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July 20, 2016
By A. Weinberg, Contributing Columnist
Anyone remember taking a basic chemistry course? Yeah, that wasn't
my subject, either, but let's do a super quick review. The magic number
is "7". Acidic substances have a PH below 7. Alkaline substances have
a PH above 7.
Your body's blood has a natural PH of 7.365, very precisely maintained
at all times. In fact, if you eat foods that are too acidic, that is they
lower your PH too much, your body reacts to raise that PH. It will pull
compounds from anywhere --your bones, your teeth, wherever it
needs to just to keep your blood's PH level back to 7.365.
The idea of an alkaline diet is to maintain your blood PH level closer to
7. The theory behind it is that many foods we eat are acidic, and throw
our system off balance. Some claim that those who consume too many
acids have sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium leeched from
their vital organs. This could lead to the deterioration of teeth, bones,
muscles, and saliva, which in turn causes twitches, muscle cramps,
electrolyte deficiency, and brittle bones. Ouch.
The theory behind the alkaline diet is to avoid those toxic acidic
substances, which include: meat, wheat, refined sugar, processed
foods, dairy, eggs, most grains, alcohol, and sugar.
Yes, it's a pretty restrictive regimen, but there are some quite palatable
comestibles allowed on the list, including most fruits and vegetables,
soybeans, tofu, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
This regime supposedly allows us to lose weight and avoid serious
problems, including osteoporosis, kidney stones, gallstones, arthritis,
cancer, and diabetes. Quite the array. But before you jump for joy, let's
take a more critical look at the components of this diet and how it
affects your body.
Science Says the Alkaline Diet is Good, But Not Because It's Alkaline
According to Dr. Melinda Ratini, doctor at St. Mary Medical Center in
Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the theory behind the alkaline diet is
erroneous. If the goal is to maintain the blood PH level, nothing you eat
should do that, because the body naturally keeps it consistent: an
elegant homeostasis. Regardless of your eating habits, it should always
stay between 7.35 to 7.45, never wavering outside.
That being said, sticking to an alkaline diet has potential, because the
fact that it contains lots of fruits and veggies and water, and omits
sugar, alcohol, and processed food, makes it good for weight loss, and
offers a myriad of other health benefits.
An Alkaline Diet -- How Can It Help You?
An alkaline diet not only helps you lose weight; it also achieves its lofty
goal of alleviating the symptoms of some chronic diseases. In 2012,
Gerry K. Schwalfenberg from the University of Alberta in Edmonton,
Canada, reviewed various studies to figure out the real benefits of this
trendy way of munching.
His research revealed some positive results. Since the diet contains a
variety of vegetables and fruit, it balances out the potassium to sodium
ratio in cells, as well as promotes bone health and lowers the risk of
hypertension and stroke. It also increases intracellular magnesium,
which is a requirement for the working of many enzyme systems.
In addition to body benefits, the brain also gets a boost. Eating alkaline
increases human growth hormone, which in turn improves
cardiovascular health, memory, and cognition.
An Alkaline Diet -- What Can't It Heal?
Alkaline diets, and yes, bottles of alkaline water, are now being touted
as a cancer cure. Dr. T.R. Fenton from the University of Alberta wanted
to know if there was any science behind this.
So, in 2016, he and colleagues conducted a systematic review to see if
the water made any difference in the treatment of cancer. They also
examined whether an acid-based dietary intake would cause the body
to form more cancerous cells.
Surprise, surprise: In the 8,278 citations and 252 abstracts, only one
study met the inclusion criteria. It showed that there was no
association between an acidic diet and bladder cancer. In other words,
no studies were found that showed that an acidic diet was harmful nor
that alkaline water made any significant difference.
So, if you see someone selling that stuff door-to-door, tell them that
science says no.
An Alkaline Diet --- Feel It In Your Bones
Bone disease has become increasingly common. Since one of the
miracle claims of an alkaline diet is to cure osteoporosis, researchers
wanted to test that hypothesis.
In 2001, K.L. Tucker and researchers at the Center on Aging at Tufts
University in Boston, Massachusetts, examined the role acidic vs basic
components on bone mineral density.
Basic effects were tested with magnesium, potassium, fruit, and
Acidic effects were tested with protein. They analyzed an elderly
population between the ages of 69 and 97. Bone density was measured
at three hip sites and one forearm site, at two points in time, four years
apart. Dietary intake was assessed at the baseline by a food frequency
questionnaire, before starting.
In this case, contrary to hypothesis, both basic and acidic elements had
a positive effect on the bones.
The scientists found that a combination of magnesium, potassium, fruit,
and vegetables, was significantly associated with a higher bone mineral
density at baseline, and a lower bone loss over four years. Additionally,
they found that protein was also associated with a lower loss of bone
over the same time period.
The answer: Eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits and veggies, and get
enough protein too. Which brings me to the next point.
An Alkaline Diet --- What Can It Hurt?
Most aspects of being on an alkaline diet won't hurt you, depending on
your dietary needs and restrictions. The problem, however, isn't what
is on the diet. It's what isn't.
According to Stephanie Vangness from the Brigham and Young's
Women Hospital, an alkaline diet excludes some fat and oils that
actually provide essential fatty acids, that are necessary to maintain
immunity and make healthy cells.
Although some kinds of beans and legumes are on the menu, others
aren't, some of which have good phytonutrients that boost the immune
system and lower the risk of cancer.
If you're really gung-ho and decided about following alkaline
guidelines, consider making an exception once or twice a week to mix
in those fatty acids and phytonutrients.
So, what should I do?
Everyone is different. Probably, for some, an alkaline diet could make a
big improvement in their well-being. But, as mentioned, there are some
things not in the diet that your body may crave and need. Experiment
on your own, and consult a nutritionist. But don't have any illusions
that the PH of your blood will change any time soon.
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|Alkaline diets feature plenty of fruits and