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Should You Drink Alkaline Water? All Signs Point to “Maybe.”

alkaline water assortment

Alkaline water. It’s in news headlines, on TV shows, being pushed by commissioned salesmen, and boutique brands are even showing up on store shelves.

The idea is that it will somehow make your body alkaline, and that somehow improves your health. Miraculous claims abound. I’m always hearing about how someone was sick, but once they drank the water, they got better – regardless of the ailment! Heck, I’ve heard it can cure cancer!

Let’s see if there’s any truth to that, or at least, any possible benefits for athletes…

Apparently we have found The Fountain of Youth.

It’s sort of outrageous, what I’ve been hearing.

It really is on par with finding the mythical Fountain of Youth.

You’ve got your basic improvements, like increased energy levels, which is entirely possible, because I know quite a few people who were likely in a constant state of dehydration before getting hyped up on the alkaline/ionized water craze.

But I’m also hearing a lot of:

  • My arthritis is gone! No more joint pain!
  • Heartburn is a distant memory.
  • It helps me control my diabetes more easily.
  • My dog has a thicker, fuller coat and act years younger.
  • I’m losing weight!

Hmm… sounds too good to be true. Maybe there’s something in the water?

How do you make your body alkaline?

That’s a great question.

It’s also a great example of one of the blanket statements that gets thrown around, where no one actually knows what they’re saying. Because the alkalinity (or acidity) of any given substance in your body is generally maintained in a certain range to maintain homeostasis.

For example, stomach acid. That’s very acidic, with a pH somewhere around 1.5-3.5. And it needs to be, in order to do its job. Your blood, on the other hand, is held to a very strict pH range of 7.35-7.45.

You can’t change your blood pH through diet. At least, not easily. And that’s a good thing, because if you somehow succeeded, you’d likely die quickly.

Science is already dismissing alkaline water as snake oil.

But I think that’s missing the point.

We’re dealing with anecdotal evidence here. People are saying this works for them, for one reason or another. Maybe it’s the placebo effect. Maybe it’s a coincidence. It could be any number of reasons.

Yet, we take issue with one, single aspect of it, and write it off completely.

It’s not about changing your blood pH. Or even about changing one specific fluid. At least for now, it’s more of an intangible.

Bear with me here…

We are acidic people.

Most American diets tend to be acidic, due to the high intake of grains, dairy, and meats. These high-protein foods tend to form acids when broken down during digestion, while plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes are alkaline-forming.

And what’s more, your body is always producing acids. All the time. Pretty much anything you do – especially your metabolism (basic functions like respiration) and exercise – generates acids which must be buffered/neutralized so that your body can maintain proper pH in blood, cellular fluids, etc.

If you’re eating lots of starchy carbs for energy and devouring steaks and protein powder to recover from your long, strenuous exercise sessions, you might be one big bubble of acid, ready to burst.

So, perhaps your body could use some assistance.

That’s the idea with the water. That it can ease the strain your poor diet (or intense training program) is placing on your body!

Our bodies are constantly fighting off acids.

It’s a scientific fact that our bodies have to deal with acids. And we have three main regulatory systems to do so.

  • Buffer systems that work in cellular fluid and the bloodstream to keep pH constant
  • The respiratory system (lungs, capillaries, etc.)
  • Kidney regulation

The kidneys do the bulk of the work.

When a food is ingested, digested, and absorbed, each part of that food will present itself to the kidneys as either an acid-forming compound or an alkaline-forming one.

What the kidneys excrete into and/or filter out of the blood adjusts pH.

But the kidneys work slowly.

The work of the kidneys is measured in days. It’s the respiratory system and buffer systems that work quickly.

If your body needs to take action NOW, it’s going to buffer something. So let’s look into buffer systems.

Does your body need to buffer acids?

Yes. Especially during workouts.

What happens?

Well, it might borrow minerals (calcium and phosphorus) from other body parts. Like, for instance, your bones. That’s not ideal!

Studies are mixed, but some people believe that a primary cause of osteoporosis is the loss of calcium from bones to buffer acid loads in the body (rather than any deficiency of dietary calcium).

Your muscles could get robbed, too!

Another buffer used to counteract high dietary acid loads is glutamine. And glutamine is found in – you guessed it – skeletal muscle. Long term, if glutamine keeps getting leached from your muscles, this can contribute to loss of muscle mass.

Sounds like you could end up small and weak, with brittle bones!

We may be able to counteract this in real time, with alkaline water. It’s like a real-time aid to your body’s buffer systems.

scientist testing alkaline water in lab

The [scientific research] jury is still out.

OK, so there is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence. A lot, really.

And in theory, it makes sense.

But is there even one research study that proves anything?

Nope. There’s no solid data yet, as far as linking alkaline water consumption to improved health.

