Acid-Base Balance in the Human Body

soft drinks like pepsi and coke are extremely acidic

Probably the most critically overlooked element in obtaining optimal nutritional health and balance in our body is understanding and maintaining proper pH levels.

Acid-Base Balance–The Key Role to Health?

There is a litany of diets on the market as well as diverse dietary habits of people all over the world. In many places food is more than sustenance, it represents an aspect of culture, tradition and life. According to a common adage, “different people have different customs,” and this certainly rings true regarding the wide variety of foods that are consumed. So what constitutes the “right” diet? Although American mass-media advertising loves to dictate the rights and wrongs of eating, the truth is that there probably isn’t anything consumed that is right or wrong. Why? Well, in reality we are all different–no, not simply different ages or sexes, that is obvious; but different tastes, different cultures, different traditions, different elimination systems, and even different religions and spirituality all play a part. I would argue that there are no rights or wrongs in eating, but certainly there are choices that are “healthy” and “unhealthy.” Perhaps the “golden rule” of eating should be, “get the acid out of your diet and the alkalinity in!”

The pH Range (Acid-Base)

A primary key to healthy diet habits appears to be the major influence of maintaining appropriate pH levels throughout the body. Acidic pH is defined as everything with a pH less than 7.0 (neutrality), and alkalinity is anything with a pH greater than 7.0. When food is metabolized and broken down, it leaves certain chemical and metallic residue which yields either acid or base. When the diet is unbalanced, as are most Western-world diets that are very acidic in nature, the pH of the body fluids is affected. This highly acidic diet may be one of the most significant offenders in causing poor health (dis-ease) in our society. There may be little proof that a high acidic diet causes the common diseases of the modern age, but there is little doubt that acidity may predispose a person to certain chronic conditions. Extremely low pH can be destructive, often contributing to many serious diseases (i.e. diabetes, cataracts, gout, hypertension, hyper-cholesterol, mouth ulcers, stomach ulcers, IBS, osteoarthritis, obesity, stroke, heart attacks, low energy levels, poor sleep, degenerative diseases, auto-immune diseases, and even cancer and pre-mature death).

Alkaline-promoting foods include legumes, green and yellow vegetables, aloe vera juice, and lots of pure water. Alkaline-promoting supplements are minerals such as magnesium calcium, zinc, potassium, and sodium. If the pH of the urine is over 8.0, then consumption of more acid-forming foods will help to balance the pH.  When food is metabolized and broken down, it leaves certain chemical and metallic residues, which yield either acid or base.

a woman balancing as she walks a log

The human body always has the propensity to balance itself, or maintain “homeostasis.”  The body disdains acidity and desires alkalinity in all ways and manner. In fact, the human body can only function in an alkaline environment, in all ways we are “creatures” of alkalinity. The only elements of the human body that are acidic are the stomach acids, secreted by the stomach to break down food. Stomach acid is highly acidic (pH 1.5-2.0). All other aspects of the human body have either an alkaline pH or are neutral. The most important aspect of human pH balance is the blood. Of course, the blood supplies oxygen and nutrients to each and every cell in the body. Japanese scientists have deduced that the body functions in a narrow range of alkalinity of pH 7.2 to 7.45. Ideally, the pH of the blood should be 7.34. In theory, if the blood pH were out of this range for 2-3 weeks, a person could not survive. But it never happens. Why? Because the body has an incredible propensity to maintain homeostasis.

The Body’s Response to Acid

What happens when the pH is acidic and out of the safety range? How does the body respond? In actuality, the body secretes sodium bicarbonate (very alkaline) from our pancreas and our cells. The secretion offsets the high acidity in our body. Again, Japanese scientists have estimated that the body needs 20-30 hours to secrete enough sodium bicarbonate to offset the high body acidity produced by one soft drink (cola). There is a theory that as we age and our processes for producing bicarbonate naturally diminish, and we maintain a high acidic typical American diet, the body has to resort to the second best source of alkalinity in the body, calcium. Where does calcium come from? Our bones, of course. What may be the major reason for osteoporosis in the Western World? Quite possible it is this propensity to acidity which causes a loss of calcium over time due.

