Amongst popular health trends are alkaline diets, alkaline foods, and now, even alkaline water.
In these terms alkalinity is referring to the pH of a food or a fluid.
For instance, blood’s PH in the body is about a 7.5, which is neutral (neither acid nor alkaline).
In our bodies blood PH is very constant.
If you are too acidic, you allow disease and fat retention to take over your body; fat cells must work harder to help the body buffer fat, to store acid while it is removed slowly from the body.
Alkalizing is an important aspect of the average person’s health, but for the active gym-goer or athlete trying to lose fat and build muscle, it is even more important.
What is Alkalizing?
Alkalizing is the opposite of acidifying. In terms of the body, it means having a PH greater than 7. Everything that happens to your body - exercise, stress, detoxing, digestion, energy production, even breathing produces excess acid.
Breathing actually accounts for more acid production than eating. That’s why hyperventilation can lead to disorders such as respiratory alkalosis1. What happens is your body uses oxygen that you breathe for its metabolism by breaking it down into “carbonic acid” which then becomes C02 and water. The problem is getting rid of all of this acid2.
To help dispose of the acid and prevent your PH from becoming overly acidic, metabolic processes require buffers. These buffers come in the form of minerals and electrolytes so that complex molecules like proteins, enzymes, and antioxidants can metabolize and remove the acids from the body through sweat, urine, and stool.
Why be alkaline?
The PH of the body’s blood and cell tissues must be kept extremely consistent. If you aren’t alkaline, you will have trouble buffering the acids created through metabolic processes. In response, the body slowly begins to slow down or shut off in an effort to preserve itself.
This puts fat burning, workout performance, your immune system, and detoxification on hold. If the condition is serious enough, and acidity is not corrected, toxins in the body begin to accumulate and can eventually lead to serious illness like cancer or disease.
Things that cause high amounts of acid in our system include:
- Tissue growth and repair
- Immune system function
As a person striving to build a better body, these processes are prevalent in some way or another. Working out and exercising puts stress on the body, excess calories stress the digestive system, muscles are constantly in a state of repair, and inflammation is prevalent.
All of these things create more tissue damage and require much more maintenance than the average person. As the metabolic needs of a person increase, the amount of acid buffers increases substantially.
How We Test Alkalinity
If you don’t know where your body falls in terms of alkalinity, there is an easy way to find out.
It’s called, the lemon saliva challenge.
It tests your saliva’s ability to stabilize PH when your body is introduced to acidic conditions.
What you need:
- pH strips ranging from 5.5-8 and a color key.
- A mix of 1TBSP lemon juice and 1 TBSP distilled water. It is important to use distilled water, because mineral water and electrolyte enhanced water can alter the results of the test.
- A timer
How to test (read all notes first):
- Cut 7 1-2” strips of pH paper
- Get a clock or timer you can count down every minute for 5 minutes
- Take a baseline placing 1 strip on the saliva on your tongue. Then take the reading according to your color key.
- Wash your mouth with the mix of lemon juice and water for 10 seconds and swallow.
- Start your timer and perform another test strip on your tongue.
- Test and record at each 1 minute interval.
- Do not let the strips contact your lips, because the buffers on your lips will alter the test.
- The strip after the lemon juice should equal 5.5 (plain yellow) because the lemon juice is acidic.
- It’s best to perform this test in the morning before eating/ drinking/ or brushing your teeth. If you have thick saliva or dry mouth when waking, you may wash your mouth with water and test 10 minutes later.
- For easy readings place the strips on a white piece of paper or plate after testing.
- Use good lighting, and hold the key close to the strip. You should take a picture of the reading before the minute is up.
- Lemon juice can be bottled or fresh, it does not matter for this test.
- If you are intolerant to lemon you may use apple cider vinegar or lime juice in place of them.
The ideal outcome is that you start with a pH around 7.8, and the lemon juice brings it down to 5.5. Over the course of the next 5 minutes your pH should steadily rebound to 7.8-8.0.
Anything different represents a different level of deficient acid buffering. If your pH starts lower than 7.8 for the baseline, this is a sign of being chronically acidic.
How to Fix Low Alkaline Levels
What can we put into our bodies that will make sure we can buffer acid and continue to burn fat, build muscle, and recover from our workouts effectively?
To do this, you need to increase 3 major alkalizing nutrients:
- Plant Nutrients
Electrolytes are the most commonly used buffers. We use them to buffer all our major metabolic processes. These become depleted very rapidly in athletes, people eating poor diets, and those with high amounts of stress. Improving these is the fastest way to see improvements in alkalinity, because electrolytes can help decrease the load on the other acid buffering systems3.
Minerals are what our body uses to buffer acid in cells and tissues long term. We lose minerals mostly when we cannot buffer fast enough because of poor electrolyte levels, or excessive acid. Our bodies will release calcium for example to alkalize the blood.
This is how bone density decreases over time. The better you manage your alkalinity, the healthier bones and joints you will have because your body won’t constantly be pulling minerals from itself. Minerals are important to the body, but almost impossible to replenish if your alkalinity is off.
This is because even if you are supplementing with these excess minerals, your body prioritizes them as extra buffers rather than using them to support any other metabolic processes4.
Plant nutrients help reduce and remove acid toxins in the system, and can lead to decreased acid production. If you have a low alkalinity, you will also have a build-up of these acidic toxins in your system. Using high dosages of plant nutrients can help eliminate these toxins.
It’s common that people who are very acidic will get digestive distress on high amounts of plant nutrients because of the increased rate of detoxification. Adding extra fiber helps, but if tolerable, sometimes it’s just best to let the body clean itself of these toxins rather than back off.
Speaking in numbers, an active person would do well eating at least 10-15 servings of vegetables a day. Other supplements that will aid in this process are magnesium, multivitamins and minerals, and electrolyte drinks.
- "Alkalosis." MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Accessed February 20, 2018. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001183.html
- Barcroft, J., and R. Margaria. The Journal of Physiology. June 26, 1931. Accessed February 20, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1403075/
- "Fluid and Electrolyte Balance: MedlinePlus." MedlinePlus Trusted Health Information for You. Accessed February 20, 2018. https://medlineplus.gov/fluidandelectrolytebalance.html
- Absorption of Minerals and Metals. Accessed February 20, 2018. http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/digestion/smallgut/absorb_...