These days, eating your vegetables is a no-brainer. A healthy diet gets you halfway to a healthy body, and then you run, bike, or swim the rest of the way…right?
In fact, total body health goes much deeper than eating your veggies and exercising.
Everything you put into your mouth has an effect on your body’s chemical makeup. More specifically, what you eat can change your body’s acidity. And that can change your health. What is proper pH?
What is pH?
Buckle up for some chemistry! I promise it won’t hurt.
pH is a scientific way to measure the acidity of a substance. In the strictest, most brainy definition of the term, it counts hydrogen ions. In fact, pH stands for “potential of hydrogen!”
Hydrogen ions can be positively or negatively charged, and they make a huge difference in the acidity of a solution.
The more positive hydrogen ions there are in a substance, the more acidic it is. You’d think that a higher pH would mean higher acidity, but this isn’t so.
In fact, the pH scale appears to be backwards to non-scientists: lower numbers are stronger acids. Battery acid is about a zero on the pH scale. (You wouldn’t want to get that stuff on your hands!)
A pH of 7 is neutral – think plain tap water. As you climb the scale, you run into substances like baking soda, which has a pH of 9, meaning that it’s a base.
Bases have hydrogen ions, too, but unlike acids, bases have ions that are negatively charged. With a pH of 14, drain cleaner is the strongest base you can buy from the supermarket. Just don’t try to cook with it!
So what does all of this have to do with your body? Well, let’s consider hydrogen. It’s the most common element on our planet. In fact, a pretty large amount of you is hydrogen! Why? Because water is made of hydrogen and oxygen! The potential of hydrogen has everything to do with your potential to be healthy. Let’s take a look at why.
Why is Proper Body pH Critical?
Both acidosis, or the condition of having acidic blood, and alkalosis, the condition of having blood that’s too basic, are potentially life-threatening.
Heart failure, blood pressure problems, kidney disorders, lung issues, and severe diarrhea can all cause acidosis in their own ways. Breathing problems can also lead to respiratory acidosis, a condition that may be treated with oxygen.
We’ll talk more about clinical acidosis later in this piece.
Metabolic acidosis is the big bad pH monster of the medical world. However, the recent success of alkaline diets has brought pH into the spotlight for the average person, especially if that person wants to shed a few pounds.
Alkaline diets propose that some foods, especially animal-derived products, cause your body to create acids. Others, such as fruits and vegetables, cause your body to generate bases, also known as alkali substances.
The point of alkaline dieting is to reduce the pH of your blood by reducing how many acids it makes from your food.
This is supposed to make you lose weight. Victoria Beckham famously popularized this strategy, causing it to take off around the Internet.
Vegetables, of course, are very good for you no matter what diet you’re following. Animal products tend to be high in calories as well as nutrients, so if you sub in beans for meat, you may very well lose weight.
Researchers are also interested in the alkaline diet for management of chronic age-related conditions, not because this diet changes the pH of blood, but because it stresses the importance of fruits and vegetables.
In cases where someone already has acidosis, it’s possible that an alkaline diet would be a useful treatment.
Researchers are excited about the possibilities that eating alkaline may open up for ordinary people, too.
While your kidneys will usually take care of toxic levels of acids and bases, you may still be able to get a lot of benefit by tracking your blood’s pH.
According to some specialists, pH levels can indicate mineral deficiencies that can cause fatigue, lack of energy, and pessimism.
Changing the pH of your urine can also be useful! Researchers are still looking into the possibility that an alkaline diet can prevent kidney stones and urinary tract infections.
However, since medication can change the acidity of your urine more efficiently, it’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor about those kinds of problems before taking them into your own hands. Another good reason to call your PCP: having a urine pH that’s too high or too low can itself cause kidney stones.
What is Proper pH?
The pH of your blood should be close to neutral – in fact, it should be just a little bit basic.
A blood pH level of about 7.4 is normal. If your blood’s pH level falls below 7.35, then you have acidosis, which can be very a very serious condition. If your blood’s pH rises above 7.45, then you’ve got the opposite condition: alkalosis.
Usually, your kidneys will regulate your blood’s pH levels.
Various other substances in your body may rank differently on the pH scale at different times. For example, lactic acid builds up in your muscles when you exercise. As the name suggests, lactic acid’s pH is quite low!