Ten Reasons to Attain an Alkaline Buffered pH

  1. It allows an appropriate cholesterol level so plaque does not form.
  2. It allows proper fat metabolism, weight control and healthy insulin production.
  3. It allows a healthy oxygen flow to the tissues and flushes out toxins that promote premature aging.
  4. It allows a smooth blood flow throughout arteries, veins and heart tissue.
  5. It allows critical lipid, fatty acid and hormone metabolism.
  6. It regulates proper blood pressure.
  7. It allows cellular regeneration and DNA-RNA synthesis.
  8. It allows proper calcium/magnesium utilization, lessening the probability of osteoporosis.
  9. It allows proper electrolyte activity, especially the most important potassium/sodium balance.
  10. It prevents acidic conditions such as mouth ulcers, heartburn, skin outbreaks and urinary urgency.

Other Factors Contributing to Acidosis (Not Related to Food)

In addition to the consumption of acidic foods and stressful “acidic” lifestyles, other factors contributing to acidosis include strenuous exercise, trauma, chemicals, infections, drugs including chemotherapy, stress, toxicity, negative thoughts, anger, hatred, exhaustion, depression, and discontent. The adrenal glands excrete the hormones cortisol, aldosterone and adrenaline to respond to “stressors.”  These hormones act as “flight and fright” and try to normalize the body’s pH. However, over time these stressors will create an acidic environment in the body.

a man with his hands on his head, stressed

Testing for Acid/Base

In healthy people, urine pH is slightly acidic in the morning. On average, pH 6.5 and below is acidic, and pH 6.5-7.0 is slightly acidic. The urine pH should become more alkaline (7.5-8.0) by evening. If urine pH is less than 6.0, one should strongly focus on promoting alkalinity. Another way to test pH is by sticking the yellow part of a pH strip under the tongue for a few seconds and see what color it turns. The darker green it turns, the better. If it is yellow or light green, that indicates an acidic pH.

The pH Chart

  • 0 Hydrochloric acid
  • 1-2   Stomach acid
  • 2 -3  Cola and soft drinks, MSG, artificial sweeteners
  • 3 -4  Vinegar, alcohol (whiskey, wine, beer), refined sugar, fast food
  • 4- 5  Coffee, tea, meats, poultry, chocolate
  • 5-6  Tomatoes, wheat products and most breads, beans, citrus fruits
  • 6-7   Onions, collard greens, lemons and limes, some vegetables
  • 6.6   Saliva
  • 6.5-7  Urine, distilled water
  • 7-7.4 water, blood (7.34), green and yellow vegetables, non-citrus fruits, sea salt
  • 8-9   Sea water, high alkaline water
  • 9-10   Baking soda
  • 10-11  Great Salt Lake, Dead Sea
  • 11-12  Household ammonia
  • 12-14  Washing detergent, oven cleaner, soda lye

(Remember…high alkalinity can be as dangerous as too much acidity]

Foods and Acidity

There are a number of problems that are caused by or whose symptoms are exacerbated by acid. The real problems of an acidic diet and lifestyle are becoming clearer, but there is, unfortunately, no clear consensus from the medical profession on how intense these problems are. But there is clear evidence that even in persons without active disease or pathology, ingestion of acid can lead to a myriad of health problems.

