Facing Reality On Acidosis And Alkalosis
Acidosis and Alkalosis
Today, we’re going to talk about acidosis and alkalosis. I’ll explain just what I mean by that in a second. But first, what put this topic in my head?
In the past week, I’ve directly or indirectly read/heard two things that prompted me to write this. First, there was a comment by Shari on my Eat Real Food post lambasting me for promoting a “meat-based diet” because it “not only causes acidosis, but has also been unmistakably linked to increased incidence of colon cancer.” (Of course, most everyone that reads that post realizes that I promote a diet based on unprocessed foods, not necessarily meat, but that doesn’t stop people from seeing what they want to see.)
Second, as you all now know, I just moved to San Diego. Part of setting in has been finding a new farmer’s market since my old one is now about 2200 miles away and it’s just not feasible to pull that off on a Saturday morning. So I hit the weekly Wednesday farmer’s market in Ocean Beach and overheard a girl selling asparagus telling a couple other girls about how awesome asparagus is because it’s “the most alkaline vegetable and alkaline helps you be stronger for longer” (as she flexed). She went on about how you want to avoid acid foods like meat, dairy, and…citrus fruits.
A Quick Physiology Primer: Acid-Base Metabolism
So what exactly are these people talking about? “Acidosis” is quite simply when the pH of the blood falls below the bottom end of the healthy pH range (normal range is 7.35-7.45). “Alkalosis” is the opposite; the pH of the blood is out of bounds on the upper end of the scale. Neither is good. Both can cause serious health issues and/or death (which I suppose is a very serious health issue).
Now, here’s how they claim it works: everything you eat, once digested, exhibits either acidic or alkaline by-products for the body to deal with. Eating too many acidic foods causes your body to become “acidified” and, therefore, more susceptible to disease. On the other hand, eating good alkaline foods helps your body to get into an alkalized state where disease cannot exist. Dr. Mirkin points out at QuackWatch that:
Promoters of these products claim that cancer cells cannot live in an alkaline environment and that is true, but neither can any of the other cells in your body.
Just as an aside, some foods, while being acidic, leave an alkaline ash after digestion. Unfortunately for the girl selling the asparagus, lemons and limes are two of those, so even if she were correct about everything else, her advice to avoid citrus fruits is out.
To continue, you have to balance out your acids by eating more alkaline foods. And then there’s the requisite list of some common foods and whether they are acidic or alkaline (or neutral):
The Reality Of Acid-Base Balance
And now to reality…”eat more alkalizing foods” is the New Age, pseudo-scientific way of saying what Grandma said for centuries: “Eat your fruits and vegetables.” Not bad advice, in and of itself, though it seems to have been adopted by people that are especially anti-meat.
I think the reality is that the grand majority of the people talking about the idea are using it as a way to reinforce the “superiority” of a vegetarian diet over an omnivorous diet, much like Shari seemed to be doing on the Nutrition 101 post.
Slippery Slope Alert!
I mean, if alkaline is better than acidic* and animal foods (other than goat milk and human milk) are acidic, then obviously vegetarianism is better than meat-eating. Of course, carrying this to its logical extreme, we would want to avoid acidic foods completely (like the girl at the market recommended), like raw milk, and opt instead for an alkaline food, like soy milk (depending on which list you consult). All meat is out…but that’s okay cause you can eat tofu to your heart’s content.
Pecans and cashews? Out. Luckily you can eat almonds. Spinach as fine…as long as you don’t cook it. Bananas are okay…as long as there’s no green on them. Here’s my favorite…green beans, good; string beans, bad. Other than the strings that have been bred out of most modern green beans, it’s the same plant. Another “we’re not real sure which way is up” moment is that depending on which chart you consult, eggs and chicken breasts are either acidic or alkaline.
Oh, here’s another fun one: antibiotics are alkaline, while probiotics are acidic. Yeeaaaaahhhhh…But here’s the icing on the cake of this run into ridiculousness. Please see the chart to the right. If alkalizing is what we want, why don’t we just balance it all out with a nice glass of ammonia or bleach. Or hell, sprinkle a little household lye into your next casserole! (Disclaimer: Since some people around here have a hard time picking up sarcasm, this is sarcasm. Please, please do not consume ammonia, bleach, or lye, no matter how much alkalizing you want to do.)
Obviously I’m just having a little fun here, but, as always, much truth is said in jest.*
And then there’s the flip side of the coin: if eating animal foods promotes acidosis, then eating plant foods promotes alkalosis. Of course, while both are definitely medical issues, neither are likely and neither dichotomy is the way it really works. Lucky for all of us, evolution equipped the body with a range of ways to keep blood pH in the proper range and you’re not going to outdo your acid-base metabolism by eating too much meat, dairy, grains, or anything else.
They Missed A Puzzle Piece: Vinegar
Another key piece of information left out by The Alkalizers** is that some acids, like vinegar, improve your blood sugar response, an element of your health that is most likely a bit more important than if your last meal contained 60% alkaline foods and 40% acidic foods (and in reality, were it to matter, there’s no way of measuring whether you’ve properly countered your acids and bases since it’s a continuum, though you could test your urine, a thoroughly pointless endeavor).
These data indicate that vinegar can significantly improve postprandial insulin sensitivity in insulin-resistant subjects.
As usual, when people try to complicate nutrition, they leave out some key pieces of the puzzle and ignore some pertinent facts to try to fit into a nice, easily digested little package.
A Nice Cold Bucketful Of Reality
There is no evidence in the real world that food changes the pH of the blood. I searched on Pubmed and I read plenty of stuff by others that had searched Pubmed. No one has come up with anything. And that’s a good thing because with such a narrow range of “healthy,” you wouldn’t want it moving either up or down depending on how much you decide to indulge at a party.
In fact, the stomach is so acidic (getting down towards battery acid and hydrochloric acid), that you can’t even significantly change the acidity of your stomach, much less your blood. And that’s also a good thing since that acid helps you digest things.
Dr. Mirkin again:
All foods that leave your stomach are acidic. Then they enter your intestines where secretions from your pancreas neutralize the stomach acids. So no matter what you eat, the food in stomach is acidic and the food in the intestines is alkaline. Dietary modification cannot change the acidity of any part of your body except your urine. Your bloodstream and organs control acidity in a very narrow range. Anything that changed acidity in your body would make you very sick and could even kill you.
I’ll Say It One Last Time (In This Post)
Seriously…who wants another set of diet rules to keep up with? It’s just repackaging dietary OCD in another way. There’s nothing wrong with eating more fruits and vegetables, but worrying about acids and bases is entering a whole new area of navel gazing.
For Pete’s sake, man! Just eat real food! It really is that simple. When you eat real food, low-carb and low-fat become less important. Glycemic index becomes unimportant. And acid-base balance, if somehow it were to actually matter, takes care of itself. Stop the paralysis by analysis and just cut out the processed garbage.
You can spend your life debating dietary minutiae on Internet forums or you can eat real food, then perhaps go outside and try talking to real people or maybe take up a hobby with your new-found time.
So is this something that we really need to be concerned with or is it, as I said, just another way of complicating nutrition with an unhealthy dose of pseudo-science thrown in for good measure?
** Believe it or not, there’s actually a product called The Alkalizer that promotes “a wetter water for a better body,” because, of course, even regular water is acid-forming. That’s right! It’s not the sugar, fake fats, or processed grains you’re eating that are making you fat and sick. It’s the water coming out of your tap. In other news, I walked out to the end of the Ocean Beach Pier today and saw a surfer jump a shark. If you want a debunking of “ionized water,” check out this site.