Do you remember the old commercial, “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz, Oh What a Relief it Is?” If you had heartburn (acid reflux), Alka-Seltzer was likely the over-the-counter medication you chose to relieve your discomfort. What magical ingredient helped decrease your heartburn or stomach discomfort? The answer is sodium bicarbonate, which is extremely alkaline, hence the name Alka-Seltzer. But, did you ever ask yourself why you had acid reflux to begin with?
Every food and beverage is classified as acid-forming or alkalizing based on the effect it has on the body after digestion. Each is measured on a pH scale of zero to fourteen, with zero being the most acidic and fourteen being the most alkaline. Ideally, the human blood pH should be slightly alkaline, between 7.35 and 7.45.
We consume considerably more acid-forming than alkalizing foods and beverages, including too much coffee, caffeine, soda, alcohol, processed and fried foods, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and animal proteins, just to name a few. On top of our unhealthy food choices, we live in a world that keeps speeding up, which can lead to high levels of stress. Your body won’t allow your pH to become unbalanced. But, when it has to work overtime to maintain that balance, the trouble begins. Health problems related to an acid-forming diet and high levels of stress include acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, stomach discomfort, insomnia, headaches, fatigue, constipation, osteoporosis, inflammation, dry skin, cardiovascular damage, diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, and weight gain.
The Body’s Checks and Balances
One thing I find fascinating about the human body is its ability to fix itself through endless checks and balances. This is especially evident with pH. If the pH of the blood starts to become unbalanced in either direction by the smallest of margins, the body quickly brings it back into balance through a number of buffering systems. To compensate for an acid-forming diet and high levels of stress, the body uses alkaline-forming minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iodine, potassium, and sodium. These minerals work in the blood, lymphatic system, and extracellular and intracellular fluids to bind acids, which are then removed through the urine.
It sounds like the body has all the checks and balances in place to maintain a balanced blood pH, so what’s the big deal? If we abuse our bodies with poor food and beverage choices, with little or no exercise, and high levels of unhealthy stress, the body can only do so much before the effort starts to take its toll. Over time, important minerals become depleted, leading to myriad health problems.
pH and Your Health
Drugs for acid reflux are among the fastest-growing groups of medications in the U.S. These medications may help to relieve the discomfort, but are they truly fixing the problem? I have witnessed many who have completely done away with their acid-reflux medications by improving the quality of the foods they consume. By including more alkaline-forming foods in your diet, you give your body what it needs to heal itself, and acid reflux slowly disappears.
Other health problems may also be linked to an acid-forming diet. In the U.S., we have one of the highest intakes of calcium in the world, but still have poor bone health compared with other countries. If we are consuming enough calcium to keep our bones healthy, what seems to be the problem? One of the real culprits is our overconsumption of beverages that are acid-forming in the body, such as soda pop.
To give you an idea of how powerful some of these beverages can be, let’s do a simple experiment. You have a little rust on the bumper of your classic car, so you take a rag, pour some soda on it, add a little elbow grease, and off comes the rust! The ingredient that removes the rust is phosphoric acid. Drinking too much soda creates an acid environment in the body. As pH slowly begins to shift to the acid side, the body goes to work calling on its buffering systems to bring pH back to normal. Minerals (such as calcium) play a large role in the buffering process, so over time calcium may be leached from the body, causing weak bones. If soda can take rust off a car bumper, imagine how some of these acid-forming beverages can affect your bone health over time!
Another area of concern is thyroid problems, especially among women over age 50. One of the main functions of the thyroid gland is to control metabolism. If you have an under-producing thyroid gland, your metabolism can become sluggish and weight gain may follow. The mineral iodine helps to support the thyroid. Your iodine reserves, just like your calcium reserves, may become depleted over time if your pH is out of balance. This is one reason why diet soft drinks that contain zero calories may indirectly cause a person to gain weight. Most soda contains phosphoric acid, which increases acid in the body. Over time, valuable minerals are slowly leached out of the body, including iodine. If your body depletes your mineral reserves, your thyroid gland, along with the overall health of the entire body, begins to suffer.
What Causes Acidity?
Nothing causes the body to become acidic faster than excessive stress. Stress and negative emotions can trigger the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones accelerate acid levels throughout the body, which may lead to mineral loss.
Consuming more than 25 percent of your daily calories from protein may cause the body to become acidic. Also, consuming non-organic animal sources of protein may increase the acidity level in the body due to high levels of antibiotics fed to animals. The high acidity of antibiotics can result in the depletion of critical minerals. They can also damage the naturally occurring bacteria in the stomach that are essential for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients, which may then lead to digestive problems such as acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome.
In addition to soda, coffee, energy drinks, and alcohol contain high levels of phosphoric acid. Foods such as processed cheese, ice cream, artificial sweeteners, fried foods, beef, cocoa, sugar, table salt, and cottage cheese also create high acid levels.
To balance pH levels, consume alkalizing foods. Most fruits and vegetables have high alkaline levels and help maintain alkaline-acid balance. Sea vegetables such as sushi nori are extremely high in iodine and are highly alkaline. Oatmeal is one of the highest alkaline whole grains. Most healthy fats such as extra-virgin olive oil, are highly alkaline.
Cod liver oil, a healthy omega-3 fat, also has an alkalizing effect. Include it as part of a healthy diet to balance acid/alkaline levels.
Coffee is acidic, so try a healthier beverage choice such as green tea. Drinking mineral water with a slice of lemon is an excellent way to help balance pH. Non-dairy milk choices such as almond milk are alkaline options to the more acidic cow’s milk. Start slowly to improve the quality of your drink sources. Finally, take time for yourself. Get more sleep. Take regular vacations. Try to get a little down time every day. Taking deep, slow breaths for 30 to 60 seconds, spread out a few times over your day, can help reduce stress. These will all improve your health and the pH balance in your body.