The Role Acidity Has On Health
What’s This Thing Called pH And What Does it Have To Do With Acidity? Technically speaking, pH stands for the Power of Hydrogen. Broken down to the simplest form, our bodies are composed of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. The pH measures the action of hydrogen and the balance of acidity and alkalinity in the body.
When testing the acidity of the body, say the arterial blood, you would test the pH. When testing pH, the result is a number from 0 to 14. Neutral is 7 with lower numbers representing an acidic condition and higher numbers representing an alkaline condition.
Our bodies are alkaline by design. All of the cells that make up the body are slightly alkaline and must stay that way to remain healthy and alive. The optimum range of body pH is from 7.2 to 7.6, slightly alkaline, with the normal for arterial blood as 7.4.
Why Do We Become Acidic? The pH measures the condition of critical bodily fluids. These fluids make up our internal environment that is critical to our health. Simply stated, an acid system is conducive to sickness while alkalinity is required for normal healthy cellular function.
Every living cell within our body creates acidic waste products! Nutrients from the food we eat are delivered to each cell and burn with oxygen to provide energy for us to live. The by-product of this metabolic process is waste products. Virtually all waste products are acidic and therefore must be discharged from our body, typically disposed of through the urine, perspiration and exhaling carbon dioxide.
One of the possible causes of the aging process and a host of potential chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, sarcopenia, kidney stones, osteoporosis and stroke to name a few is the accumulation of acidic wastes in the body due to years of having a condition called low-grade acidosis that has a corresponding lowered blood pH.
It is now believed by many authorities, that most adult degenerative diseases may develop because of a lowering of the function and resistance of the body due to chronic acidosis. Acidosis is thought to precede and cause disease. The well body succumbs to physical disorders when its own acid debris accumulates to the point where resistance is broken down and the body becomes susceptible to cold, fatigue, nerve exhaustion and eventually degenerative disease.
Why is it so Difficult to Stay Alkaline? Our bodies are in a constant state of metabolizing. The problem is that the process of metabolism creates acid, which is needed for energy and other biochemical processes. Normal healthy metabolism creates acid wastes such as cholesterol, uric acid and acetic acid. Even with the best diet these acid wastes are unavoidable but they must be neutralized and eliminated from the body or harsh consequences will result.
To further compound the problem, our food, water and air are loaded with acid forming substances like chlorine and an increasing assortment of chemicals. Soft drinks, especially colas (pH 2.5), are extremely acid forming and are the mainstay of our children’s diets. Poor choices of foods, acidic ingredients and low mineral content all contribute to a condition of acid overload.
Maintaining a proper, slightly alkaline pH is considered the most important aspect of a healthy body and a long disease-free life. An imbalance of alkalinity creates a condition favorable to the growth of bacteria, viruses, yeast and other harmful organisms.
Accumulation of acid wastes are also closely linked with degenerative disease, lack of vitality and aging in general. Even when there is no toxic substances in our food, there are waste products that must either be eliminated or stored. Toxins change into poison and must be detoxified or they will eventually destroy the system.
Our Bodies Defense Systems – The human body has an incredible ability to maintain life, however the compensations our bodies are forced to make come with a price. As the damage accumulates over a period of years we may experience no obvious ill effects but eventually the bill comes due and we pay the price.
Having an acidic pH is like driving your car with the oil light on. The car will continue to run without any apparent problem but eventually it will simply stop. To maintain life our blood and cells must be defended against all of this acidity. Should we become too acidic, we would die.
Fortunately we have what amounts to an alkaline mineral bank in our bicarbonate reserves. To buffer the acid overload the body will make withdrawals from this bank account. While this is effective in the short term, in the long run we see our bicarbonate reserves become depleted and bones becoming more brittle with age that can result in osteoporosis.
Another way the body alkalizes the blood and raises the pH is to solidify acids in the blood and deposit them as solid wastes in the tissues of the body. This enables our blood to remain in an acceptable alkaline pH range but as these harmful byproducts accumulate, overall pH goes lower or more acidic, oxygen levels fall, and the seeds of a variety of degenerative diseases are sowed.
This process of gradually depleting minerals from the bones and building up acidic deposits in body tissues is a slow one. For many years we have no symptoms, no clue as to the storm that is building. Eventually we begin to experience aches and soreness, declining energy levels, and other subtle signs that we associate with getting older.
These are not an inevitable part of getting older. They are warning signs. Many adult chronic conditions may be directly associated with an acid pH and a low grade acidosis.
What is the Aging Process? As we age, we gradually dry up at the cellular level. As the years go by, the cells of the body (where all biochemical processes occur) become thicker. As a result the amounts of vital nutrients and oxygen brought into them declines while the amounts of toxins and metabolic waste products increases. The result is a loss of youthful cellular function and the beginnings of degenerative disease.
