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Condition - Acid-Alkaline Balance

By Jackie Newson BSc (Hons) MBANT

One of the basic requirements for a healthily functioning body is to maintain the proper balance between acidity and alkalinity (pH). Living cells are extraordinarily sensitive to even slight changes in the pH of body fluids. Strong acids and alkalis are extremely damaging to living tissue. The balance between an acid and alkaline environment in the body is carefully regulated by the kidneys and lungs and by chemical systems called buffers. 

What is pH?

The term pH (potential hydrogen) is  used to measure the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. It  is recorded on a scale of 0 to 14; 7 is neutral, a pH lower than 7 is acidic and a pH higher than 7 is alkaline. Just over 50% of the body’s fluids exists inside the cells, and this fluid has a pH of about 7. Fluids external to the cells, including blood, have a higher pH of approximately 7.4. The exceptions to this are stomach acid, which is particularly acidic and can be as low as pH 1.5, and the saliva in the mouth, which, after eating, can be as high as pH 8. 

Many conditions are thought to be caused by an excessively acidic  environment in the body. Certain diseases, such as osteoporosis, gout and rheumatoid arthritis, among others, may be influenced by the acid-alkaline balance in the diet. For instance, osteoporosis may be the result of a diet high in acid-forming foods, which far outweighs the intake of alkaline-forming foods. This imbalance triggers the body’s buffering system into action, potentially causing calcium and magnesium to be leached from the bones, which will then be used to buffer  the excess acid. 

Making sure that you eat more alkaline-forming foods than acid forming foods is one step towards ensuring good health. It is important to remember that there is a difference between acidic foods and acid-forming foods. For example, while citrus foods are acidic, they actually have an alkalising effect on the body. What determines pH in the body is the metabolic end product of the food after it is digested. 

When foods are metabolised by the body, a residue of ‘ash’ is left that has a bearing on the alkaline reserves of the body. Foods that leave an ash rich in the elements magnesium, potassium, calcium or sodium are alkaline-forming. Foods that leave an ash rich in phosphorus, sulphur or chlorine are acid-forming. Amino acids from protein are acid-forming. Some foods are classed as neutral as they have both acid-forming elements and alkaline-forming elements, for example, milk and seeds. As a guide, approximately 80% of our diet should include alkaline-forming foods and 20% should come from acid-forming foods. 

The table below outlines foods which are categorised under acid, neutral and alkaline.

 

                    ACID                               NEUTRAL                       ALKALINE

High

Medium

 

Medium

High

Edam

Brazil nuts

Sunflower seed oil

Almonds

Avocado

Eggs

Walnuts

Olive oil

Coconut

Beetroot

Mayonnaise

Cheddar cheese

Milk

Balsamic vinegar

Carrots

Fish

Stilton cheese

Butter

Apple vinegar

Potatoes

Shellfish

Herrings

Margarine

Wine vinegar

Spinach

Bacon

Mackerel

Kefir cheese (full fat)

Beans

Dried fruit

Beef

Rye

Coffee

Cabbage

Rhubarb

Chicken

Oats

Tea

Celery

 

Liver

Wheat

Sugar

Lentils

 

Lamb

Rice

Syrup

Lettuce

 

Veal

Plums

 

Mushrooms

 

 

Cranberries

 

Onions

 

 

Olives

 

Root vegetables

 

 

 

 

Tomatoes

 

 

 

 

Apricots

 

 

 

 

Apples

 

 

 

 

Bananas

 

 

 

 

Berries

 

 

 

 

Cherries

 

 

 

 

Figs

 

 

 

 

Grapefruit

 

 

 

 

Grapes

 

 

 

 

Lemon

 

 

 

 

Melon

 

 

 

 

Oranges

 

 

 

 

Peaches

 

 

 

 

Pears

 

 

 

 

Raspberries

 

 

 

 

Tangerines

 

 

 

 

Prunes

 

 Top tips for maintaining a healthy acid-alkaline balance in the body:

1.      Cut down on protein

The body can only break down about 70g of protein a day. The natural bicarbonate ions in the blood are numerous enough to cope with mopping  up the acid this produces. Adding more protein to the diet will overstretch the body’s natural buffering abilities. Meat and cheese are much more acid-forming than vegetable proteins, so try to take half your daily protein in meat form and the other half from plant sources, such as lentils and beans. 

2.      Increase fruit and veg

Aim to eat 5-10 portions of fresh vegetables and fruit a day. These food sources are highly alkalising and particularly important for other nutrients as well, such as vitamins and antioxidants. Research has shown that women whose diets include high levels of alkalising fruit and vegetables have stronger bones and less incidence of osteoporosis. 

3.      Undertake moderate exercise

Exercise increases the body’s uptake of oxygen. It also increases the elimination of metabolic acids. Boosting blood circulation through exercise helps the body release excess acids from connective tissue. However, excessive exercise can prompt an increase in breakdown of protein, promoting acid formation. As with most things in life, moderation is the key. Taking 30-45 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week should be sufficient. 

4.      Chill Out!

Emotions greatly affect the acid-alkaline balance. Stress and anger trigger more acidity within the body as it leads to shallow breathing. This means less carbon dioxide is expelled, leaving more acidity in the tissues. Feeling calm, controlled and happy alkalises the body. Breathing deeply can help to re-alkalise the body because it increases the uptake of oxygen. 

5.      Drink lots of water

The kidneys work hard to eliminate the acids resulting from the body’s metabolism, so we need lots of fluid to aid this process. Aim to drink two  litres a day in the form of water, juices and herbal teas. Increase your intake when exercising. 

6.      Take alkalising minerals

When the body undergoes challenges, such as  stress, high levels of animal protein and exposure to pollutants, taking an alkalising mineral supplement may help to top up the levels of the natural buffers, allowing the blood to effectively remove excess metabolic acids. A good supplement will also provide pH testing strips for easy monitoring. 


Article References

1) Courtney H. 500 of the most important health tips you’ll ever need. 2006. 2) Holford P. Optimum Nutrition Bible. 1997. 3) Marieb N. Human Anatomy & Physiology. 6th Edition. 2004. 4) Murray M, Pizzorno J and Pizzorno L. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. 2006.

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