Alkaline Water: Beneficial or Marketing Scam
What is Alkaline Water?
Alkaline water is “basic” water, meaning it has a pH level higher that 7. In contrast, normal drinking water has a pH level of 7 and is considered neutral.
If you’re not familiar, the pH scale covers a range from 0-14 with 7 being neutral. Levels below 7 are considered acidic and levels above 7 are considered basic, or alkaline. To give some examples, battery acid (1), lemon juice (2), and tomato juice (4) are all acidic substances while baking soda (9), ammonia (11), and bleach (13) are all basic substances.
For the purpose of this article we are going to refer to alkaline water as any water that has a pH of 8 or higher or is marketed as “Alkaline Water”. I say this because many of the spring waters that are available to buy are technically alkaline because their pH levels are slightly above 7, due to their mineral content.
How Does Water Become Alkaline?
There are multiple ways for water to become alkaline, some are naturally occurring while others are man-made.
Naturally occurring alkaline water comes from springs, artesian wells, or any water source that flows through/past rocks. During this journey the water often picks up trace amounts of minerals which causes the water to turn more basic on the pH scale and naturally become alkaline.
The man-made sources of alkaline water are much more complex, but fall into 2 categories, chemically enhanced and ionized.
Chemically enhanced alkaline water is generally produced by large companies. They add trace amount of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate to their natural water in order to increase the pH level.
Ionized alkaline water can be produced by large companies or done at home via the use of water-ionizers. These ionizers separate the water into hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions. From here the hydrogen ions are bound to any present minerals in the water, and by removing some of the original water, what is left becomes more alkaline. The catch here is that the original water being used needs to have minerals present or the ionization accomplishes nothing.
What are the Proposed Health Benefits?
Alkaline water has become popular in recent years due to many of the health benefits that have been associated with it. These proposed health benefits are; cancer resistance, improvements of bone health and osteoporosis, improved hydration status, improved blood pressure, and decreased acid reflux.
Many of these proposed benefits are coming from a good scientific understanding of alkalinity but the research fails to support these claims in regards to their affects within the human body. The human body has varying pH levels depending on the structure/fluid. For example, blood has a pH of 7.4 and it is really difficult to change that in any way. Not only that, but if you were able to change that pH level, you would likely see some serious side effects. With that being said, let’s look at some of the claims in closer detail.
This proposed benefit likely originated from the acid-ash hypothesis. This states that a more acidic body leads to health problems such as cancer and osteoporosis. The main idea here is to neutralize the acidic nature of cancer and cancer cells, by drinking alkaline, or basic, water. While there may be something to this, there hasn’t been any solid research that has shown alkaline water to improve cancer or the bodes resistance of cancer in any way.
Bone Health and Osteoporosis
There has been some research that has shown an alkaline diet led to less overall bone reabsorption. This is the process of breaking down and rebuilding bone. Less reabsorption and higher levels of minerals such as calcium lead to greater bone health. However, the effect that was seen was very small and didn’t test alkaline water specifically.
It would make logical sense for a water containing calcium (which would make it more alkaline) to help with overall bone health. But, as we discussed above not all alkaline water is the same and this would be a very specific type of alkaline water.
There has been research that has shown alkaline water to improve hydration status of specific populations such as long-distance runners and cyclists. The improvements shown were minimal, but for competitive athletes this could be important for intra-exercise as well as recovery from exercise or competition. For most populations, alkaline water hasn’t been shown to improve hydration more than normal drinking water.
Blood pressure, as well as some other blood markers, has been improved by drinking alkaline water over long periods of time. The most famous study showed improvements in blood pressure, blood lipids, and blood sugar, after 3-6 months of alkaline water consumption. While this research is very promising the size of the study was pretty small and has yet to be replicated.
Another famous study on this topic showed that blood viscosity was reduced in 100 individuals after bouts of exercise. This is also promising in that it has shown to improve blood pressure, while also likely showing improvement in other biological markers such as hydration after exercise. The biggest issue with this research is the way in which it was produced. The research was funded by a company who is likely to gain from positive research on this topic.
Acid reflux is a condition where acid from the stomach, backs up into the food pipe. A common cause of acid reflux is consumption of acidic or fatty foods. Knowing this, it would make sense that an alkaline diet or beverage would aid in the onset of severity of acid reflux. This has been shown to be the case as well. However, much of the research has been done in labs instead of actual people. In this laboratory setting alkaline water with a pH of 8.8 or higher was shown to have the best results in fighting acid reflux. The main issue with this is, antacids are a much cheaper and more efficient way of fighting acid reflux.
Alkaline water has become a hot fitness trend over the past couple of years. Along with the prices, the list of benefits of alkaline water has continued to grow. Over the course of this post we dove into some of these benefits a little deeper and hopefully gained a better understanding.
In my opinion, alkaline water is over-priced compared to the actual benefits realized. While there are some benefits for specific populations of people, I don’t think it makes sense to pay the hefty prices for any benefits compared to normal drinking water. Check out our earlier post on "10 Amazing Benefits of Drinking Water".
If you are someone who falls into one of those special populations, I do think there can be some benefit to drinking alkaline water on occasion and in some cases any benefits at all are worth the extra price. If you do fall into that category it might even make sense to purchase your own water-ionizer or water-ionizing pitcher in order to gain these benefits while saving money over time.
No matter who you are, there is great benefit in staying hydrated and drinking the highest quality water you can afford. Water that comes from a spring or artesian well often contains more trace minerals which provide additional health benefits from traditional tap water. In closing, the biggest benefits from water come from being well-hydrated, and other benefits are small and often related to the minerals that are present, and finally the levels of these minerals (which related to the pH).
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