquid has a pH value that falls on a scale between 0 and 14, with 7 being neutral. Acids have pH values under 7.0, and alkalis have pH values over 7.0. The body and each of the body fluids have a specific pH value. The blood, for example, has a more alkaline pH balance, averaging between 7.1 and 7.4.
Are you acidic?
Your pH may vary consistent with your personality, possible energy blocks (buildup of stressors in the mind and body), blood type, education, culture and the food that you eat each day. Fortunately, you can influence your pH numbers: for example, feelings and emotions affect pH. Hate lowers the pH to become more acidic; so does fear. Aggression makes the pH more alkaline, and so does meditation.
Where does imbalance come from?
Elements that can put our pH out of whack include too many acidifying foods (e.g. meat, fish, cheese, sausage); too much stress; inflammatory processes (arthritis, sprains/strains); allopathic drugs (prescription meds); not enough alkalinizing food (e.g. fruits, vegetables); and lack of exercise and fresh air.
We often associate acidosis with fear, anger, fever, stress and poor nutrition, but what does it look and feel like? Symptoms include insomnia, frequent sighing, fluid retention, migraine headaches and abnormally low blood pressure. What can we do about it? Get rest, expose yourself to fresh air and sunlight, relax and meditate.
Are you alkaline?
Alkalosis, or a blood too far to the alkaline side, is often the result of diarrhea, poor diet, high cholesterol or excess vomiting. Symptoms include drowsiness, asthma, edema (swelling) and hyperactivity. Intense emotions, acid-forming food and concentrated thinking help to alleviate these symptoms.
The challenge of osteoporosis
Here is a key point to this whole discussion: one of the reasons that higher acidic foods are detrimental to your health is because your body has to neutralize their effects by pulling the most readily available buffers it has—calcium citrate and calcium carbonate–and it gets these buffering agents from your bones. If your bones are losing calcium and if you were taller at age 19 than you are at 50, you are at risk of osteoporosis and hip fractures. Our Western diets also increase cortisol (a natural steroid in the body), leading to mild acidosis and increased risk of osteoporosis.
What can you do?
Keep the balance in check. Eat foods that appeal to you, but that are good for you. You can control your pH and help your body to do its best work. Claims for health benefits from alkaline water are often exaggerated; alkaline does not mean filtered. WebMD and Mayo Clinic both advocate tap water, if safe. Follow the steps to good health—choose your foods carefully and pay attention to how you feel, sleep and act. It is important to begin the journey to acid-base balance as soon as possible, because your body depends on it.
Sharon M. Weinstein, MS, RN, CRNI, FACW, FAAN, is a health and wellness educator, chief wellness officer of SMW Group LLC, and a Founding Member of Alphay (MyAlphay.com/SWeinstein). She is adjunct clinical professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago College of Nursing.