The regulation of acid-alkaline balance is one of the most important factors in homeostasis, or dynamic equilibrium in the body. Recent studies show that when the body’s pH is too acidic, it’s difficult for enzymes to function properly, which can lead to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other inflammatory diseases.
The acronym pH stands for “potential for hydrogen,” and measures the hydrogen ions in bodily fluids such as blood, saliva, or urine. Dissolved acid produces hydrogen ions, so the more hydrogen ions in a solution (higher concentration), the more acidic the solution is, and the lower the number on the pH scale.
The pH scale runs from 0 (pure acid) to 14 (most alkaline), with 7 being neutral. The human body functions optimally at a pH of around 7.4, which is just on the alkaline side of neutral.
How Acidic pH Can Lead to Disease
Most people exhibiting symptoms of disease from heart disease and cancer, to osteoporosis, diabetes, and beyond, have a body pH that is chronically acidic. As the body tries to neutralize the pH to keep it close to 7.4, it will take necessary minerals from the body to help with this neutralization process.
For example, the body will pull calcium out of the bones into the urine, leading to osteoporosis and a reduction of bone formation. Potassium and magnesium stores can also be leached from the body, contributing to high blood pressure. Too much acidity can lead to breakdown in muscle mass and an inability for cells to repair themselves as well. These are just a few of the effects of too much acid in the body. Scientists call this shift in body chemistry to the acidic side of neutral chronic low-grade metabolic acidosis. The primary cause of this acidosis is a highly acidic diet.
Which Foods Are Acidic or Alkaline?
The Standard American Diet (SAD) tends to be highly acidic, containing lots of processed foods, sugars, meats, dairy, grains, coffee, and alcohol. The typical anti-inflammatory diet, on the other hand, contains lots of fruits and veggies, which are more alkaline or base in nature.
Many foods that you might think would be acidic, like lemons and limes, are actually alkaline once metabolized. So it’s important to take into account which foods are acidic versus alkaline after they are metabolized, as that’s what matters to the body.
Sugar and artificial sweeteners are highly acidic foods, which is one of the reasons the consumption of sweets has recently been linked to so many health ailments.
Most foods falling between 2 and 9. As an example, battery acid has a pH of zero, while liquid Drano cleaner has a pH of 14. Here is a range of foods from the highly acidic to the highly alkaline (base.)
- Highly Acidic: Lemon juice, vinegar (pH 2)
- Highly Acidic: Sodas, energy drinks, carbonated water (pH 3)
- Medium Acidity: Alcohol, coffee, black tea, cheese, milk, yogurt, distilled water, chocolate, roasted nuts, beef, pork, wheat, pastas, pastries, breads, crackers (pH 4-5)
- Low Acidity: Eggs, fish, beans, fruit juice, coconut, brown rice, soy milk, salmon, oats, cooked spinach (pH 6)
- Neutral: Tap water, spring water, river water, sea water (pH 7)
- Low Alkalinity: Apples, almonds, tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, pineapples, wild rice, strawberries, bananas, cherries (pH 8)
- Medium Alkalinity: Avocados, lettuce, celery, peas, sweet potatoes, blueberries, pears, grapes, kiwis, beets, melons, mangos, papayas (pH 9)
- Highly Alkaline: Spinach, broccoli, artichoke, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflowers, cucumber, lemons, limes, carrots, seaweed, asparagus, kale, collard greens, onions (pH 10)
Mind-Body-Green has a great infographic showing a range of foods from acidic to alkaline.
While the human body needs to remain on the slightly alkaline side of neutral (7.4 pH), it’s important to remember it’s all a balancing act. If you strive for a low acidic diet for your health and eat only alkaline foods, your body can actually become too alkaline, or in a state of alkalosis. This can lead to a host of other symptoms ranging from light-headedness and confusion to seizures and even coma.
Balancing out your diet to ensure you’re eating from both sides of the pH spectrum—but with attention to eating more alkaline (anti-inflammatory) foods than acidic foods—will be good for your whole body.
Can You Neutralize Your Body and Eliminate Excess Acid?
How does your body neutralize excess acid? The main organs involved in acid elimination to neutralize your body pH are the liver and lungs, and the skin to a lesser extent. While the skin helps to eliminate acid buildup through sweat glands, it can only eliminate about one quart of sweat a day, whereas the kidneys can eliminate 1.5 quarts of urine. Interestingly, strong-smelling sweat or bad body order can be a sign of too much acidity in the body. Again, switching to a low-acidic, anti-informatory diet can help to neutralize your body’s pH.
Testing Your pH Levels
One indicator of the body becoming too acidic is an increased respiratory rate. In fact, if your body is too acidic you won’t be able to hold your breath for more than about 20 seconds.
The most common pH test is a urine test. While you can test your own urine using pH litmus test paper, it’s more accurate and recommended to have your doctor do a urine test for you. They will likely want to use urine from first thing in the morning, preferably after you’ve slept for at least six hours, to ensure that the kidneys aren’t overworked at the time of urination.
The bottom line is that eating a diet higher in alkaline foods than acidic foods will be better for your health in the long run, so enjoy those fruits and veggies.
Schwalfenberg G. K. (2012). The alkaline diet: is there evidence that an alkaline pH diet benefits health?. Journal of environmental and public health, 2012, 727630. doi:10.1155/2012/727630
Proper pH Balance Is Critical for Good Health. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.drdavidwilliams.com/proper-ph-balance
Science Buddies. (2018, January 16). Acids, Bases, & the pH Scale. Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/references/acids-bases-the-ph-scale