Can This be Avoided? Consider this: “Dr. Alexis Carrell, a famous French physiologist, conducted an experiment in which he took cells from the heart of a chicken and put them in a solution containing minerals and nutrients in the same proportion as chicken blood. Every day he changed the solution keeping the fluids constant and disposing of the waste products produced by the cells. The result, for which he won a Nobel Prize, was the chicken heart lived for over 28 years. When he stopped changing the solution the cells promptly died.”
As revealing as this experiment was, the question remains, how can we accomplish this in the living system? What steps can we take to achieve similar results? To answer that question, we first must explore the cause of aging.
The Cause of Aging – Phosphoric Acid is produced in protein metabolism. Excess amounts are solidified as salts and can result in the formation of kidney stones. These acid salts also build up in the walls of our cells and cause them to stiffen. The resulting thickening creates an inability to properly hydrate the cells. It also creates a severe decline in nutrient and oxygen delivery into the cells and toxin and waste removal from the cells. In other words, a steady decline in cellular function results in what we call aging. Highly alkaline nutrients found in fruits and vegetables and potassium bicarbonate supplementation can wash these acid salts away and help return cells to a more youthful level of function.
How Health Conditions Are Linked to Acidity
Osteoporosis – One highly alkaline mineral responsible for neutralizing acids in the body is calcium. If we allow our pH to decline into an acidic condition the body is forced to withdraw calcium from the bones and teeth in order to maintain life.
In spite of the tremendous push over the last 20 years for calcium supplementation, the incidence of osteoporosis has increased dramatically. The drain placed on bone mineral content by excess acidity is simply too great. The prevalence of low or acid pH places incredible strain on our bones and teeth. In areas like where the Hunza people live, they are blessed with abundant highly-alkaline drinking water and eat alkaline fruits and vegetables problems like osteoporosis do not exist.
Cardiovascular Disease – Cholesterol is an acidic byproduct of fat metabolism. As the body becomes more acidic, it defends itself by solidifying cholesterol in the blood and depositing it in the cells of our blood vessels. Over a period of years plaque builds until circulation is impaired resulting in surgery, medication or heart attacks and strokes.
When pH is raised to an alkaline condition the body is better able to neutralize these wastes and flush them out of the system. Not only does it help accumulation of plaque to stop but deposits may be dissolved, neutralized and washed away as well.
Arthritis – Another byproduct of normal healthy metabolism is uric acid. Like cholesterol the body deals with excesses by solidifying it into a salt that tends to build up in the joints. The result is gout and arthritis. This accumulated acid can damage cartilage and irritate joints. Blood can not carry out wastes as effectively in the joints, which is why the acids tend to accumulate there. Consuming highly alkaline foods and :: Potassium bicarbonate :: supplements can do a good job of cleaning out the uric acid over time, remembering that it took years for the damage to accumulate.
Immune Function – The immune system is a sophisticated clean-up service. It is composed of your body’s army of white blood cells or natural killer (NK) cells. Each NK cell is manufactured by your body as needed to kill off a specific invader. For example, there is a specific cell to kill cancer, another one for the cold germ, and still another for a virus. Sometimes, the pathogens multiply faster than the body can manufacture the matching NK cell hence advanced health challenges.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could help the immune system by preventing these pathogens from taking hold in the first place? Bacteria, viruses, molds, yeast and fungus that attack our bodies thrive in an acidic environment. In a slightly alkaline environment they are weakened significantly and do not multiply efficiently.
In the preferred slightly alkaline pH range, the immune system can clear the potentially harmful microbes out more easily, often before we have any symptoms. They are weakened and do not multiply as prolifically. Ultimately health wins out.
Vitality – An acidic condition also corresponds to low oxygen levels. There is a direct correlation between pH and available oxygen. An alkaline environment provides literally thousands of times the oxygen needed for all bodily functions. Oxygen is essential to energy production. In very simple terms, natural energy production in the body boils down to oxygen burning hydrogen.
Another aspect of energy and vitality versus fatigue is proper enzyme activity. Acids literally turn off enzymes, which are tiny proteins that control chemical reactions. Without enzymes there is no life. Maintaining an alkaline pH in the range of 7.2 to 7.6 is critical to slowing down degeneration and maintaining a more youthful vitality.
The Solution – There are a number of medical research studies that suggest that the cause of aging and chronic conditions is a low-grade acidosis and that supplementing with potassium bicarbonate (KHCO3) may prevent and or correct them.
Research in this field has been advanced by two world renowned scientists, Anthony Sebastian, MD and Lynda Frassetto, MD along with a team of their collogues from the
University of California, San Francisco, Department of Medicine and General Clinical Research Center.
