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?



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