Dr. Joseph Mercola is one of the most respected “internet” doctors and certainly the most popular. His newsletter is read by millions. Below I’ve extracted from his newsletter issues and website some of his views on the popular pH-altering devices sold as “alkalizers” or “ionizers” which purport to promote optimal health and cure disease by turning tap water into a highly alkaline liquid by use of electrolysis. –Gene Franks
Many alkaline water enthusiasts are convinced its powers are unparalleled and will vehemently defend it. I am also certain that many will post vigorous objections to my position, and that is their choice. It is also my choice and responsibility to provide information on a system that many people are relying on to provide health benefits that I feel are unjustified.
There are a plethora of testimonials and so-called scientific studies on the Internet claiming alkaline water will cure your every ill. Many consumers, struggling to make sense of the scientific jargon, eventually throw up their hands in frustration. The reality is, most of the circulating information is distributed by clever marketers, with very little scientific validity to back up their claims.
Complicating matters is the fact that most water alkalizers are being marketed by multi-level marketing (MLM) companies with less-than-stellar ethics. They sell you a very expensive machine, for which you get a good discount if you sign up as a rep, and once you’re part of the MLM, you can’t very well change your mind about its benefits (especially if you’re going to sell the units) – even if you realize that the alkaline water is no longer “working” for you.
I have been personally approached many times and encouraged to sell these systems and there would have been large revenue streams had I chosen to do so, but I would never promote anything that I would never use personally, and I can assure you that I would never use most of the machines on the market that produce alkaline water as a regular source of water.
Some people experience an initial “high” when they start drinking alkaline water. This can easily be attributed to detoxification, and the fact that they are likely just becoming better hydrated.
Detoxification is about the only benefit of this type of water, and this benefit is limited to very SHORT TERM USE (no more than a week or two). I will elaborate on what is known about alkaline water, but first you’ll need a basic understanding of the properties of water and a few definitions.
The pH scale goes from 0 to 14, and a pH of 7 is neutral. Anything with a pH below 7 is considered acidic, with battery acid being the most extreme example, around 1. Anything with a pH above 7 is alkaline (or basic), with lye at the top of the scale, around 13. [iii] Natural water on our planet ranges in pH from 6.5 to 9.0, depending on surrounding soil and vegetation, seasonal variations and weather, and even time of day responses to sunlight. Human activities further influence the pH of our water, from the barrage of toxic industrial pollutants. According to an educational website called Water on the Web:
“Pollutants in water can cause it to have higher algal and plant growth, as a result of increased temperature or excess nutrients, causing pH levels to rise. Although these small changes in pH are not likely to have a direct impact on aquatic life, they greatly influence the availability and solubility of all chemical forms in the lake and may aggravate nutrient problems. For example, a change in pH may increase the solubility of phosphorus, making it more available for plant growth and resulting in a greater long-term demand for dissolved oxygen.”
Most aquatic animals and plants have adapted to life in water with a very specific pH, and will die from even slight changes. A pH below 4 or above 10 will kill most fish, and very few animals can tolerate waters with a pH below 3 or above 11 . With living systems being so sensitive to changes in pH, it should come as no surprise that YOU, as another living organism on this planet, would be sensitive to your water’s pH as well.
Guidelines for the PH of Your Drinking Water
So, what are the recommendations for optimal drinking water pH? The WHO has published a nearly-600 page document called “Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality.” [v] In this voluminous tome, you would expect to find everything you’d ever want to know about your drinking water, right? Well, everything EXCEPT a pH recommendation – there are no health-based guidelines for pH! They state that pH usually has “no direct impact on consumers,” yet they also write pH is one of the “most important operational water quality parameters.” They do recommend your water pH be in the range of 6.5 to 8.0 so as not to corrode your pipes – and they’re NOT talking about your body’s plumbing:
“Alkalinity and calcium management also contribute to the stability of water and control its aggressiveness to pipe and appliance. Failure to minimize corrosion can result in the contamination of drinking water and in adverse effects on its taste and appearance. Failure to minimize corrosion can result in the contamination of drinking water and in adverse effects on its taste and appearance.”
It appears that the WHO is more concerned about the pipes in your house than the pipes in your body. Most likely the optimal pH of the water you were designed to drink is somewhere between 6.5 and 8. Above or below this level may have other purposes, such as disinfection, but I would be careful drinking water outside of these ranges.