A summary of one of their scientific studies was published in the prestigious Journal of Gerontology in 1996, entitled “Age and Systemic Acid-Base Equilibrium: Analysis of Published Data” Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, Vol 51, Issue 1 B91-B99. The abstract is as follows:
Abstract of the Research Study – To investigate whether systemic acid-base equilibrium changes with aging in normal adult humans, we reviewed published articles reporting the acid-base composition of arterial, arterialized venous, or capillary blood in age-identified healthy subjects. We extracted or calculated blood hydrogen ion concentration ([H+]), plasma bicarbonate concentration ([HCO3(-)]), blood PCO2, and age, and computed a total of 61 age-group means, distributed among eight 10-year intervals from age 20 to 100 years. Using linear regression analysis, we found that with increasing age, there is a significant increase in the steady-state blood [H+] (p less than .001), and reduction in steady-state plasma [HCO3(-)] (p less than .001), indicative of a progressively worsening low-level metabolic acidosis. Blood PCO2 decreased with age (p less than.05), in keeping with the expected respiratory adaptation to metabolic acidosis. Such age-related increasing metabolic acidosis may reflect in part the normal decline of renal function with increasing age. The role of age-related metabolic acidosis in the pathogenesis of the degenerative diseases of aging warrants consideration.
Explanation of the Research Study – Drs. Sebastian and Frassetto’s research took samples of arterial blood from hundreds of people age 20 to 100 years to measure the pH level of acid wastes and their level of bicarbonate reserves.
The study showed that as one gets older there’s an increase in the accumulation of acid wastes and a corresponding decrease of alkaline bicarbonate [HCO3] reserves in the blood. Bicarbonates are the alkaline buffer reserves the body uses to neutralize acids.
Figure 2 graph B, of their study showed that the alkaline bicarbonate reserves of the group remained fairly constant until the age of 45 and then it dropped off very sharply in a steep linear decline with an overall dramatic loss by the age of 90.
By the way, 45 years of age is when most people start to show symptoms of the chronic diseases of aging like hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity and many others that gradually worsen as people get older.
Drs. Sebastian and Frassetto’s attribute the increase in acidic waste and reduction of the bicarbonate reserves in the blood as we age to generations of consuming the modern American diet that is high sodium intake and low in potassium. This type of relationship is reverse of what is healthy and contributes to an excess of sodium and a deficiency of potassium.
The reduction of bicarbonates in the blood makes it difficult for the body to handle the continuous outpour of acid and nearly impossible for it to eliminate acid wastes. This is why it’s felt that systemic acidosis caused from insufficient levels of bicarbonates in the blood may be responsible for many of the acid-induced degenerative diseases.
Layman’s Interpretation of the Research Study – In layman’s terms, this study shows that as we age we have more acid radicals [H+] and less blood bicarbonates [HCO3], the alkaline minerals stored in the body whose job it is to neutralize excess acids, which can lead to age-related metabolic acidosis and resultant chronic disease.
From reading this study one could deduce if the accumulation of acids due to metabolic acidosis cause the degenerative diseases of aging, then if a person could reduce the accumulation of acids in the body and decrease metabolic acidosis, maybe they could prevent the degenerative diseases commonly thought of as inevitable.
The Bottom Line – The decline of bicarbonates in the blood with a corresponding increase of acids and a lowering of the arterial pH may promote aging and chronic conditions. Some may say that the reduction of bicarbonates is an unavoidable result of aging. However others suggest that the reduction of bicarbonates is the primary cause of physiological aging and by adding bicarbonates we may delay the aging process and prevent age related adult degenerative conditions.
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1Frassetto L, Morris RC Jr., Sebastian A. Diet acid load and bone health. In Nutritional Aspects of Osteoporosis, 2nd edition, Burckhardt P, Dawson-Hughes B Eds. Academic Press San Diego, CA 2004.
2Frassetto L, Morris RC Jr., Sebastian A. Stone age diets for the 21st century: The effects of diet-induced, potassium-replete, chloride-sufficient, low-grade metabolic alkalosis. In Nutritional Aspects of Osteoporosis, 2nd edition, Burckhardt P, Dawson-Hughes B Eds. Academic Press San Diego, CA 2004.
3Frassetto LA, Morris RC, Jr, Sebastian A. A practical approach to acid production and renal acid excretion in humans. Semin Nephrol (accepted 2004).
4L. FRASSETTO, R. CURTIS MORRIS, JR., AND A. SEBASTIAN, Potassium Bicarbonate Reduces Urinary Nitrogen Excretion in Postmenopausal Women. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism Vol. 82, No. 1, The Endocrine Society, 1997
5ANTHONY SEBASTIAN, M.D., STEVEN T. HARRIS, M.D., JOAN H. OTTAWAY, M.A., KAREN M. TODD, M.S., R.D., AND R. CURTIS MORRIS, JR., M.D. Improved Mineral Balance and Skeletal Metabolism in Postmenopausal Women Treated with Potassium Bicarbonate, The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 330; No. 25, June 23, 1994
6Frassetto L,, Sebastian A., Age and Systemic Acid-Base Equilibrium: Analysis of Published Data, Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, Vol 51, Issue 1 B91-B99.