This is what accounts for the burning sensation you feel when you work out. Your urine’s pH varies quite widely because it is the output of your kidneys, which expel acids or bases as needed to keep your blood’s pH at 7.4.
That’s why urine can measure as low as 4.5 on the pH scale or as high as 8. Vaginal pH is normally quite low: between 3.8 and 4.5 on the pH scale.
There are a number of bacterial infections that can cause it to go higher, so a pH test can be an important tool in diagnosing a problem with your reproductive parts.
That’s not even getting to your body’s big pH winner: stomach acid! If you’ve ever experienced acid reflux, then you know that this biological substance is nothing to mess with. Stomach acid can be as low as 1.5 on the pH scale. That’s strong enough to eat through wood!
What Affects Your Body’s pH?
Lots of factors can alter your pH, including what you eat, how you sleep, and how much magnesium you consume. If you eat a lot of greens, that could also affect your body’s overall acidity.
Since so many different parts of your body feature different pH levels, there’s a lot to be aware of as far as modifying or changing your pH. First and foremost, I want to stress that If you’re already healthy, then your diet won’t change your blood’s acidity.
Even if you have kidney problems, regulating your blood’s acidity through diet is not well researched, and you should talk to your doctor before trying it. However, no matter how you eat, your diet will definitely affect the pH of your urine! Fruits and vegetables are particularly good at raising your urine’s pH.
If you’re already at risk of or actually experiencing metabolic acidosis, then including a lot of salt in your diet may cause more problems for you. You doctor might already have told you this, but I’ll say it again: salt really isn’t your friend!
Exercise also produces lactic acid, which stays in your muscles for a little while causing that burn that athletes love so much. Then your body takes care of it, partially by flushing it out of your kidneys.
Your stomach acid’s pH varies depending on whether your stomach is currently full or not. You may be all too aware of your stomach acid when it migrates up into your esophagus and causes heartburn! An old folk remedy for for this common condition involves drinking a glass of water mixed with baking soda to neutralize some of that acid. Believe it or not, this works! Just don’t get too used to the taste. If you’re still downing baking soda after two weeks, then something else is wrong and you need to see your doctor.
Substances with pH levels lower than 7 are considered acidic.
Vinegar, battery acid, and orange juice all have pH levels lower than 7.
Believe it or not, milk does, too! That’s right: milk’s pH falls between 6.5 and 6.7. You might not use milk to eat through metal, but it’s technically an acid. No wonder it’s verboten in alkaline diets!
Any substance with a pH level higher than 7 is alkaline, or a base. Baking soda is one of the most famous of these.
Not only can it deodorize your fridge, scour your pots, temporarily cure your heartburn, and make your pancakes perfect, but its reaction with its acidic counterpart vinegar is so entertaining that it’s a mainstay at elementary school science fairs worldwide.
Other bases include drain cleaner and soaps. In an alkaline diet, you’ll be focusing on alkaline foods. (Not soap, though!) These generally include fruits, veggies, and spices other than salt.
Body pH and Cancer
“Cancer thrives in an acidic environment, and doesn’t survive in an normal”
source – Cancer Fighting Strategies
High pH in Urine
The pH of your urine might rise, or become more basic, if you consume a lot of vegetables. Fruits can also cause the pH of your urine to rise into alkaline levels. The highest your urine should ever get on the pH scale is 8. The lowest is 3.5.
Some medications can change your urine’s pH level too, including potassium citrate, baking soda, and some epilepsy,cough, and heart disease medications. If you’re following the alkaline diet while taking these meds, be prepared for some wonky results! Your doctor may be able to give you details about what exactly they’ll do to your urine’s pH levels.
Normal Urine pH
Normally, your urine’s pH is about 6. It can fall as low as 3.5 or rise as high as 8 before your doctor will begin to get worried.
Those numbers represent all the stuff, including the extra acids and bases, that your body is getting rid of. Don’t worry if the numbers fluctuate a bit!
That’s just a sign that your kidneys are functioning normally in their eternal quest to rid your body of waste and keep your blood’s pH level at a nice, healthy 7.4.
How to Test Urine pH
If all this pH talk has gotten you interested in your own urine’s acidity, then you’re in for some good news!
Checking your urinary pH level is very easy. All you need is a pH test strip. Packs of these are sold in local pharmacies and online, often for less than ten dollars.
