Acid-Alkaline Balance – What’s it all about!

Our body is constantly working at creating a balanced environment, a state of homeostasis. To maintain good health, one of the most important health measures is our body’s pH balance. Life on earth requires a delicate balance of pH in order to survive.  Human life needs a pH blood level between 7.35 – 7.45, a well-controlled slightly alkaline balance.  As a comparison plants require a soil pH of 6 - 7 in order to contain optimal mineral content.

(1)   The gardeners out there will understand that their soils may require particular nutrients or minerals for their plants to thrive.  For instance acidic soils below 6 may require the addition of lime to increase the pH whereas sulphur or compost may be used to lower the pH.   Our bodies are like the soils.  We need the right amount of vitamins and minerals to operate at an optimum level. Our diets have changed considerably from the hunter gatherer times.  The agricultural revolution along with industrialisation has created shifts in our food plans resulting in reduced fibre, higher intakes of saturated fats and an increase in processed simple sugars.  This type of diet can lead to our bodies being more acidic, increasing the risk of disease. The pH in our body varies considerably from region to region.  For instance our stomachs are very acidic.  This aids digestion and fends off any unwanted microbial organisms.   Our skin too is also quite acidic, being the first line of defence against pathogens.  Our blood is always slightly alkaline.  It is the blood’s pH that is tightly regulated to sustain life and avoid injury to our organs and tissues.  The body's balance between acidity and alkalinity is our acid-base balance and mechanisms involving  the lungs, kidneys and buffering systems keep our body’s acid-base in balance.

(2) The Buffering System Our body’s metabolism produces acidic products that lower the pH of the body fluids. For example, protein metabolism produces phosphoric and sulfuric acids.  When we metabolise fats, we produce fatty acids.  Intense aerobic exercise produces lactic acid.  These acidic substances must continuously be eliminated from the body to maintain pH homeostasis.  The buffering system basically works like this.  When we digest foods such as proteins for instance, our bodies produce biocarbonate ions to buffer the acids.  Through the process of excretion, our kidneys produce new biocarbonate ions, which are sent back to the blood to replace the deficit of ions used up in buffering the acids. This cycle minimises changes to our blood pH. (3)  Our urine, on the other hand, has a variable pH from acid to alkaline depending on our internal requirements and is influenced by the foods we ingest. 

(1) Acid-Base Balance and our Health What happens if the acid load is too high?  The body cannot produce enough biocarbonate ions to keep up. When the buffering systems are overloaded, through a high intake of nutrient poor foods, a situation where chronic or latent acidosis can exist.  This low grade, diet induced acidosis can lead to compromised health and disease. Chronic, mild metabolic acidosis can have detrimental effects on the following: (4)

  1. Hypertension
  2. Insulin resistance leading to Diabetes type 2.
  3. Pain channels and increases intensity of pain sensation
  4. Connective tissue - negative effect on elasticity of cartilage, tendons and ligaments
  5. Bone health - decreased bone density leading to Osteoporosis .
  6. Reduced muscle mass – accelerated breakdown of skeletal muscle
  7. Arthritis
  8. Cell function, changes to pH and brain function - In the case of Alzheimers, protein deposits in the brain are extremely affected by pH.
  9. Cancer cells produce an acidic microenvironment affecting adjacent tissue and possible promotion of tumour growth and invasion.

Can an Alkaline Diet really help us? It is the mineral content in our foods that is the main alkalising marker and contributing factor to the maintenance of our acid base balance. (4)  The foods we eat can be categorised by their acid load on the body.   Each food has a pH scale or PRAL value, meaning ‘Potential Renal Acid Load’.   With the PRAL food list values, the lower the number the more alkaline, the higher the number the more acidic with zero being neutral.   As a general rule foods can be grouped into the following categories:-

  • Acidic:Meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, grains, alcohol, cocao
  • Neutral: Tap and spring water, natural fats, starches
  • Alkaline: Fruits, nuts, legumes and vegetables

It is important to note that acid forming foods are not necessarily bad for our health.  We know that in healthy individuals, our body tightly regulates our blood pH.  In respect to the ‘acidic foods’ category, there is plenty of evidence that protein consumption promotes repair and builds muscle mass, stabilizes blood sugar levels, promotes healthy brain function, maintains strong bones, boosts metabolism, promotes satiety, slows aging and the list goes on.   Likewise, quality dairy consumption, preferably grass-fed/pasture-raised and full-fat options provide rich sources of calcium, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids and are important for bone formation, bone maintenance and prevention of osteoporosis.  However, a high acidic dietary load can be a problem if not counteracted by alkaline rich foods.

(2)  Increasing our intake of fruit and vegetables alongside quality proteins and fats is the key.

(1)  It is the RATIO of acidic to alkalising foods that determines whether your diet promotes optimal health or not. There is no doubt we have everything to gain from an alkalising diet!  The benefits to cardiovascular health, musculoskeletal systems, metabolic processes and immune function are vast.  Increase your alkalising foods at every meal and you will be well on your way to optimal health! All of our posts reflect our philosophy at A Healthy View A whole real food perspective on food and life.  Extremes do not work but clean, whole, tasty and easy food choices can create a lifetime of good habits that lead to a lean, happy, and healthy person.  Contact us on our website for our next Low Sugar Lifestyle program or a nutritional consult. Article by Sara Millikin from A Healthy View References:

  1. Gerry K. Schwalfenberg, “The Alkaline Diet: Is There Evidence That an Alkaline pH Diet Benefits Health?,”Journal of Environmental and Public Health, vol. 2012, Article ID 727630, 7 pages, 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/727630
  4. Advanced understanding in acid-base balance national summit presented by Prof. Dr Jurgen Vormann.  Part  1, up-to-date and latest acid-base balance, research from around the world.  June, 2016 Sydney.

Further Reading: Dietary Acid Load Is Not Associated with Lower Bone Mineral Density Except in Older Men.  First published February 2, 2011, doi: 10.3945/?jn.110.135806.  J. Nutr. April 1, 2011 vol. 141 no. 4 588-594 Advanced Understanding in Acid-Base Balance, National Summit, 6th June, 2016.  Presented by Prof. Dr. Jurgen Vormann.

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