Health professionals and lay people alike are often told that alkaline is better and that more is merrier:
- The best diet is alkaline.
- Your body needs to be alkaline.
- Cancer is acidic, treat it with alkalinity.
- Americans are acidic and this causes their degenerative illnesses.
- The “alkaline way” is the path to health.
Technically, none of this is true. That makes it dangerous.
But practically, it’s true enough to not only perpetuate the message, but to resolve the majority of complaints that “acidic” people have. Most of the time, it’s beneficial advice despite the flaws.
But look out if you have autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivities, hypothyroidism, and/or heavy metal poisoning. Alkalinity can be your friend or your nemesis.
The pH “real deal” is that both alkalinity and acidity are necessary and essential aspects of health and wellbeing. In health, they are “balanced” against each other. What makes it tricky is that the balance between alkaline and acidic processes is dynamic, not static. So an alkaline influence at one time of the day can be beneficial and the same alkaline influence at another time of the day can be harmful.
Experientially, this can be seen by the “ideal” breakfast. For people with a phase-advanced acid-alkaline rhythm, they wake up with acidic momentum and an alkaline-forming breakfast with lots of fruit is very stabilizing. But for people with a phase-retarded acid-alkaline rhythm, fruit for breakfast will ruin their entire day. They need to eat an acidifying breakfast to “accelerate” their retarded acid-generating metabolic mechanisms. That means grains, coconut oil, bacon-and-eggs, fried potatoes, butter. These fat-containing foods promote cellular acidity, which will–later in the day–be healthfully balanced by alkaline salads and vegetables.
Who in the alkaline-is-best crowd is going to tell you to eat bacon and eggs for breakfast? Yet our recent ancestors ate that kind of breakfast without experiencing the epidemic of degenerative diseases we see today. Although it is politically correct in this day and age to blame the animal products, this is a fad that does not withstand close scrutiny. I’m not going to change the subject of this blog and address the scientific frauds here. Instead, let me point out that 1) the animal-product foods have changed for the worse in recent decades, and 2) the chronic inflammation that is the bigger adverse influence on our health is made far worse by eating grains than it is by eating meat. And the truth of the matter is that some of your diet has to be acid-forming to be balanced, so the choice is between grains and meat. In my opinion, grains lose. Big time.
Now that the pH problem has been briefly presented in experiential and empirical form, let me take it down into the metabolic realm. At this level, acid-generating systems and alkaline-generating systems are fairly distinct. The primary acid generating system is energy metabolism. It comes in two parts. The anaerobic energy generating system uses glucose to generate NADH and ATP, and generates lactic acid as the acidifying infleunce. And the aerobic energy system uses either glucose of fat to generate NADH and ATP. But instead of generating lactic acid, it generates carbon dioxide (CO2). CO2 is also known as carbonic acid.
The difference between lactic acid and CO2 is the difference between unhealthy acid and healthy acid. Lactic acid is the byproduct of inefficient energy metabolism, and it accumulates in tissues. The muscle “burn” from over-exercise is from lactic acid accumulation. The “acidic” type mentioned by eastern healers is from lactic acid accumulation in tissues. But carbon dioxide is an entirely different acidic influence. It does not accumulate in tissues. If flows through the tissues into the blood stream, and then out through the lungs. CO2 is the byproduct of efficient energy production.
Is your energy metabolism efficient, or inefficient? That is the first question.
And is your energy metabolism robust or weak? That is the second question.
If your energy systems are weak or inefficient because of an overly-acidic diet, then you will probably love an alkaline diet. The increased alkaline influence will be balanced by a shift to more efficiency or greater flux in your energy systems. You’ll feel increased strength, greater stamina, and improved wellbeing. This is why the alkaline way is so popular. And this is the natural birthright of free-living humans in a wild environment. They maintain an optimum pH balance between their natural alkalinizing diet and their robust acid-generating energy systems.
