Is Alkaline Water the New Miracle Cure?
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Americans love medicine. Or maybe I should say, Americans love the idea of medicine.
The idea that there exists some substance, therapy, or technique that will cure them of all their ills and hold back the ravages of disease and aging, preferably in a way that is simple, convenient, and obtainable with a minimum of fuss and effort has great appeal. It’s one of those things that those of us who work in medicine have to accept with a grain of salt.
Regardless of whether the type of medicine practiced is mainstream or alternative, it’s the rare practitioner who hasn’t had a patient breathlessly reveal to them that they have discovered some new miracle cure for all that ails them; if you'd just listen for a few minutes, they will share this magical secret they have uncovered.
Unfortunately, that’s not how the body or medicine works.
The human body is a wondrous biological machine, capable of amazing feats, but it’s not a simple one; it is governed by the rules of science, which has very little respect for universal fixes. The hard truth is that most of the time, the longer a condition has existed and the more impact it has on one’s day-to-day life, the longer and more comprehensive the fix will be. Whether this fix comes from manual therapies, treatments, drugs, supplements, diet or lifestyle changes, sacrifice and work are required of both the patient and the practitioner.
But this reality is not a welcome one to most ears, so every year, new “miracle” cures appear--cures that require only a minimal effort (but that usually carry a hefty price tag).
One of the newer trends in this arena is alkaline water.
Water, water everywhere
Medical science has long been aware that the body is at it’s most effective and efficient when it's within a certain pH range. pH is a scale that determines how acidic or alkaline something is. A pH of 7 is considered neutral with lower numbers indicating the acidic side of the scale and anything higher the alkaline side.
Our bodies tend to be slightly acidic, a state that aids our immune system among other things; if it gets to acidic, however, either because of environmental causes, lack of oxygen, poor diet, or other factors, that increased acidity can damage the tissues of the body and create chronic health complaints. One way to change that state is to make the body chemistry more alkaline, preferably through better eating habits and lifestyle changes. There are some substances that can aid in this, but alkaline water is not one of them.
The idea that water with a higher pH can affect the body’s chemistry is attractive, but it falls apart right from the beginning. While the water may have a slightly higher pH, the second it hits the stomach (which for all intents and purposes is basically an agitating acid bath that starts the digestive process), any pH differential is neutralized.
It would take an incredibly strong alkaline fluid to travel through the stomach without becoming neutralized. Any alkaline that strong would do incredible damage to the tissues of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and other digestive organs before it ever made it to the bloodstream.
The placebo effect
While some people have reported feelings of increased health after using alkaline water products, most of those benefits can be attributed to one of two factors: increased hydration and the placebo effect.
There is nothing inherently dangerous about consuming alkaline water. People do need to be aware, however, that like most classic snake oil scams, the high financial cost and dubious benefits associated with it combined with the evangelical fervor of those who are selling it combine to form a dubious situation: If people are choosing to embrace this less than effective treatment method, they should know exactly what it is they are getting--basically slightly altered H20 that offers nothing that any other form of filtered water could give them.
Instead of dropping big bucks on either pretreated water or a water-treatment system that alkalizes water, just get yourself a decent filtration system (or if you're lucky enough to live somewhere with high municipal water standards, go straight to the tap).
The standard recommended amount of eight 8-ounce glasses a day is a good start, but if you want to ensure maximum hydration, this simple equation is all you need: Take your weight in pounds, divide by two, and that’s the number of ounces of water you should try to drink every day. Hot, warm, ice cold, or at whatever temperature you prefer, just pour yourself some plain old water and drink it down.