The alkaline diet: science and health benefits
The alkaline diet: science and health benefits
There is much mention of so-called "alkaline diets" starting from elaborate lists of foods to avoid claims that an alkaline diet can reduce the spread of cancer.
But how much of this is real? Is there something in the alkaline diet?


There is much mention of so-called "alkaline diets" starting from elaborate lists of foods to avoid claims that an alkaline diet can reduce the spread of cancer.

 But how much of this is real? Is there something in the alkaline diet?

Alkaline diets have a long history of popular use and enjoyed various advocates in the early 1900s. In fact, the founder of the macrobiotic diet Sagen Ishizuka (1851-1910) linked the balance of acidic and alkaline foods with the Chinese ideas of Yin and Yang (1). Fast forward 100 years to this day and popular books on alkaline diets are still being published with the general premise that eating more ALKALINE FOOD and avoiding acids can change the body's acid-alkaline balance and provide important health benefits.

In addition to popular books, there has also been tons of research project on the influence of diet on acid-alkaline balance and its potential effects on human health in recent years. However, there's often an incongruity between popular alkaline diets and therefore the science behind this idea. So, with this in mind, the following is a brief introduction to the alkaline diet concept and separates some of the facts from the fiction.

Diet-induced low-grade acidosis

So what is "acidosis" anyway? A popular conception of the alkaline diet is that it alkalizes the blood; however, the pH of the blood is highly regulated at an alkaline pH of 7.35, which means that this is not technically correct. Scientifically, the concept of "acidosis" does not refer to marked alterations in blood pH but more correctly to a dynamic compensatory response that occurs with an acid-producing diet (2). In other words, the term acidosis refers to a process and not a change in the pH of the blood to an acidic state.

Food is linked to acidosis because it has the potential to place a more acidic or alkaline "load" on your body depending on its nutritional composition, and then your body quickly compensates or "buffers" this load to take care of a stable blood pH.

But if your blood pH is not significantly altered, does this mean diet-induced acidosis isn't worth worrying about? There are a few reasons why scientists think it does matter 1) Traditional human diets have been estimated to produce much less acid than today, so in the same way, we are not well adapted to a proper highly-processed diet for a predominantly acidic one 2) there is a trade-off to constantly counteract the effect of acidic foods, over time it can deplete your reserve of alkaline buffer minerals, especially in your bones, and put your muscles, kidneys and endocrine system to the test, and there is convincing evidence to suggest that diet-induced low-grade acidosis is associated with important health effects over time.

Is Diet-Induced Acidosis Important?

There is growing evidence to suggest that a more alkaline diet may be important for better health. Key areas include:

1. Bone health

Some, but not all, studies have suggested that a more alkaline diet or supplementation with alkaline minerals can improve bone health and prevent osteoporosis. Although a more alkaline diet may reduce calcium excretion from bones, the potential benefit may also be due to more complex effects on bone, cell, and hormonal metabolism.

2. Kidney stones

An acidic diet can increase urinary levels of citrate, a risk factor for kidney stones. In people with kidney stones, a more alkaline diet predicted a lower incidence of stone formation, and supplementation with alkaline minerals was shown to scale back the danger of stone formation by 85% over a 3-year period.

3. Chronic pain

Local tissue acidosis can mediate pain through acid-sensitive ion channels, suggesting that an alkaline diet may be helpful in relieving pain. While there is limited research in this area, a clinical study demonstrated significant improvements in back pain with an alkaline mineral supplement.

4. Sarcopenia

An alkaline diet can help prevent age-related decline in muscle mass, also known as sarcopenia. In postmenopausal women, potassium acid carbonate supplementation neutralized acidosis and improved a measure of muscle breakdown (urinary nitrogen excretion).

 And a more alkaline diet has been associated with better lean muscle mass in older men and women.

5. Heart disease

Diets rich in potassium result in sharp reductions in blood pressure and risk of stroke. Agree, a more alkaline diet has been associated with lower blood pressure in some studies (16-18). And a more alkaline diet has been linked to other cardiovascular risk factors, particularly insulin resistance and chronic kidney failure.

6. Cancer

There is experimental evidence suggesting that diet-induced acidosis may be a risk factor for cancer development, but this relationship is unclear and difficult to demonstrate in human research. And there are theoretical concerns about the safety of alkalinization therapy.

7. Detox

Exposure to man-made environmental pollutants is ubiquitous and it has been suggested that diet-induced low-grade chronic acidosis may impair detoxification and increase the risk of environmental disease over time. Again, this idea is difficult to prove, but the concept has a compelling scientific foundation.

Alkaline nutritional therapy

While nutritional supplements, especially alkaline potassium salts, can be helpful, there are potential adverse effects in people with heart, lung, or kidney disease and should therefore be used only under the guidance of a healthcare professional. But for most people, alkaline mineral combinations of potassium, calcium, and magnesium such as citrates or bicarbonates and perhaps green foods, vegetable juices, or smoothies could be simple and secure thanks to reducing acidosis for many people.