Life depends on having suitable pH levels in and around living organisms and cells. Human life in particular needs a tightly controlled blood pH level in the slightly alkaline range of 7.35 to 7.45 to survive.
The term pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of any liquid solution and is expressed as a number from 1 to 14. The lower the pH number, the more acidic the solution. On the other hand, the higher the pH number, the more alkaline (or basic) the solution. So for example a pH measurement of 1 would be the most acidic, while 7 is considered ‘neutral’ and 14 the most alkaline.
Since a large part of our body is made up of water, pH has numerous effects on its chemistry, health and disease. To maintain good health, our body constantly seeks to dispose of excess acid via the kidneys and maintain blood pH. A reading above 7.5 indicates an over-alkaline state called alkalosis; one lower than 7.0 indicates an over-acidic state, or acidosis.
There has been a significant change from pre-agricultural human civilization to the present when it comes to net acid load in our diet. The typical modern diet is poor in magnesium and potassium as well as fiber, while being enriched in saturated fat, simple sugars, sodium and chloride as compared to the pre-agricultural period.
This modern diet is likely to induce so-called ‘metabolic acidosis’, especially with aging, leading to adverse health effects such as osteoporosis. Calcium in the form of phosphates and carbonates is stored as a large reservoir of base in our body. In response to the acid load of a modern diet these calcium salts are released into the blood to balance pH, thereby depleting muscle and organs of the calcium they need to function optimally. This may be one of the underlying causes of osteoporosis.
Health experts estimate that the quantity of calcium lost in urine with the modern diet could be as high as 480 gm over 20 years, or almost half the total skeletal mass of calcium.
Similarly, there is a loss of muscle mass with aging, which may predispose to falls and fractures. A diet rich in potassium, such as fruits and vegetables as well as a reduced acid load has been shown to preserve muscle mass in older men and women. Not only that, correction of acidosis may preserve muscle mass in conditions where muscle wasting is common - such as diabetic ketosis, trauma, sepsis, chronic obstructive lung disease and renal failure.
In fact. some health experts argue that a balanced pH is our body’s first line of defense against infections, disease and aging; and that degenerative diseases including arthritis, osteoporosis heart disease and even cancer appear to be associated with an imbalanced pH or acidosis in the body.
Foods can be classified by their potential acid load on our kidneys.
Fruits, vegetables, fruit juices, potatoes, millet, buckwheat, almonds and beverages such as red and white wine, mineral soda waters all have a negative acid load.
On the other hand, grain products, meats, dairy products, fish and beverages such as cocoa and coffee have relatively high acid loads. Regular consumption of these latter foods can lead to acidosis if not balanced in the diet with low acid load foods.