This article was originally published in March 2011 and has been updated.
If you think back to chemistry class, you may recall comparing an acid versus a base, or the importance of pH balance. pH is the measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14 — a lower number means a higher level of acidity is present, and higher number indicates a higher level of alkalinity. A solution is considered neutral, neither acid nor alkaline, when it has a pH of 7.
The stomach should have a gastric acid pH between 1.5 – 3.5 in order to do its job effectively, but otherwise a slightly alkaline environment allows the body’s metabolic, enzymatic, immunologic and repair mechanisms to function at their best. Our bodies continually strive to maintain a normal pH balance of about 7 to 7.4 (it differs throughout the body, blood is 7.37 – 7.43). When the pH of our bodily fluids, digestive system and tissues is pushed out of that comfortable neutral zone, health problems can be the result.
What causes pH imbalance?
The most common form of pH imbalance is excess acidity, which not only impacts your overall health, but also greatly impedes your weight loss efforts. This is because, outside of the stomach, acidity is a cause of hormonal imbalance, specifically growth hormone (HGH). And if we recall from my book The Hormone Diet, hormonal balance plus the difference in calories equals weight loss, then anything that upsets hormonal balance has the potential to cause weight gain.
Excess body acidity is prevalent today because poor diet, insufficient exercise, over-exercising (especially too much cardio, which contributes to stress) and chronic stress can lead to excess acid in our internal environment. When our body becomes acidic, minerals such as potassium, sodium, magnesium and calcium may be stolen from our vital organs and bones to combat or buffer the acid.
Consequences of extended acid excess
If these mineral losses and metabolic abnormalities continue, we can increase our risk for a number of conditions including:
• Obesity, slow metabolism and inability to lose weight
• Chronic inflammation
• High blood pressure
• Weight gain, obesity and diabetes
• Bladder and kidney conditions, including kidney stones
• Weakened immunity
• Premature aging
• Osteoporosis, weak or brittle bones, fractures and bone spurs.
• Joint pain, aching muscles and lactic-acid buildup
• Low energy and chronic fatigue
• Mood swings
• Slow digestion and elimination
• Yeast/fungal overgrowth
These problems are not surprising, since excess acid can also interfere with our hormones. For example, in an acidic environment, as much as twice the amount of estrogen may be needed to exert its effects in the body. So, if you have a health problem, you are likely a walking acid trip. No matter what type of therapy you choose to treat your condition, resolution will not come until your pH balance is restored.
You will also enjoy the most dramatic results from your healthy lifestyle habits when your body is slightly alkaline. Acidity decreases your body’s ability to absorb the vitamins and minerals from your foods and supplements. It interferes with your ability to detoxify. It disrupts your metabolism and it makes you more prone to fatigue and mood changes.
There are saliva and urine tests available at local health food stores, but blood tests are the most accurate indicators of body (blood) pH and overall health.
If the pH of your saliva stays between 7 and 7.4 all day, your body is functioning within a healthy range. If your urinary pH fluctuates between 6 to 6.5 in the morning and 6.5 and 7 in the evening, your body is within a healthy pH range. First morning urine should be slightly more acidic as you eliminate waste accumulated throughout the night. Continue to measure your pH daily if your values are abnormal, otherwise testing once a week will suffice.
What can you do if you are acidic?
1. Increase your intake of dark coloured fruits and green vegetables. Most are alkalinizing.
2. Reduce high-protein foods, processed cereals and flours, sugar, coffee, tea and alcohol, which are acidifying, while increasing vegetables, millet, quinoa, soy, almonds and wild rice, which are alkalinizing.
3. Upon rising and prior to meals, drink the juice of half of a lemon in water. Lemon is naturally alkalinizing.
4. Eat one cup of alkalinizing greens daily (such as spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, rapini, water cress, bok choy).
5. Enjoy a vegetable or miso broth (one tsp of miso dissolved in one cup of hot, not boiling, water). Experiment with adding cooked daikon radish rounds and a small amount of cooked wakame seaweed to the miso broth.
6. Choose fish and lamb over beef and chicken for less acid-forming animal protein.
7. Use primarily olive oil as it is less acid-forming than other vegetable oils.
8. Use buffered vitamin C powder — one half to one teaspoon per day in water before bed to alkalinize your body.
Natasha Turner is a Toronto-based naturopathic doctor.