Proper acid/alkaline levels lead to beauty - inside and out

February 1, 2011

The importance of the role that diet, lifestyle and stress management plays in maintaining our general health and skin health has increasingly become a part of our conversation. As dermatologists, we can often read the internal health of the body, which is mirrored by the largest organ of the body - namely, the skin. In searching for a simple approach to inside/outside beauty, the concept of pH balance comes to mind.

The importance of the role that diet, lifestyle and stress management plays in maintaining our general health and skin health has increasingly become a part of our conversation. As dermatologists, we can often read the internal health of the body, which is mirrored by the largest organ of the body - namely, the skin. In searching for a simple approach to inside/outside beauty, the concept of pH balance comes to mind.

Jeannette Graf, M.D.

Of course, the pH or acid/alkaline balance of the body is not new; in fact, it has been written about since the late 1800s when French scientist Claude Bernard described what are now the underlying principles of homeostasis. In 1931, Otto Warburg won the Nobel Prize for his work on cancer, in which he demonstrated the ability of cancer cells to thrive in conditions of high acidity and low oxygen with normal cells unable to survive.1 At the same time, those same cancer cells were unable to survive in conditions of alkalinity and high oxygen, while normal cells were able to thrive in these conditions. Warburg wrote extensively about the internal oxygen environment of the body and its relationship to the pH and behavior of cancer cells.2

Maintaining balance
The importance of acid-base homeostasis (the proper balance between acids and bases) is well documented, and our extracellular fluid pH must stay between 7.35 and 7.45. In order to maintain this balance the body has three specific adaptive mechanisms: buffer systems; exhalation of carbon dioxide; and kidney excretion.3

One of the most important buffer systems to protect us against acidosis is alkaline bone mineral. When our systems become overwhelmed with acidity such that our internal bicarbonate buffer system is insufficient to handle the acid load, our bone, which is our richest source of alkalinizing minerals, contributes from our great mineral reserve to neutralize acids and maintain pH balance. Over time, with the onslaught of acidity bombarding us as we age, this constant looting of our mineral reserve leads to osteoporosis. In other words, osteoporosis is a disease of metabolic acidosis.4,5,6

Becoming acidic
The day that we are born is when we are at our most alkaline. As we age, we become progressively more acidic. The more that acid-producing foods are consumed, the greater the degree of systemic acidity that occurs. In addition, as we age and renal function decreases, so does the ability to excrete acids, resulting in increased systemic acidity.7, 8

When the body is in a healthy, alkaline pH-balanced state, there is a feeling of vitality and well-being because the body is in an optimal state of cellular function. When the body is acid-overloaded and in a state of systemic acidosis, there is a feeling of fatigue and poor energy, which is consistent with suboptimal cellular function. In turn, this weakened state makes us more vulnerable to multiple health problems, including poor digestion, fatigue, arthritis and osteoporosis, as well as more severe problems. The importance of balancing the pH in the body is as important as balancing the pH of a fish tank or a swimming pool.

Proper diet
Since our bodies are constantly producing acid byproducts from physiologic processes including digestion, breathing and byproducts of metabolism, our bodies must constantly work to maintain pH balance. This is why balanced diets are essential and why we must have the correct diet to minimize acid load.

Foods that are consumed can have an acid-producing, alkaline- producing or neutral effect on the body. What determines this is the pH level of the ash residue that remains following the burning of food in the body. Foods that leave an alkaline residue have an alkalinizing effect on the body, whereas those that leave an acid ash have an acid-producing effect on the body.9,10 This is an important distinction, since foods such as lemons and limes have citric acid, making them acidic; however, they leave behind an alkaline ash, which makes them very alkaline-producing.

At the same time, most people would think of milk and dairy products as basic and alkaline, while they actually leave behind an acid ash, which makes them acid-producers.

In a perfect world, we would be consuming equal amounts of acid- and alkaline-producing foods. But since we live in such an acid-producing, stressful environment, we really ought to be consuming a diet that is 75 percent alkaline to 25 percent acidic.

Not all foods that are acid producers are unhealthy, since there are benefits to consuming rice, nuts and fish - it’s the amount that we need to control in order to reduce acid load in the body.

The most acid-producing foods are refined foods, especially sugars, cola drinks, alcohol and coffee. Within that category, it is better to have coffee made from freshly ground organic coffee beans rather than coffee that has been sitting around and oxidizing.

Following a diet rich in colorful vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, moderate amounts of proteins and lots of water with lemon and/or lime is the healthiest diet to follow - much like the Mediterranean diet. The lowest incidence of inflammatory arthritis is in those countries where the Mediterranean diet is followed.

Supplementing our diets with green powdered drinks, that consist of various alkalinizing grasses such as wheat grass and barley grass are helpful in boosting pH. So are mineral supplements, which help to neutralize acids, thus sparing our own alkaline reserve.

There are many published charts with complete lists of acid- and alkaline-producing foods. In addition, pH strips to test saliva are very handy. Saliva, which contains secreted acids - rather than urine, which contains excreted acids - provides a good indication of the overall pH of the body.11

In conclusion, balancing your pH level by changing your body’s ratio of acids to alkalines is essential to achieving and maintaining inner health, which is reflected in outer beauty with glowing skin, brighter eyes and more energy.

References:
1. "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1931". Nobelprize.org. 27 Nov 2010 http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1931/
2. “On the Origin of Cancer Cell” Warburg, Science 24 February 1956: 309-314. DOI:10.1126/science.123.3191.309
3. Green J, Kleeman R. Role of bone in regulation of systematic acid-base balance (editorial review). Kidney Int. 1991;39:9-26.
4. Lemann J Jr, Litzow JR, Lennon EJ. The effects of chronic acid loads in normal man: Further evidence for the participation of bone mineral in the defense against chronic metabolic acidosis. J Clin Invest. 1966;45:1608-1614.
5. Barzel US. The role of bone in acid-base metabolism. In: Barzel US, ed. Osteoporosis.New York: Grune & Stratton; 1970:199-206.
6. Arnett TR, Dempster DW. Effect of pH on bone resorption by rat osteoclasts in vitro. Endocrinology. 1986;119:119-124.
7. Frassetto LA, Morris RC Jr, Sebastian A. Effect of age on blood acid-base composition in adult humans: role of age-related renal functional decline. Am J Physiol. 1996;271:F1114-1122.
8. Lemann J Jr, Litzow JR, Lennon EJ. The effects of chronic acid loads in normal man: Further evidence for the participation of bone mineral in the defense against chronic metabolic acidosis. J Clin Invest. 1966;45:1608-1614.
9. Wynn E; Krieg MA; Lanham-New SA; Burckhardt P. Postgraduate Symposium: Positive influence of nutritional alkalinity on bone health. Proc Nutr Soc. 2010; 69(1):166-73 (ISSN: 0029-6651)
10. Sebastian A; Harris ST; Ottaway JH; Todd KM; Morris RC. Improved mineral balance and skeletal metabolism in postmenopausal women treated with potassium bicarbonate. N Engl J Med. 1994; 330(25):1776-81 (ISSN: 0028-4793).
11. www.betterbones.com.