PH or Acid/Alkaline Balance

Virtually all holistic practitioners see a direct relationship between certain disease conditions and an "overly acid" or "overly alkaline" system and so pH testing of urine and saliva can represent one useful tool for evaluating overall health. Unfortunately, conflicting or inconsistant opinion can cloud this particular issue even within the natural health community itself. What we sometimes end up with is more confusion than clarity.

Contributing to this confusion is the fact that the current emphasis on pH-modifying diets composed of 80% "alkaline foods" is in direct conflict with the careful analysis of Dr. Weston A. Price (and corroborated indirectly by other researchers). Price's meticulous research clearly showed that the diets of the healthy primitive peoples which Price studied all over the world were actually higher in "acid-ash" foods than "alkaline-ash" foods. And, in point of fact, both alkalizing and acidifying minerals in liberal amounts are critical to long term health. Also important is the crucial, but frequently over-looked role that fats, especially animal fats,  play in the body's long term ability to maintain pH balance.

Luckily, this particular controversy is at least partially clarified in an editorial comment attached to an article titled Acid Alkaline Balance and Your Health by Virginia Worthington, ScD [but be sure to also read page on grains and mycotoxins] - as follows:

"A number of alternative practitioners today advocate a diet based primarily on fruits and vegetables, one that minimizes “acid-forming” foods such as meat, fish and grains. While the inclusion of fruits and vegetables in the diet is important for many reasons, including the fact that these foods provide alkalinizing minerals, for most people it is not necessary to minimize acid ash foods such as meat and whole grains in order to maintain acid-base balance. In fact, a diet in which these acid ash foods are absent can lead to deficiencies which undermine the body’s ability to maintain the proper blood pH. Meat and other animal foods provide protein, red meats provide zinc, and meat and properly prepared whole grains provide phosphorus, all of which are needed for the regulation of acid-base balance. Fat soluble vitamins found in organ meats, shellfish and good quality butter help maintain the health of the lungs and kidneys, the two prime organs involved in acid-base regulation."

It is also very important to note here that the overall mineral content, like the fat soluble vitamin content, which was present in every healthy culture studied by Weston Price was at least four, and sometimes more than ten times, higher than what is found in modernized diets. This, along with our  well hyped "fat fobias", is the key reason so many of us slide, one step at a time into dis-ease.

Another area of confusion in the acid/alkaline debate comes with the terminology, which is unfortunately used interchangeably. For example the residues from cheese and milk form "acid ash" when burned in a lab but they are "alkaline-forming" in the body. This means you will find "acid/alkaline"charts which categorize milk and cheese (as well as other foods) in opposite categories which pretty much leaves you right where you started - unless you can ascertain whether the terminology applied in order to construct the chart was correct and consistent throughout.

Just as key is the fact that many very unhealthy foods are included on these charts leaving one with the impression that they are acceptable components of a healthy diet.  To further confuse this issue is the simple fact that we all react to foods differently.

In other words, these charts are best used as general guides, not hard and fast rules if they are used at all. Know also that if you simply eliminate simple sugars, flours, and bad fats and include non-starchy vegetables and some raw and naturally fermented foods, you will go a long way towards improving your acid/alkaline balance.

A third area of confusion in the acid/alkaline debate arises with cooked foods versus raw. This is because many, but not all, foods are more alkaline-forming in their raw state than they are in cooked states. This is due primarily to the live enzymes and extra supply of undamaged nutrients that are often cooked and/or processed out of most modern foods, organic or not.

A fourth monkey wrench in the acid/alkaline debate comes into play when a person has a food intolerance or digestive problem. Acids are typically formed in the normal metabolic (or energy-production) process but when food metabolism becomes compromised by allergies, intolerances, or poor digestion - more acid waste is left behind. 

Both allergies and poor digestion are associated with "intestinal dysbiosis" or to put it another way, a compromised intestinal terrain.  Grains and mycotoxins may be main contributing factors, but in all cases probiotics (along with enzymes), both in supplemental form and in naturally fermented foods such as Kefir and fermented vegetables, juices and so forth will help alleviate allergies, improve digestion and improve the acid/alkaline balance.

Yeast/fungal overgrowth is almost always a compounding factor. Here a detox regimen that rotates "anti-fungal" herbs and other nutrients can help immeasurably. These can include a beginning herbal cleanse program  after which anti-fungals like olive leaf extract, garlic, capryllic acid, psyllium hulls and so forth can be rotated.  (See the bottom of our detox page for some excellent choices and ideas.) A diet similar to the healing plate is also crucial.

A final part of the problem in the acid/alkaline debate lies in the complex nature of the body's pH-regulating system. This is described succinctly in The Chemistry of Success by Susan M. Lark, M.D. and James A. Richards, M.B.A. and helps to flesh out the editorial comment cited above:

" The pH-regulating system of the body is very complex and is made up of many parts. Within the body, the various parts of our pH-regulating system are carefully orchestrated to work well together. The system includes the alkaline minerals contained both inside and outside the cells [known as interstitial or lymphatic fluids], as well as the mineral reserves stored within our bones. . .

"We also have three buffer systems in the blood that help keep its PH constant. In addition, the lungs help to regulate pH by breathing in alkaline oxygen and eliminating acidic waste products in the form of carbon dioxide. . . Finally, the kidneys eliminate excessive amounts of either acid or alkaline substance from the body through urine. . . .

"The pH-regulating system tends to be healthy and to work efficiently in children and young adults. There are, however, children who have weak buffer systems and tend to become overly acidic early in life as well as some youngsters who are high-alkaline producers and maintain this tendency throughout life. . .