There are interesting nuggets of findings out there. Like this study tracking changes in salivary pH. It showed that mineral water (a form of alkaline water) led to an increase in salivary pH within five minutes. Yeah, it’s weak, but it’s something.

So far, though, data do indicate that consuming alkaline water can increase overall body alkalinity.

[Note: Most studies relate to the alkaline diet, which attempts to do the same thing as alkaline water, but in a totally different way.]

Science has neither validated nor invalidated the claims!

It’s important to note that, just because science hasn’t validated — or invalidated — the claims, doesn’t mean they’re not true.

There is the distinct possibility that there is some methodology behind alkaline water, and science will eventually show it is super powerful.

For now… scientists might say no, optimists might say yes.

The Benefits for Endurance Athletes

With the current lack of research, and without knowing the cause of your body’s acid issues, you can’t determine whether alkaline water will really help you.

But for athletes, we can assume that acidic byproducts of exercise are the main offenders. That, and a diet high in protein supplements and convenient processed foods!

In my opinion, the most plausible benefits of alkaline water would be most beneficial to endurance athletes!

Alkaline water possibly improves hydration.

Alkaline water may allow active people to retain more fluid in the cardiovascular system, while decreasing their urine output and blood osmolality (a.k.a electrolyte-water balance).

Improving hydration is always a good thing, but it’s especially important for endurance athletes, especially in the summer. Decreased blood osmolality is important because high plasma osmolality is associated with elevated risk of death from stroke. And decreased urine output is simply more convenient during competition!

But, to throw another wrench in the gears, the research suggests that these effects might not be instantaneous, but rather, gradual. Which means you’ll need to drink alkaline water not just during your event, but leading up to it. (Sort of like beet juice.)

Alkaline water might buffer acidity during workouts, potentially improving performance directly!

While current research dismisses the idea of lactic acid building up in muscles to make them “burn,” intense exercise does lead to our muscles producing more hydrogen ions than our body can efficiently remove, which plays some role in the resulting fatigue.

Drinking alkaline water might enhance the body’s buffering capacity, and thereby lessen the acidity, improving our athletic performance.

Everything is speculative, but unless your doctor says not to do it because it will harm you, it’s worth a shot.

[Further reading: Alkaline water: Legit health food or high-priced hoax?]

Yeah, you can buy alkaline water.

You can find bottled alkaline water in an increasing number of stores. I’ve never seen it in person, though.

Depending on where you live, you may need to order it by the case on Amazon.com.

Here are a few of the popular brands to look for:

essentia alkaline water

Essentia
At 9.5 pH, this is likely the highest pH alkaline water you can buy. It’s created by reverse osmosis filtering, addition of alkaline minerals, and then going through a proprietary ionization process.

See more at www.essentiawater.com or grab a case on Amazon.com.

evamor alkaline water

Evamor
At least 8.8 pH, Evamor is also quite high on the pH scale. It begins somewhere in the USA, miles below the ground, where mineral deposits have given the water its high alkalinity. This water flows upward, straight into the bottles. (When a bottle of Evamor is opened, the water is exposed to air and human contact for the very first time!) See more at Evamor.com or buy a case on Amazon.com.

VASPEN
VASPEN is spring water from Colorado, which filters through thick granite, volcanic, and limestone formations (a natural process that adds calcium and magnesium) before it percolates from Sweetwater Spring. It’s rated at 7.5 pH. See more at www.vaspenspringwater.com.

Happy Water
Happy Water is naturally alkaline, sourced from two ancient Canadian mountain springs. It rates at a 7.4 pH. The rare combination of naturally occurring lithia, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium creates Happy Water’s naturally alkaline state. Find out more at livehappywater.ca.

Or make your own alkaline water.

Can’t find it at any local stores? Hate buying bottled water?

Well, with certain machines you can transform your tap water into alkaline drinking water!

There are many companies out there I have never heard of, so I recommend looking at the established brand Santevia. Their systems are available directly at Santevia.com as well as on Amazon.com.

santevia alkaline water filtration system

There are two options – a simple filter pitcher, and a more complex counter top filtration system.

The Santevia alkaline pitcher looks like any other filter pitcher, but the magic is within the filter. Their filters contain a special blend of minerals which claim to make the water more alkaline. The retail price is around $60 and it’s selling on Amazon.com for $48.

Santevia’s counter top water filtration system takes the filtration process to the next level. Simply fill with water and let gravity do the rest. It employs a a multi-stage filtration and re-mineralization process not possible with the smaller unit, to create mineralized, alkaline water at home. This machine retails for $200, but can be found on Amazon.com for around $175.

Note: I am not endorsing Santevia. They simply look like the most credible company making these filters.

Is ionized water the same thing?