People with healthy acid-alkaline balance will show a pH rhythm. During the day, their energy systems are dominant and their urine shows an excess of acid (pH 5). During the night, when they sleep, their energy systems go into a mild “hibernation” state and their healing systems are dominant. Their urine pH swings alkaline (pH 7). This two-full-pH-unit circadian rhythm of urine pH is a fundamental aspect of health and wellbeing. You can study it in yourself with nitrazene pH test papers, which change from yellow (4.5) to green (6.0) to blue (7.5).
One of the reasons that I mention this in such detail is that too many pH experts make the mistake of trying to rely upon a single urine or saliva pH reading to judge optimum diet. Since pH is a rhythm, people whose rhythms are merely delayed or accelerated can show pH readings that are indistinguishable from people with deep pathologies. Delayed pH rhythms (“night owl” types) and phase-advanced rhythms (morning “larks”) are not nearly as serious as “damped” pH patterns (0.5-1.0 peak-to-trough), base-line shifted pH patterns (oscillating above or below the “average” 6.0-6.2 pH range) and fixed-acid patterns (a sign of chronic inflammation).
The real-deal pH art accommodates a layered-systems model. The body is like an onion, each layer of which has its own pH-regulatory systems, its own pH readings, its own pH balance, and its own responsibility to defend the pH of underlying systems. So the kidneys defend the stability of blood pH, the blood defends the tissue pH, the tissues defend cellular pH and the cell defends its organelles (the mitochondria and nuclear pH compartments). Layers within layers. With this model, one can never be simply “acidic” or “alkaline.”
Since this blog is a direct response to a question by a member of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals on their linked-in discussion group, I’ll finish by taking this back to the “2-4 PM energy crash” topic.
There are two pH patterns that manifest.
The first is the phase-delayed pattern, by which people are known as night-owl types. These people have a slump 12 hours opposite their sleep nadir, most commonly in the late afternoon (3-5 PM). This is rarely connected directly to eating, but does respond to such things as 1) eating coconut oil during lunch, 2) not eating fruit or sugar for breakfast, and/or 3) taking mitochondrial nutrients with lunch (carnitine, B-complex vitamins, lipoic acid, co-Q10), or MCT oil.
The second is the alkaline-stressed blood syndrome, which manifests in proportion to the size of meals and the protein content of meals. Decreasing the size of lunch and/or reducing the protein content of lunch will decrease the “alkaline tide of digestion” which is the proximal cause of the sleepiness, brain fog, sweet tooth or fatigue.
Moving lunchtime shifts the sleepiness from the alkaline tide of digestion, but has minimal effects on the circadian-advanced people. Shifting the sleep cycle shifts the sleepiness time in the circadian-advanced people.
Some people have both effects operating simultaneously.
Alkaline-stressed blood is also a risk factor for alkaline indigestion, which is distinguished from acid indigestion by the timing of symptoms. Classic acid indigestion produces symptoms in roughly 30 minutes, an hour at the latest. Alkaline indigestion typically produces symptoms 3-4 hours after eating, often in the middle of the night. The difference is the result of blood pH effects on stomach-acid production. Unlike bile, which is stored and can be generated in advance of digestion, stomach acid is produced on demand. Every acid equivalent delivered to the stomach is matched by an alkaline equivalent induced in the blood. In other words, the acid of the stomach is borrowed from the blood. If the blood is already alkaline stressed, then borrowing acid is difficult, like trying to use credit cards that are already maxed out. On the other hand, if the blood is acid stressed, borrowing acid is easy and wellbeing is enhanced.
The health benefits of an alkalizing diet are directly proportional to one’s energy capacities. Increasing tissue and cellular alkalinity can be a very good thing when it is balanced by increased metabolic rate and increased carbon dioxide. People who have the capacity for upregulating their energy metabolism do very well on an alkaline diet.
But people who have fundamental metabolic limitations can be easily overwhelmed by a highly alkaline diet. They experience increased fatigue, decreased stamina, poorer sleep, and increased sensitivity to perfumes. Instead, they should focus their strategy on increasing their aerobic threshold and basal metabolic rate.