"The healthy buffering capability of most young people is due to the robust mineral reserves stored in their bones, healthy buffer systems, and strong lung and kidney function. However, as people age and experience the mostly acidifying stresses of modern life, the pH-regulating system begins to decline in its efficiency".

Importantly and as alluded to above, excess acids do NOT stay in the blood, the pH of which MUST remain within a very narrow range in order for life to be possible.  So, in order to prevent disaster, the body has a variety of mechanisms to deal with excess acid.

The buffering systems allow the body to borrow minerals from body tissues, the "interstitial fluids" (or lymphatics) or from the bones in order to neutralize excess acid. In addition, various organs, including the kidneys, lungs, colon and skin help to excrete acids, assuming they are functioning reasonably well. And finally, the body can store excess acids in the tissues, muscles and arteries.

Thus, over time, acid/alkaline imbalances can weaken organs and bones and lead to a variety of serious health concerns.

Although "over-alkaline" conditions can take longer to correct, the fact is most of us are "over acid." To keep things simple we can say that there are five major factors for excess acid production in the body. These are:

1) excess stress of any kind (emotional, physical, environmental), 

2) poor digestion or food intolerances,

3) inadequate oxygen uptake due to poor nutrient intake and/or poor breathing techniques and/or lack of exercise, 

4) "hyperinsulimia" or excess insulin (or even long term insulin/blood sugar imbalance) - which itself leads to allergies, food intolerances and poor digestion, and

5) insufficient intake of vitamins and minerals, which as stated before, are four to more than ten times less that what healthy primitive cultures were found to have consumed .

An over-acid condition can affect all major body systems including the intestinal and digestive systems and the circulatory, immune and respiratory systems. Health concerns associated with acidosis include cardiovascular weakness, low energy, weight gain, bladder and kidney concerns, immune deficiency, acceleration of free radical damage and structural system weakness, including brittle bones and hip fractures. High body alkalinity causes many of the same kinds of mineral problems as high acidity, and high alkalinity may also lead to digestive system sluggishness, nervous system exhaustion, urinary system weakness, respiratory system compromise, and immune system concerns. 

If you are suffering from an acid/alkaline imbalance, and over acidity in particular, your body may send out clues which you can use to help motivate you to modify your diet and/or lifestyle. These clues include all of the above as well as any of the following: noticeable morning stiffness; slowed recovery from illness, injury, surgery or exercise; feeling overly tired or energized after a day of exercise; decreased resistance to colds and flu; increased health complaints including allergies, digestive troubles, insomnia, canker sores, parasites and fungal conditions, and even just not feeling "quite right."

In fact, once you are in tune with body signals, you can also use many of these kinds of signals to give you a fair idea as to whether you are "out of balance."

In addition to paying attention to body symptoms and signals, saliva and urine pH testing is another, easy method which can provide important clues as to how well your body is maintaining and regulating acid/alkaline balance.

For example, saliva pH reveals the pH of the interstitial fluids, or lymphatics. And saliva pH is linked with digestive functioning. Urine pH reveals what is being removed from the blood and urine pH is linked to kidney function. "Average" normal pH can range from ABOUT 6.5 to 7.5 which is considered to be fairly neutral. Ideally, urine pH levels will fluctuate from 6 to 6.4 (or so) in the morning and 6.4 to 7 in the evening and the saliva should stay in a tighter range, between 6.4 and 6.8.

Interestingly, people who test out as alkaline may actually have no good intestinal flora and therefore very low levels of essential digestive enzymes. When healthy probiotics (both in supplemental form and in naturally fermented foods) are added pH may then drop to very low levels, indicating poor mineral reserves. The long term goal however (for everyone) is to establish healthy gut flora as they strive to achieve acid/alkaline balance.

There are two important points to keep in mind when measuring pH. First, it is best and easiest to measure both saliva and urine pH the first thing in the morning (before eating or drinking anything) and in the evening, before bed and an hour or more after eating or drinking anything.  Second, you need to get an average of both urine and saliva pH readings over several days, then repeat in a month or two after making lifestyle and diet adjustments and adding in appropriate supplements.

Keep in mind also that the kidneys can take up to six days to correct an imbalance in urine pH so it may be best to test every other day or two. Also be aware that the first morning urine will be more acid than the second urine and so some suggest testing the second morning urine. However, pH should go UP within an hour or two after eating (sometimes increasing to 8.5), so measure when convenient and if it is first morning urine, consider that it will most likely be more acid than the second morning urine (which also would need to be tested before eating)

Each time you measure pH, record the numbers for saliva and for urine separately. Spread the testing over two weeks or so, measuring every other day or some such. When you have recorded several days of "tests" add up the numbers from morning Urine pH, evening urine pH, and all Saliva pH numbers. Then divide each set of numbers by the number of "tests" you have performed and this will give you an average for both saliva pH and urine pH. Average morning urine pH should be approximately 6 to 6.4. Average evening urine pH should be approximately 6.4 to 7.  Average saliva pH should be between 6.4 and 6.8.

What you want is a "picture" of how well your body is functioning within "normal" pH levels.  As always and in our opinion, you need not and should not become "fixated" on numbers. Use them as a guide, nothing more, nothing less, and always corroborate with body signals and symptoms - and with diet and lifestyle choices.  And remember, excess insulin stimulants will lead to acid/alkaline imbalances.

Order pH test strips (item 2918-8) and explanatory booklet "pH Balancing Simplified" (2836-1): here.