The Most Acidic Foods (pH 2.5-3.9) / Avoid or Eat Very Sparingly

soda being poured into a glass

  1. Soft drinks and soda pop are the worst acidic offenders of all, full of sugar and other sweeteners.  Their acid level is around 2.5 mostly because of the carbonation (1 can of cola equals 64 mEq of phosphoric acid).  Severely limit the consumption of Pepsi, Coke, Mountain Dew, and all carbonated beverages and diet sodas.
  2. Alcohol is fermented and acidic.  It will make you gain weight (beer belly) and have a pH of 2.84.  All alcohol is a waste product made by bacteria and yeast. The liver converts alcohol into a toxic waste product–the acid acetaldehyde. This includes beer, wine, whiskey, and alcoholic beverages. Wine coolers are the worst.
  3. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal), saccharin (Sweet’n Low), and sucralose (Splenda), break down into potentially deadly acids in the body. When you ingest aspartame, one of the ingredients (methyl mercury) converts into formaldehyde–a neurotoxin and known carcinogen!  It then turns into formic acid, the same stuff fire ants use in their attack.
  4. Sugar is a major contributor to acid production in the body, and a major contributor to obesity.  When you eat sugar, the extra that isn’t used for quick energy is fermented into acids that result in a body low in acid.  Eliminate major refined carbohydrates such as candy, cookies, pudding, doughnuts, ice cream, bagels, white flour and processed foods.
  5. All tobacco products 
  6. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is also called glutamic acid, and is highly acidic in the body. Animal studies show it can cause brain lesions and neuroendocrine disorders, and lead to obesity.  Eating the typical American diet you are guaranteed to be dosing yourself with MSG and glutamic acid. It is in fast foods, low and no-fat foods, and packaged and processed foods.
  7. Most prescription and non-prescription drugs including aspirin, acetaminophen, and cough and cold medicines.

The Acidic Foods (pH 4.0-5.25) / Eat in Moderation

a latte

  1. All meat and animal protein (including dairy) stimulate insulin release and are very slow to digest.  The fact that animal food is “dead” causes a build-up of acid and an increased propensity to diseases like cancer and heart disease. Strive to eat organic meat and dairy whenever possible.
  2. Chicken and all poultry run about a 42 percent chance of containing contaminated bacteria. Chickens and turkeys do not urinate, which means they absorb their own acidic urine into their fleshy tissue instead.
  3. Caffeine, coffee and tea is much more acidic than distilled water.  If you add cream and sugar it has a pH of 4.0. Black is a little better at pH 5.09. Even tea or “decaf” coffee or tea is an acidic beverage.  Green tea has a pH of 4.6.
  4. Dairy products including milk, cheese (processed, hard and aged), cottage cheese, and yogurt, have concentrated sugars called lactose.  Lactose breaks down in the body as lactic acid, which induces inflammation and irritation, causing an increased risk of cancer and high cholesterol.
  5. Chocolate contains both sugar and caffeine. It also contains two acids called theobromine and methyl bromine.  Although dark chocolate contains some healthy catecolins, it will still make you fat and acidic.
  6. Corn contains 25 different fungi, and is considered acidic.
  7. Concentrated fruit juices are high in sugar and despite some nutritional value they will keep your body acidic.  High sugar juices can actually help to shut down part of your white blood cell activity, reducing immune system function.
  8. Yeast and baked goods can spur microform overgrowth in your body and increase their toxic acid wastes.  Both Brewer’s yeast and baker’s yeast are acidic.
  9. Mushrooms of all kinds are acidic when they are digested. All mushrooms are fungi (shiitake, Portobello, white, and wild) and should be eaten in moderation.
  10. Peanuts and peanut butter are acidic and contain over 27 yeasts and molds.
  11. Egg yolks are acidic because they come from grain-fed chickens that have been documented to contain acids.
  12. Fermented and malted foods that include soy sauce, vinegar, mayo, miso, tamari, tempeh, olives, pickles, condiments, ketchup, chili sauce, steak sauce, and preserves such as jellies and jams, are all acidic and fermented by fungus. Some are high in sugar.

