Paying Attention to pH

May 31, 2016 in Health, Health Claims, Mediterranean by Joyce Bunderson

I’ve resisted the thought of writing about pH for years. My rationalization is that it would take explaining more chemistry and physiology than general public might be interested in. The subject of pH as related to food and ultimately to diet is technical; so I decided to continue to recommend eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, which, if chosen as a regular diet, ultimately leads to managing pH well.

Unfortunately, it appears that many persons choose to base decisions about their eating habits upon celebrities’ opinions (movie stars and pop idols), and some of these talk about pH, making it a popular subject. I’m only guessing here; but maybe the rationale for following the celebrity’s practices is “If they look this good, certainly their eating is what makes them look that good.” Maybe there’s some other reason than their food theories, but going to the work of some extremely complex pH monitoring is not really going to make you look like Jennifer Aniston (Just voted this year’s most beautiful woman.) or Gwyneth Paltrow (Declared the 2013 world’s most beautiful woman.) who both follow a pH monitoring diet. Completely off subject here, may I mention that both of these movie stars also work out like crazy and who knows if the plastic surgeon gives a little help here and there?

Back to pH. Let’s face it, when something is declared as the cure-all for cancer to heart disease and everything in between, then maybe that very ridiculousness should be a warning of the possibility that fake science is involved. Even if the movie stars are looking good, maybe you can benefit without some complex plan. So let me try to, as briefly as possible, explain the issue of pH in the diet.

First, let’s be clear that the pH (acidic or alkalinity) of your blood, is not generally going to vary based upon your diet. Even though many of the popular pH diet websites will lead you to believe that it will. Your blood pH is normally very strictly maintained at about 7.4 by autonomous (automatic) bodily mechanisms.

Having said that, if a person has diabetes or drinks way too much alcohol and goes into ketoacidosis (has too many ketone bodies – acid, in the blood) it can be life threatening. This condition is usually from blood sugar being too high for too long. Generally, the lungs and the urine work frantically to reduce the acid in the blood. So if you’ve known someone with diabetes and their breath has that sweet sort of alcohol smell and their running to the bathroom frequently, that is a sign of ketoacidosis. If it’s really bad, the person can go into a coma – this is not something to be ignored.

Generally, if you’re not binge drinking and do not have type 1 diabetes, then your body strictly manages your pH by exhaling from your lungs or excreting from the kidneys. If you’re blood becomes slightly too acidic, then alkalinity from the bone matrix (calcium and magnesium) are added to the blood. In the short term, everything is just hunky dory. But in the long term, there are consequences to think about.

A second somewhat confusing issue is that food’s acidity does not really increase your body’s acidity. For example, citrus and tomatoes are acidic. But when eaten, they promote alkalinity. In nutrition, we use numbers called the PRAL, the “potential renal acid load.” Which is essentially the amount of acid the kidneys will excrete into the urine. It helps the medical team manage peoples’ care; people who for medical reasons are having difficulties with acid – alkaline balance. Something is definitely not working right for them.

So eating a high-protein diet does increase the total acid load, but it does not result in a change in blood chemistry or pH. Because the western diet is generally more acid (higher PRAL) grains, meats, dairy foods, fish, soda and beer) rather than alkaline (fruits and vegetables) we tend to have more problems with osteoporosis. If you’re calling upon your bone matrix on a regular basis to balance the pH of your blood, it can decrease your bone density over time and then the risk of osteoporosis is increased. In women with small bones this is an especially important risk to manage.

Eating patterns overall, rather than a single meal are really what is important. If you’re eating, as we did this morning, oatmeal (an acid-forming food) with a big pile of blueberries (an alkaline forming-food), then your meal may be near to neutral.

Since an alkaline diet also has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke and hypertension; and increase cognitive function and improve memory, there are some good reasons for including sufficient fruits and vegetables in the diet. If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, then you know that there are hundreds of other reasons to consume a diet high in fruits and vegetables. At this time, we know enough to say this: the Mediterranean-style of eating (lots of fruits and vegetables) and not too much animal protein, offers a positive benefit for health. Whether it helps you look like Gwyneth or Jennifer, no guarantee there. But in all likelihood, you don’t need to look up each and every food you eat to learn the PRAL – especially if you choose a wonderful eating style that manages the pH as an after-thought to good nutrition, without your having to fuss about it.