Supporters of the alkaline water movement suggest this beverage can deliver pH balance, faster hydration, and mineral replacement. Consumers responded by spending about $1 billion on this product in 2019. Alkaline water marketing is awash with celebrity backing and anecdotes. However, objective evidence of its purported benefits is scarce, and some so-called facts about the beverage may be hard to swallow.
The terms alkaline and acidic have to do with the pH level of a water-based solution. The pH scale ranges from acid to alkaline on a scale of zero to 14. Regular water has a neutral pH of seven; white vinegar is acidic, with a pH of 2.5, and baking soda is more alkaline, with a pH of nine. Spring water contains naturally occurring minerals that boost its alkalinity to eight or nine. Ionized water undergoes an electrical process to remove acidic ions and leave a more alkaline product. Added minerals and salts further increase alkalinity.
The purported link between alkaline water and health stems from the belief that acidity in the body is the root cause of many diseases and conditions, while an alkaline state is healthier. This perspective, popular among alkaline diet proponents, holds that consuming alkaline foods and beverages can reduce and reverse sicknesses.
Most healthy bodies maintain proper pH levels without assistance. The pancreas releases alkaline compounds that interact with stomach acid to balance out pH levels of what we eat and drink. Whatever we consume will become neutralized anyway. Different parts of the body, and even different parts of cells, have widely varying pH levels. The kidneys and lungs also help regulate the pH of the blood.
Some proponents believe alkaline water neutralizes acid in the bloodstream, making the body stronger against illnesses. Research does not indicate that the water has such a significant effect. New York University clinicians state that our blood’s pH is largely unimpacted by what we eat or drink.
A few studies, including a 2012 clinical trial, suggest that alkaline water neutralizes pepsin, an enzyme that erodes the esophagus in people with acid reflux. It is important to note that this testing was done in a lab, and any benefit to humans has yet to be validated. Other studies have built on this one, but they both urge further research.
A small 2010 study with 38 subjects suggests that bottled water enriched with minerals may improve hydration and the acid-base balance in the blood and urine of healthy individuals. The data was based on the subjects' self-regulation of water intake and self-reporting. These factors make the information gathered difficult to confirm.
A 2018 study reported a similar outcome to the 2010 study in healthy athletes. This research gathered data on 16 subjects and has not been repeated on a larger scale to date. Active individuals often add baking soda or salt to their water, a more economical option to pricey, bottled water.
To date, no research verifies or disproves the use of alkaline water for cancer treatment or prevention. Alkaline water proponents maintain that cancer cells flourish in acidic conditions, but research shows that, rather, cancer cells produce this acidity. A systematic review concluded there is no justification for promoting the beverage as a cancer-fighting agent.
Commercially bottled water sometimes contains unwanted additives: microplastics. Research published in 2020 describes diseases caused by micro- and nanoplastics. It is possible that drinking from plastic bottles increases exposure to these compounds, which humans already ingest through regular water, air, and the food chain.
Alkaline water is generally safe to drink even if studies do not support its benefits. Instead or purchasing bottled waters, you can make your water alkaline with simple ingredients. Try these easy recipes at home:
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