No!

We need to talk about alkaline water vs ionized water. They’re different. Sort of. It’s complicated.

Alkaline water could be ionized water. For example, the Essentia brand water mentioned earlier is infused with alkaline minerals and goes through an ionization process.

water ionizer machine

But most ionized water does not contain extra minerals. Rather, it has been altered in such a way as to increase the pH.

That’s where water ionizers come into play. Manufacturers claim that these machines allow water to interact with electrodes to split hydrogen ions from oxygen, influencing the pH of the water.

The Enagic Kangen Water machine is one such water ionizer. (Well, most people consider it the water ionizer.) It’s been around a long time. A lot of the others are copycats, launched to take advantage of Kangen Water’s success story.

When Dr. John Berardi (creator of Precision Nutrition) did some tests on himself a few years back, he actually used Kangen Water as his alkaline water of choice!

Alkaline and Ionized Water Work Differently

Alkaline water, that which contains alkalizing minerals, is what the research and theories presented early in this article refer to. It’s not necessarily the pH value that matters. It’s what’s in the water that counts. (Or at least, that’s what you’d think.)

Ionized water, even if it has the same pH rating, is void of those minerals. But what it lacks in minerals, it makes up for with available hydrogen ions, which gives it something called a negative Oxidation Reduction Potential (-ORP).

And because of that, they say ionized water acts as an antioxidant. A very powerful antioxidant.

alkaline water ph orp chart

You have to wonder, is it the pH of the water? Or is it the minerals contained within? Maybe the minerals work over time, while the extra hydrogen ions help in real time? Who knows!!

As you might imagine, there is no consensus. Most chemists say that “ionized water” is a meaningless term, and quite a few call it an outright scam. But talk to anyone involved in the distribution of water ionizers, and they’re going to tell you that ionized water is what works, and that mineral water is dangerous!

So we’re at an impasse.

This debate raises more questions than answers!

Alternative Quick Fixes (On The Cheap)

OK, not ready to participate in this fad?

There are a few easy ways to reduce the acid load of your diet, if you’re concerned.

Glutamine

Consider a glutamine supplement if you exercise frequently and/or can’t consume adequate vegetables and fruits.

A big jar like this will last from 3 months to a year.

Baking soda

Consider supplementing with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) or potassium bicarbonate. (Here is a bag of food-grade potassium bicarbonate.)

It’s not an uncommon workout supplement among endurance athletes; it’s especially popular with rowers.

Why? Rather than explain here, I’ll say that pretty much everything you could want to know about sodium bicarbonate is found at Examine.com.

Just put a little bit in your protein shakes.

Vinegar

Have a shot of apple cider vinegar (ACV) each day. It’s acidic, but it’s alkaline-forming when absorbed in your body.

It’s sort of an acquired taste, but I really enjoy drinking it now! Plus, they say all sorts of good things about it!

Gerolsteiner Sparkling Mineral Water

Who needs fancy “alkaline” water when you can get Gerolsteiner mineral water, which has been around for well over 100 years! This water originates in springs from the area of Volcanic Eifel, flowing from ancient, rocky volcanic reservoirs 200 feet beneath the earth’s surface.

It’s not particularly alkaline in terms of pH (a pH-value of 6.9,) but it contains the alkalizing minerals – calcium, bicarbonate and magnesium – you need! And lots of them!

It’s easy to find – you can grab some at Trader Joe’s – and for even more bonus points, it sounds like it would be considered Paleo!


alkaline water on trader joes shelves

My Final Verdict Is…

What I’m seeing is that there’s no evidence that an acidic diet is bad or that my body is incapable of buffering the acids from my workouts.

But there is some chance that an alkaline diet can be beneficial. Since I don’t want to end up in a scenario where I find out I was wrong, and it’s too late (already lost bone/muscle mass,) I’m considering giving this a shot. At least the Gerolsteiner water and perhaps a Santevia filter pitcher.

Not that I need to. Thanks to my healthy lifestyle, I don’t really need it. See, I’ve already done limited testing of some ionized waters. I never noticed a health improvement, likely because I was already a very healthy person consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables!

Your Plan of Action!

First of all, if you’re not already consuming a substantial amount of plant foods, start doing that! It’s simple and easy, and I guarantee that will improve your health!

As for the alkaline water, don’t get too excited. But if you have some extra money to burn, hey, it could be worth a shot.

If you take the plunge, water with naturally occurring minerals seems to be your best bet as an alkaline water source. Gerolsteiner and Evamor are both good, convenient choices. If you go the filtering route, the Santevia filtration system is what sounds best to me.

 

Have you tried alkaline water before? What did you think? (If not, are you planning to try it now?)

 

Photo credits: Trey Ratcliff | Novartis AG

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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