The Slightly Acidic Foods (pH 5.25-7.0) / Eat Freely but not in Excess

oranges and orange juice

  1. Most grains, cereals, and pasta are mildly acidic and mildly alkaline.  Some of the better choices are brown rice, millet, spelt, oats and wild rice.
  2. Fresh water and deep sea are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.  It is important that you only eat fresh fish from unpolluted waters. Salmon, trout, striped bass, and red snapper are among your best choices.
  3. Some citrus fruits are acidic because they have high amounts of sugar, despite their nutrients.  Some of the highest sugar-containing fruits are oranges, bananas, raisins, grapes, melons, pineapples, cherries, and papaya.
  4. Certain dairy products are slightly more alkaline because they are less processed.  They include buttermilk, goat’s milk, whey, butter, and acidophilus (to decrease lactose).
  5. Tomatoes also have little sugar (3 percent) and when eaten raw are very alkalizing.  Cooked, however, they become mildly acidic upon metabolism.
  6. Herbal teas, and most herbs are more alkaline sources than black tea and coffee.
  7. Nuts such as almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, and chestnuts are moderate alkaline and a healthy source of proteins.
  8. Beans and legumes are mainly moderately or highly alkaline.  The best choices are soy beans, lima beans, white navy beans, chickpeas and lentils.
  9. Apple cider vinegar, spices (cinnamon) 
  10. Potatoes 
  11. Some vegetables are mildly alkaline.  They include Brussels sprouts, peas, cauliflower, lets, watercress, rhubarb, artichokes, cabbage and lettuce

The Alkaline Foods (pH 7.0-higher) / Eat Freely and Often

lemons in a pitcher of water

  1. All vegetables (yellow, red and green) provide the vast majority of your body’s needs: vitamins, minerals, fiber, and even macronutrients like proteins and fats.  Some examples are spinach, broccoli, sea vegetables, leafy greens, cucumbers, celery, squash, carrots, radishes, and beets
  2. Green drinks (organic) which contain green plants, vegetable matter, natural enzymes and herbs, and other phytonutrients.  Some of the healthy (alkaline) ingredients include chlorophyll, blue-green algae, spirulina, carrots, kale, barley, sea vegetables, and kamut.
  3. Fruits that are non-citrus such as strawberries, watermelon, apples, pears, pineapple
  4. Lemons, limes and grapefruits are very low in sugar (3-5 percent), and although they are chemically acid, they have an alkalizing effect when metabolized in the body.  Squeeze a lemon or lime in your water throughout the day to maintain a healthy pH.
  5. Broccoli and spinach are great sources of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, folate, B-vitamins, and potassium. They are great sources of fiber that will help lower your blood pressure and improve digestion.
  6. Avocado and coconuts are wonderful sources of monounsaturated fats, as well as protein.  They are as nutrient-dense as most vegetables and are alkaline in nature.
  7. Sprouts are about the best foods you can eat.  They are high in enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and complete proteins.  The most familiar sprouts are soy nuts, soy lecithin, buckwheat, and sunflower seeds.
  8. Seed oils like flax, borage, and primrose are high in good polyunsaturated fats.  Use cold-pressed flaxseed oil as a salad dressing or mix it in green drinks. Pumpkin seeds are highly alkaline.
  9. Certain good grains that are steamed and sprouted.  Quinoa and buckwheat are two examples.  They are high in protein and an excellent choice to round out a meal of green vegetables and essential fats.
  10. Sea salt and table salt is a crystalline structure and the foundation of what keeps our body alkaline.  Healthy blood is salty, nearly as salty as the ocean.
  11. Mineral spring water with highly dissolved solids. It is not recommend to drink excessive amounts, since it is mineral-deplete and more acidic.
  12. And naturally, human breast milk is highly alkaline.

BUILDING STRONG BONES: The Secret of an Alkaline Diet

There is an unfortunate “calcium paradox” that has been taught to us since we were kids, that is, “cow’s milk builds strong bones.” Unfortunately, it just doesn’t hold up in research. Populations of people around the world with the lowest calcium intakes also have the lowest rate of osteoporosis. How can people in China, Africa, Peru and Southeast Asia maintain life-long healthy bones on 200-500 mg of calcium a day, while many of us in the developing world developed brittle bones on 1,500 mg or more of calcium a day? The answer is largely because Westernized populations have overburdened our bodies with excessive ACID load, throwing our all-important acid-alkaline equilibrium way out of balance. In less than a century, we have unwittingly developed a diet and lifestyle that is highly acidic, which over the years and decades will always waste calcium.