Alkalinity Research I: Flora and Fauna
Although the research is clear that highly alkaline water has detrimental effects on plants and animals, there are not many studies with humans. A review of the literature turns up a variety of anecdotal evidence about the importance of pH to various living organisms, however, and as you might expect, optimal pH varies, depending on the organism. The scientific literature indicates pH is important for nutrition and vitality. For example:
- Michigan State University studied greenhouse growth media (including the pH of that media), finding it is extremely important for the media pH to be properly adjusted prior to planting. Too high of a pH (greater than 6.5) increases the chances of micronutrient deficiencies. Too low of a pH (less than 5.3) results in calcium and/or magnesium and/or manganese toxicity. [vi]
- Ohio State University Extension Service reports that alkaline water affects a plant’s ability to obtain nutrients from the soil and can alter the soil’s pH over time.[vii]
- An ecological study in the Netherlands found that an influx of alkaline water led to the demise of a native plant calledStratiotes aloides L. [viii]
- Fish chronically exposed to alkaline soft water exhibit signs of stress (sometimes fatal), while fish in alkaline hard water experienced no such adverse effects, according to a study at the University of British Columbia. [ix]
If you are a gardener, you can view a helpful illustration of the environmental effects of pH in your own garden. If your pH is low, your hydrangea produces pink flowers, but if your pH is high, you’ll get blue flowers. But what about us bipeds?
Alkalinity Research II: Humans
There has been a great deal of debate about battling cancer by making your body alkaline. This has become a focus of interest as cancer rates have skyrocketed (along with many other chronic, debilitating diseases), while our bodies have become more acidic from our processed-food diets. The scientific research about the benefits of alkalinity is by no means conclusive. PH appears to have a major influence on cell mitochondria:
- Normal cells die under extremely alkaline conditions. A study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry found that alkalosis (rising cellular pH) causes alkaline-induced cell death as a result of altering mitochondrial function. [x]
- Another study out of Cornell University states that antioxidants have not proven to be effective against many neurodegenerative diseases, and they state it may be a result of how the mitochondria operate within the cell in certain pH conditions.[xi]
There are some scientific studies that really argue against alkalinity, at least with respect to preventing or treating cancer. Consider the research by Robert Gilles, who has studied tumor formation and acidity.[xii] According to Gilles, tumors, by their very nature, make themselves acidic – even in an alkaline cellular structure. In other words, they make their own acidity. Scientists who are in the process of developing prototypes for potential new anticancer agents that selectively kill tumor cells by interfering with the regulation of intracellular pH, have found that alkaline treatments do NOT have the desired effect – but strongly acidic treatments do.[xiii]
Talk about fighting fire with fire – they are fighting acid-loving cancer cells with acid! LESS alkalinity inside a cancer cell seems to be what you want, not more. So, all of those salesmen promising alkaline water will lower your cancer risk are completely clueless when it comes to what the scientific research actually shows. Even more interesting is a 2005 study by the National Cancer Institute, which revisits the use of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) to treat cancer. They found that, in pharmacologic doses administered intravenously, ascorbic acid successfully killed cancer cells without harming normal cells.[xiv] This is yet another example of cancer cells being vulnerable to acidity, as opposed to alkalinity. It’s clear that the relationship between alkalinity and cancer has been grossly oversimplified by those jumping to premature conclusions – and of course by those trying to profit off your fear. The bottom line is that alkaline water isn’t cancer’s magic bullet.
Balance Is Key
As is true with many things, in the end it’s a matter of balance. Water that is too acidic or too alkaline can be detrimental to human health and lead to nutritional disequilibrium. This was demonstrated in a Swedish well water study [xv], which found both pH extremes to be problematic. Your body simply was not designed to drink highly alkaline water all the time. So I believe it’s best to be VERY careful when it comes to something as foundational as the water you drink on a daily basis. If you get it wrong, you could really cause yourself some major damage. It makes sense that you are designed to drink water that occurs naturally, which excludes alkaline water with pH levels of 8 and above.
And if you drink alkaline water all the time, you’re going to raise the alkalinity of your stomach, which will buffer your stomach’s acidity and impair your ability to digest food, as low stomach acid is one of the most common causes of ulcers. This can open the door for parasites in your small intestine, and your protein digestion may suffer. It also means you’ll get less minerals and nutrients over time – in fact, some of these health effects can already be seen in hardcore alkaline water drinkers. Alkalinity is also potentially a problem because it is antibacterial, so it could potentially disrupt the balance of your body’s beneficial bacteria.