Health: the pH Debate

pH is a measure of the acidity of a substance — food, water, human tissue, whatever. It is measured on a scale of 1 to 14, where 1 is extremely acidic, 14 is extremely non-acidic (alkaline) and 7 is neutral.

Here’s what we know:

  • The tissue in the human body around cancer cells is acidic. That’s true not just for cancer but for other diseases as well. Low pH is associated with illness
  • Different parts of the body have different pH levels, depending on function. For example, the stomach is highly acidic. Blood in a healthy individual has a pH of 7.35 to 7.45, slightly alkaline.

Here’s what we don’t know:

  • Does cancer/illness cause excess acidity, or does an excessively acid environment depress the immune system and enable disease to take root and develop? (Yes, this is a “which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” question. However, in this case, it matters.)
  • Can diet affect the pH of human tissue?
  • What’s a reliable measure of pH?

Traditional medicine says there is no scientific research supporting the role of pH in cancer development. That’s true. In fact, I haven’t been able to find any research at all on the topic. Who would fund it?

Non-traditional medicine relies on anecdotal information — which may not be generalizable to most people — and says that one can measure pH simply through testing saliva or urine. Using either as a test of whole body pH is silly, as both can be affected by level of water consumption as well as by foods eaten recently. There are other tests doctors can perform, but remember that some parts of the body are supposed to be acidic.

There are a lot of articles online, which I haven’t cited here, discussing pH in the context of pushing one supplement or another of unknown health value. Charitably, some of these might have some value, but many are probably just ways of taking your money. These are the modern versions of patent medicine “elixirs” that were sold in the 1800s by traveling salesmen.

There is an oncologist here who swears that anyone who drinks a smoothie made up of kale, green apple, pineapple and water will not get cancer. The mixture is rich in antioxidents and affects pH. Is there scientific evidence supporting this claim? No. Do people do it anyway? Yes, because there is no harm in this concoction.

Alkaline diets became a fad in 2013 after Victoria Beckham tweeted about them. As part of that, some celebrities have been promoting and consuming high pH water. There is evidence that this water can help with acid reflux by breaking down pepsin, but whether it has any other benefits simply isn’t established.

In fact, the consumption of any kind of water may have health benefits. However, uncertainty remains about how much water is appropriate for different body types as well as what the benefits really are. (1)

What you need to consider:

If something may be helpful and there are no risks associated with it, why not? There’s no harm in drinking water or broadening the array of vegetables you eat. However, the truism still applies — “everything in moderation.”

The bibliography below lists some of the more intelligent articles addressing both sides of the issue regarding hydration and pH.


Sources:

  1. Barry Popkin, Kristen D’Anci, Irwin Rosenburg, “Water, Hydration and Health,”
    Nutrition Review, 2010 Aug; 68(8): 439–458.doi:  10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x. Abstract at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908954/
  2. https://familydoctor.org/hydration-why-its-so-important/
  3. Jami Foss, “The Benefits of Alkaline Water, Unfiltered,” Shape, 31 August 2015. http://www.shape.com/healthy-eating/healthy-drinks/benefits-alkaline-water-unfiltered
  4. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/avoiding-dehydration
  5. Vicki Vanarsdale, “Signs of Poor pH Balance in the Body,” Livestrong, 18 July 2017. http://www.livestrong.com/article/30086-signs-poor-ph-balance-body/
  6. Sonya Collins, “Akaline Diets,” WebMD, 2016. http://www.webmd.com/diet/a-z/alkaline-diets
  7. Marcelle Pick, “Digestion & GI Health – The Truth About pH Balance,” Women to Women, 2017. https://www.womentowomen.com/digestive-health/digestion-gi-health-the-truth-about-ph-balance/
  8. Oliver Childs, “Don’t believe the hype – 10 persistent cancer myths debunked,” 24 March 2014. http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2014/03/24/dont-believe-the-hype-10-persistent-cancer-myths-debunked/
  9. Pawel Swietach, Richard D. Vaughan-Jones, Adrian L. Harris, and Alzbeta Hulikova, “The chemistry, physiology and pathology of pH in cancer”,

    Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2014 Mar 19; 369(1638): 20130099.
    doi:  10.1098/rstb.2013.0099
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