The Alkaline Way

  1. The bulk of the diet should be alkalizing vegetables, fruits, lentils, nuts, seeds, and spices. Approximately 80% of the diet should be from the alkaline side.
  2. Limit animal fat and protein to 50-60 grams per day.
  3. Maintain a fat intake of no more than 15% of caloric intake.
  4. Drink 5-8 glasses of high mineral, filtered spring water daily.
  5. Avoid soda pop, soft drinks and alcohol, except on infrequent occasions.
  6. Fresh vegetable juice is a good buffering source.
  7. Decrease stress, anxiety and depression, which are all sources of acidosis. Practice stress-management techniques (yoga, walking, swimming, meditation, aerobics and weight-bearing exercise). Get Exercise!
  8. Most every mineral that is necessary for good health is alkaline in nature, including calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, potassium, manganese, sodium, boron, silica and potassium. Most vitamins are also alkaline. Because alkaline minerals and vitamins are water-soluble, the major amounts of these nutrients are spilled into the urine every day. This is one reason why taking a MULTI-VITAMIN/MINERAL supplement daily is a good idea. Most of the nutrients in our food today are lost by chemical fertilizers, acid rain, soil depletion, pesticides, and other pollutants.

The acid-forming minerals that we do not want in our bodies include phosphorus, chlorine, sulfur, dietary sulfate and iodine. Phosphorus converts to phosphoric acid, and phosphoric acid is used as a preservative in soda pop and cola (makes them fizzy), milk, lunch meat and other poultry and meat products. Although we certainly don’t want to ingest chlorine, we use it in our drinking water and swimming pools to kill bacteria.

The Dangers of Soda Pop and Soft Drinks

There is mounting and overwhelming evidence that drinking soft drinks can cause bone loss and significantly weaken our bones. Soft drinks (Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Sprite and all diet soda) leach out calcium and magnesium from our bodies over months and years, contributing to weakened bones and osteoporosis. In many ways they may be a leading factor contributing to early bone loss in women. Soft drinks are so acidic (2.5-3.9 pH) because of the phosphoric acid content.  In addition, soft drinks have no nutritional value (they consist of all empty calories), and they contribute to weight gain and a lower immune system. In some ways the diet soft drinks (with aspartame and NutraSweet) may even be worse than the sugar-laced ones because of their total (potentially toxic) chemical component.  Diet colas containing aspartame have been associated with impaired brain function (especially in ADHD and Alzheimer’s disease). When the aspartame in diet sodas is left at room temperature it breaks down to formaldehyde–a toxic chemical that causes birth defects and cancer. Large amounts of aspartame have been found to cause headaches, nausea, impaired vision, seizures, lupus, prostate problems, and have definitive connections to multiple sclerosis and possible Alzheimer’s disease..

Statistics show that in the United States during the year 2000, more teenagers and adults in their 20’s were drinking more soft drinks per capita than water or milk. This is a potentially serious health hazard.  If you wonder why these soft drinks taste so good, keep in mind that they can remove rust spots from chrome car bumpers, clean the corrosion from car battery terminals, loosen rusty bolts, clean toilets and remove stains from china.

The pH of Many American Soft Drinks

Most acidic to least acidic:

  • Coca cola, Pepsi (2.51)
  • Sunny Delight (2.81)
  • Snapple (2.83)
  • Diet Coke, Pepsi (2.95)
  • Gatorade (2.95)
  • 7-Up (3.25)
  • Red Bull (3.26)

Bad for Girl’s Bones. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette , September 5, 2005. Section A:3.

Brown SE, Jaffe R., Acid-Alkaline Balance and its Affect on Bone Health. International Journal Of Integrative Medicine, Nov/Dec 2000. 2(6): 7-14.

Bone Builders: The Secret of an Alkaline Diet. Consumer Advisor: Health Products Business. Apr P. 2-7.

Buffered-PH+–A Nutritionally Advanced Dietary Supplement. VAXA Newsletter 2001.

Lifestyle section. Natural Health, June 1999. P. 27.

Marion JB. Anti Aging Manual. S. Woodstock (CT): Information Pioneers. 1996.

Moser P. Understanding your body’s pH. Naples (FL): Biotech Analytical Labs. 2002.

Pierce CE. What I Would Do if I Had Cancer Again. Los Angeles. Wilshire Pub. 1997.

Young, RO, Young, SR, The pH Miracle for Weight Loss. Time-Warner Books. New York, 2005.

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