Alkaline water is a thing (but is a thing we should care about?)

Water pouring into a clear glass on a blue background.
Water pouring into a clear glass on a blue background.
A friend tagged me the other day to draw my attention to a post about the alkaline content of different kinds of bottled water. There are loads of reasons to be skeptical about bottled water (like the environment and the amount of landfill space the bottles take up if they even make it to landfill, the availability of perfectly good tap water in lots of places, the commodification of a resource that is a basic necessity for humans to live). But alkaline content was a new one for me. This may mean I’ve been inattentive to something that really matters. I don’t know. But it’s news to me that some water has more alkaline than other water, that low alkaline water is acidic, and that (here’s the assumption I didn’t know what to do with) acidic water isn’t good for you.

This was the video in question (from September 2016, which was a time in the history of the world that many people were preoccupied with other things):

What I noticed most about this video was that though they talked a lot about the lower alkaline water being acidic, they didn’t give a lot of info about what’s wrong with that. So I did some reading.

In “Is Alkaline Water Extra Healthy or a Hoax?” Jess Baron outlines the purported health benefits:

Many alternative health experts say that alkaline water — whether purchased in bottles or created from your own tap with a pricey do-it-yourself ionizing purifier — is an extra-healthy type of water to drink, with claims that it slows the aging process, increases energy, helps people with fertility issues, regulates your body’s pH level and prevents chronic diseases like cancer.

I know many people are into the views of “alternative health” experts and have found solutions for their various ailments by following their advice. If that’s their experience, fine. I’m a bit more science-based where my health is concerned, and it seems to me that these are big claims that need to be supported by evidence.

I’m a big believer in the health benefits of water. I drink my share of it, usually from the tap because I am fortunate to live somewhere where clean drinking water reliably flows. I’m all for staying hydrated and drinking the recommended 6-8 8oz. glasses of water per day.

The first question I had about the recommendation of alkaline water was: “what is the reasoning?”

In “Alkaline Water: Beneficial or Bogus,” John Berardi explains the thinking (before he subsequently subjects it to critical scrutiny):

The concept with alkaline water is this: Tap water contains different dissolved elements that influence its pH level. Pure water has a pH level close to 7. Alkaline water has a pH above 7. So the idea is that to create a more alkaline balance in your body, you should drink water with a higher pH.

Baron quotes the Budwig Centre, an alternative cancer treatment facility in Spain:

Alternative medicine proponents such as the Budwig Center, an alternative cancer treatment clinic based in Spain, believe that our bodies need to be strictly maintained at 7.4 pH in order to achieve and maintain optimal health and to fight cancer. “If you have ever maintained a swimming pool, you will have had to verify the pH of the water on a regular basis and have had to add different chemicals to keep it at pH neutral,” it says on the Center’s website. “Our bodies are in effect like a swimming pool, as we are 80% water and our pH needs to be kept at 7.4 neutral to be healthy.”

Berardi says that there are a few problems with the basic reasoning behind the strategy of drinking higher alkaline water to increase the body’s ph level:

First of all, each organ system has a unique pH range, and our bodies naturally do a fantastic job of maintaining blood pH within each respective range.

Secondly if your pH is out of balance, it’s important to get to the underlying cause. Without knowing the cause, you can’t determine whether alkaline water will really help you.

What’s more, focusing on the pH level of our water is sort of besides the point. Because if alkaline water is helpful, that might be due to the minerals it contains rather than its pH level, per se.

Also, keep in mind that overall body alkalinity isn’t always a good thing. For example, if you have a kidney condition, or you’re taking a medication that alters kidney function, some of the minerals in alkaline water could start to accumulate in your body. In this case, high alkalinity might lead to negative side effects.

My skepticism kicked into high gear when I read (in Baron’s article):

While anecdotal evidence suggests that alkaline water might be beneficial to health, so far, it’s important to note that there’s not a lot of solid data.

So far there are no peer-reviewed studies demonstrating that consuming alkaline water can reduce a person’s cancer risk or help them to better fight cancer. Additionally, the American Cancer Society does NOT make a recommendation for consumption of alkaline water.

While its cancer-prevention and anti-aging properties are in question, some researchers suggest that higher alkaline water can protect your gut from dangerous micro-organisms and reduce acid reflux.

There is also some suggestion that it could benefit endurance athletes:

Drinking alkaline water might enhance the body’s buffering capacity and temper the acidity, thus improving our performance.

Note that mineral supplements (calcium, magnesium, potassium) decrease cardio-respiratory stress and blood lactate responses, while improving power output in endurance athletes. That’s why long-distance runners sometimes supplement with sodium bicarbonate. Alkaline water may work similarly.

Until there is more information, I’m putting alkaline water in the same category as detoxes and clean eating, two other fads that have their devotees who swear by them because of personal experience with feeling better. Maybe. I’m not one to discourage people from doing things that they enjoy.