- Buy your test strips online or from your pharmacy. Each strip is single use, so if you’re planning to test your urine consistently, make sure and get a good deal!
- Morning is the best time to test your urine, so plan accordingly. Your body’s chemistry, like your weight and height, fluctuates throughout the day based on a number of factors. In this case, anything you eat is going to change what flows through your kidneys. If you want an accurate measurement, test before breakfast.
- When the big moment arrives, remove a test strip from the package.
- Urinate onto the test strip until one end is fairly well soaked.
- Remove the strip from your urine.
- Wait 15 seconds for the strip to turn colors. It could become anything from a lovely shade of orange to a fetching dark green.
- Match that color with the chart on the bottle or box that the strip came in. The color of the test strip will correspond to a pH level. Voila! You now know your urine’s pH.
If you find that you’re a real geek for urinary pH, you could repeat this process throughout the day to see firsthand one way that your lifestyle impacts your kidney function.
Be careful, though: once you start studying the fascinating human body, it’s a slippery slope to a career in medicine!
How do you Reduce Acidity in Your Body?
You could start by testing your urine! This will give you an idea of what you can eat and avoid to change your urine’s pH. If you track the pH of your urine on a chart, you might even be able to see how your sleep and activity habits affect your urine’s pH!
Metabolic or respiratory acidosis is a whole different story. I’ll talk more about that serious medical condition later on in this piece.
Metabolic acidosis is what happens when your blood really does become too acidic or too alkaline, with life-threatening results. If you suspect that you have metabolic acidosis, a diet will not help you. Your doctor will, though!
What Foods Reduce Acidity in the Body?
Let’s say that you’ve spoken to your doctor and gotten the OK to try an alkaline diet. Good for you!
According to the rules of alkaline dieting, fruits and vegetables can make your body more alkaline, which makes you healthier. These foods include:
- Fruits, including oranges and lemons
Adherents of the diet say that oranges and lemons, though they are acidic, promote the generation of alkaline substances in the body once they’re digested.
What do You Eat on an Alkaline Diet?
An alkaline diet includes most of the good stuff that your doctor tells you to eat anyway. All of the yummy fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that make your diet both healthy and fun also make the alkaline diet easy to follow.
Here’s some of what you can eat on an alkaline diet:
- Nuts other than peanuts, walnuts, and pistachios
- Sunflower seeds
What are some high alkaline foods?
There’s a lot you can eat if you’re going alkaline, but some basic foods are royalty. These are negative-ranked values on the PRAL, or Potential Renal Acid Load scale.
The PRAL is actually used by doctors to measure excretion. (Whenever you hear the word “renal,” think “kidneys.” Whenever you hear the word “kidneys,” think “urine.”) The PRAL doesn’t have much to do with levels of acid in your blood, but alkaline dieters still consider it a good way to track your diet. Here’s a list of some of the top alkaline foods according to PRAL rankings:
- Dried figs
- Carrot juice
- Black currants
Is coconut oil alkaline or acidic?
Coconut oil is already a healthy, popular cooking alternative that healthy folks will already be well familiar with. As you might expect, coconut oil is mildly alkaline, and therefore OK to eat on an alkaline diet. Coconuts are good, too!
Is apple cider vinegar acidic or alkaline in the body?
Apple cider vinegar is an acid in the bottle – just mix it with baking soda and see what happens! But what about in your diet? Alkaline devotees say that apple cider vinegar promotes alkalinity even though it’s an acid, just like oranges and lemons.
Having read this far, maybe you’re ready to at last try some alkaline cuisine! There are lots of options out there. Here are a few recipes for starters:
- You might already have tried this Middle Eastern staple premade, but once you know how easy it is to make, you’ll never go back to the prepackaged stuff!
- An alkaline power smoothie. Coconut water takes a starring role!
- Lentil soup! Lentils are already so easy and delicious that it’s hard to imagine any diet plan without them.
- Kale salad. Don’t knock kale until you try it! Though it can be bitter when it’s raw, it’s a star where alkalization is concerned.
Alkaline dieters know that they need to avoid acidic foods, but there are exceptions.
