Michael Glab MS, RD, LDN
Save your $$$ - Alkaline water
Updated: Apr 14, 2020
I saw this ridiculously incorrect and dangerous Facebook post about how high alkaline foods can kill Covid-19. It stated that all you need to do to beat
Coronavirus is to eat foods with a higher pH than the virus. This was apparently based on a 1991 article from the Journal of Virology so whatever strain of the virus that was studied then has had about 30 years to mutate AND it was also a virus found in mice. Most importantly the post is listing high pH foods such as avocado pH 15.6 and dandelion pH 22.7. The problem is that the pH scale is 0-14. My goodness whomever produced that document was very very bad at science-ing.
That craziness about alkalinity and COVID-19 reminded me to revisit a blog post I wrote a while back but forgot to post (life gets busy!). It deals with Alkaline water and how junk science can be twisted through marketing effort to sell product. Let's be honest, sometimes its easy to get caught up in the hype. I mean remember Pogs? Anyways here is why you can save your money for something more worthwhile than Alkaline water.
How your body processes pH from food and water.
First the brief anatomy/physiology lesson. When food or drink enters the stomach it is met with hydrochloric acid (HCl). HCl has a pH of 2, meaning it is a strong acid. This strong acid has important functions like breaking down proteins into amino acids, killing bacteria and helps convert iron into its absorbable form in humans. Both the stomach and intestines can release bicarbonate to neutralize acids. Fun fact: our stomach produces 1.5-2.0 liters of HCl per day!
Our body also has a natural buffering in our blood to deal with pH changes. Our natural blood pH is tightly regulated 7.35-7.45 by actions of the kidneys and lungs. Our body doesn’t like to go outside this range and it can be deadly if it does.
This is evidence FOR Alkaline water consumption?
Now to some of the evidence used to support drinking alkaline water. A study of 100 randomized healthy adults (50 male, 50 female) showed improved blood viscosity (meaning blood flowed more effectively) in 50 who drank alkaline water vs the other 50 that drank regular water after exercising to a dehydrated state. What’s troubling is that they didn’t give a comparison of the pH and minerals in the respective waters. No one knows what the pH and mineral content of their control water was. While the study design is good (randomized, double-blind, control trial) it’s very very very interesting to me is that one of this study’s main authors received stock options and consulting fees from an alkaline water brand. Seems like the books were cooked on this study to garner favorable results. In my opinion we can toss this study into the heap of junk science.
Another study compared high, low mineral and control waters in athletes pre- and post-exercise. They were followed for one week and average intake of water was over 1 gallon. They performed five bouts of 120% VO2 max exercise (very intense exercise), followed by 60 seconds of rest. Again, they averaged over one gallon water intake per day, so it’s not surprising that they were hydrated. The low mineral segment actually had the best rehydration scores. It’s worth noting that the control beverage had a pH 5 meaning it was technically an acidic solution. According to the EPA’s website, other liquids with a pH 5 include black coffee and Pepto Bismol. Yum, sounds like perfect way to hydrate after a workout! It’s not surprising that they didn’t use tap water as a control as we’ll see next.
Alkaline water for free
Here in Chicago, and in the surrounding suburbs that source Lake Michigan tap water, the pH of water ranges from 7.73 to 7.91. Thus it is alkaline by definition (water with a pH >7 is alkaline). If you rent in Chicago you are getting free alkaline water! And if you live in condo or house you are already paying for alkaline water! Why pay again for something you already get?
I understand some people don’t like the taste of the municipal water supply or think that it’s bad for you, but honestly if the municipal water supply from Lake Michigan was that poor quality, the Chicago area wouldn’t have a population in the millions. You could get a water filter, but that will likely remove some of elements affecting the water’s alkalinity.
Conclusion: Save your $$$
Overall it’s a balancing of priorities for the consumer. With the information I’ve given you, I’d suggest that the evidence isn’t compelling enough to justify regularly purchasing alkaline water. The one article is tainted by lack of transparency and an author accepting the alkaline water company’s stock options. The other study used a control that doesn’t accurately simulate tap water or a typical rehydration beverage. You get free alkaline water from Lake Michigan if you rent in Chicago. And if you own a residence, then you already pay for alkaline water. Might as well save your money for toilet paper.