When it comes to food choices, I’m all about moderation and the basics. Trendy fads don’t draw me in. Alkaline water strikes me as a trendy fad (at this point — I would welcome and consider more research) whose proponents are making ambitious claims that are not supported by any hard evidence.

Do you drink alkaline water? If not, would you? If so, why?



14 thoughts on “Alkaline water is a thing (but is a thing we should care about?)

  1. No, I just drink tap water here in Canada.

    Or if people are really concerned, boil your water lst. There IS a reasonable why some of the older generation Asians drank boiled water on a hot father did. Because in China in 1930’s-1940’s the water wasn’t safe. I have no idea now but still don’t have much faith, given China’s pollution record in certain parts ot the country.

    I would worry more about sulphur tendencies in water and air in some municipalities. . Or radioactivity in water or if I had sushi in Japan by the coastline.. (I find it hard to believe Fukishima nuclear disaster didn’t have long term effects..)

    In Calgary the water is not was a huge debate and still is now. It was voted by city council. Unbelievable.

    I disagree with robs the balance of valuable nutrients that body needs on a daily basis.

  2. Not a thing I care about! Care far more about the environmental disaster that is bottled water and about questions of ownership and buying and selling water. But even if bracket all those concerns and just focus on the health issues, I don’t see that there is a case for caring about water and its acidity. Colour me skeptical.

  3. It’s part of the whole alkaline diet trend, not just water to worry about, alkaline foods too. Just say no. Until there’s some actual evidence.

  4. I asked my ochem professor about this when I read something about it a few months ago. We both agreed the body would neutralize it in the stomach, seeming to nullify any so-called benefits of the slightly alkaline quality.

    Sadly, I can’t drink our tap water — I live in the heart of oil country in TX, so our water tastes awful and is full of undesirable trace elements and compounds (namely, methane). I always drank tap water when I lived in Chicago. I’m also a big water drinker, so I have to buy lots of bottled water.

  5. I’m a happy and lucky tap water drinker, and use it for coffee and ice tea too. I’m not buying either alkaline water or their line on its supposed health benefits until a lot of data roll in.

    Your post also has the benefit of being useful to me for my baby logic class– your discussion points out (but doesn’t name– I’ll leave that to my students) a bunch of common fallacies. I saw post hoc. common cause and false analogy immediately, and there are others to be constructed from this really accessible piece. Yay and thanks!

  6. We have been consuming non-alkaline water for a long time, I think it works just right. Though I do see the benefits of it, I think it’s just a marketing tactic. You can obtain other minerals and alkaline from other minerals and foods. Great article!

  7. OMG – this is twaddle – do you know how acidic your stomach is?

    Drinking mildly alkaline or acid water makes no sodding difference since the acid in your stomach is about 1 million times more acidic (pH ~1 compared to pH 6 to pH 8. Actually carbonated mineral water has a pH around 5.5 as a result of dissolved carbon dioxide which forms a weak acid – carbonic acid – you may recognise from geography lessons). pH scale is negative logarithmic, so pH 1 is 1 million times more acid than pH 7. Similarly, pH 14 is roughly 1 million times more alkaline than pH 7. However, food stuffs and drinks tend to be ‘weak acids’ or ‘weak alkalis’, so a weak acid in the presence of a strong acid doesn’t bother about being an acid at all. A weak alkali in the presence of a strong acid just gets swamped unless there’s a lot of the former compared to the latter. So if you drank, say, 100 litres of mildly alkaline water you might affect the acidity in your stomach mainly due to dilution (but you’d also probably be dead – another story). But your stomach would then detect the problem and chuck in a load more acidity (i.e. protons. So you get where ‘proton inhibitors’ come in, for reducing stomach acid production)

    There are situations where alkalinity does make a difference – intravenous fluids are carefully pH balanced, and processes like kidney dialysis also need careful control of pH in the returned blood. But drinking stuff to change pH – nah.

    Minerals – Ca, Mg, Na, K etc. are another story. You can drink strongly mineralised water but that’s not about pH.

  8. This is something I have also read up and alkaline foods like Avocado and Artichoke ect. I am now reading up on the digestive and health benefits of Silver Water and highly recommend you check it out too!

  9. I was also in the dark and unaware until last year when I was introduced to Alkalized water and it changed my life and the life of all who have been drinking it. My sister is a cancer patient who hasn’t had major chemo side-effects because of the use of Kangen alkaline water. She will be sharing her story in the near future. If I had not seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it myself. The American Cancer Society will never say “drink alkaline water” …for obvious reasons. Feel free to check some of the information at this youtube site and what doctors are saying about alkaline water. The body has the ability to heal itself… Kangen alkaline water helps to bring your body back into balance so that it can do just that. Only through what I have experienced and witnessed can I share the truth that I have learned… Blessings & Health to all…

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