Many foods that test quite low on the pH scale, like apples, lemons, and tomatoes, are totally fine for alkalines to enjoy. So what’s off the table? Here’s what Dr. Axe has to say about what’s acidic:
- Processed foods. Although foods like the aforementioned hummus may be OK if made at home, they’re apparently not allowable if bought in a store. Eating pre-packaged foods generally isn’t great for you anyway thanks to all the salt and sugar that they tend to include, so you can probably take this dietary limitation to heart regardless of whether you alkalize.
- Though it’s possible that a small amount of wine is good for you, it’s also likely that you can get the same heart-healthy kick from tea, which, yes, is alkaline!
- Caffeine, although apparently the caffeine in green tea doesn’t count.
- Peanuts and walnuts.
- Wheat products
While an alkaline diet won’t necessarily change the acidity of your blood, actual acidosis is a real and very serious medical problem. I mentioned it a couple times earlier in this piece, but it bears more attention now.
You normally can’t eat your way into or out of metabolic acidosis. In fact, metabolic acidosis is usually a result of something else going wrong in your body. There are a lot of possible root causes, from kidney failure to poison.
However, if you suspect that you may have metabolic acidosis, it’s important to look for the signs and seek a doctor’s help immediately.
Metabolic Acidosis Symptoms
Not all of the signs of this life-threatening condition manifest at once. It can help to know if you’re in a high-risk group, such as Type I diabetics, so that you know to watch for the most common indicators that you might be getting sick.
According to Medscape, these are some of the most common acidosis signs:
- Fast breathing, also known as hyperventilation
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Bone pain
Metabolic Acidosis Causes
The good news is that acidosis is hard to catch. While intense exercise is famous as one possible cause, very few people will jog their way into a hospital bed by this route.
Basically, acidosis happens when your body either can’t get rid of the normal levels of acid that have built up in your system or is actually producing so much of its own acid that it’s making itself sick.
There are a few common precipitating causes that doctors look for in an emergency:
- Type I diabetes. This genetic condition can cause chemicals known as ketones to build up in the body.
- Severe diarrhea. This condition can also dehydrate you.
- Excessive alcohol consumption, which can lead to lactic acid buildup.
- Intense exercise
- Liver failure. Like the kidneys, the liver helps to clean the body.
- Some medicines
- Lack of oxygen
- Aspirin poisoning
- Kidney disease
If you do develop this condition, don’t panic. Modern medicine is good at treating acidosis. Here’s what your doctor might do if you come down with respiratory acidosis:
- Give you medications that open your airways. Never take these except as prescribed by a doctor.
- Put you on a CPAP machine. That acronym stands for “Continuous Positive Airway Pressure.” If you know anyone who snores, you may already know what this is! A CPAP machine forces air into your lungs as you sleep. People with sleep apnea, who stop breathing in their sleep, use these machines nightly. However, a CPAP machine might also help if you’re struggling to breathe for other reasons, like an obstructed airway or muscle problems.
- In extreme cases, your doctor might put you on oxygen.
For metabolic acidosis, a doctor may choose one of several different treatments based on what’s causing the acidosis in the first place. Here are a few:
- Sodium citrate. This is generally prescribed for kidney failure.
- Diabetics with metabolic acidosis generally get IV fluids and insulin control. IV fluids would be a fairly common go-to in cases of severe acidosis anyway.
- This base could neutralize some of the extra acid in the blood.
- Treatment of the cause. If, for example, the acidosis is being caused by an infection, a doctor might give you antibiotics.
Lactic acidosis is a subset of metabolic acidosis that some gym rats will already be familiar with. Too much of a good thing is apparently terrible for you! But, as I mentioned before, it’s rare that exercise causes acid buildup in your blood.
Lactic acidosis is also a side effect of the drug Metformin, which some people take for high blood sugar. Luckily, this is also very rare. The vast majority of people who take Metformin under their doctor’s supervision are much better off for it and should not stop taking this drug unless directed to do so by their physician.
Your body’s pH isn’t just important to your health. It’s a crucial factor to your ability to survive.
Thank goodness for our incredible kidneys! You may find that an alkaline diet works for you. That’s great! Eating plants is a wonderful experience that does many people a lot of good.
Plus, there’s nothing wrong with being nice to your kidneys. I really can’t say anything caustic about the alkaline diet.
What are you thoughts on the alkaline diet or this post? Comment below this handy dandy infograph. Cheers