CAUTION: This article is technical
If you don't like to read such articles you may prefer: Alkaline Water Exposed - What They Don't Tell you
As it relates to drinking water and health, pH is the most misunderstood concept.
We will discuss in this article that an alkaline pH reading, when measured in drinking water, can be the result of either natural or artificial conditions in the water. I will also detail why it is only the naturally alkaline pH that benefits health, while the artificial variety causes problems; even though a pH testing device will measure both as 9.5, for example.
What is pH?
pH stands for the ‘power or potential’ of hydrogen. It is a dimensionless figure that represents the theoretical ratio of free H+ (hydrogen cations) and thus OH- (hydroxide anions). More H+ we have an acid and more OH- we have a base. The scale runs 0 to 14 and a pH of 7 is considered neutral, under 7 acid, and over 7 a base. Anything over 7 is also called alkaline. pH is a logarithmic scale. Each point higher or lower is 10 times more acidic or alkaline than the previous point.
Pure water is the basis of the pH scale and has a neutral pH of 7. Are you wondering why pure water, H2O, has any H+ or OH- at all, if it is indeed pure water? The answer to this question is a chemical phenomenon known as dissociation. Even in pure water some H2O molecules are always dissociating or breaking up into H+ and OH- ions. Generally they are also recombining into H2O at about the same rate. I call this the Dissociation Dance.
It is important to note that the context of this article is drinking water only. Healthful, natural drinking water includes the water itself and any minerals it contains. It should be void of any toxins or poisons. It would overly confuse matters to include in this discussion all the various compounds we could add to water and how they affect pH.
The Dissociation Dance is always occurring in water. Some minerals added to water can affect this dissociation and recombining by ‘mingling’ with the H2O and ions. In the case of alkali earth metals such as calcium and magnesium, they influence the Dissociation Dance to fall out of balance and the water becomes more alkaline.
Water that is alkaline (a pH over 7) is more healthful as it provides mineral assets to the body. While not all of these minerals are nutritionally available, they do indeed buffer acids. Many health crusaders sacrificed their own health, albeit unintentionally, to give us this information- allow me to elaborate.
The Demineralized Water Health Fad
At one time, health fanatics raved about the benefits of demineralized water, generally distilled or reverse osmosis water. The underlying principle being that this is the purest water you can get. ‘Pure’ of course meaning nothing but water itself. It aided detoxification while not adding toxins when consumed. Great. However, astute physicians became aware of a growing trend. People consuming demineralized water (distilled or reverse osmosis) almost always became afflicted with a severe loss of bone density. This loss of bone density directly linked to drinking demineralized water stems from a few causes.
People living in ‘modern’ times generally live a life that is far removed from what is natural. Both increased stress and poor diets of overly processed and unnatural foods cause an excess of acidic conditions in the body. The body, which is perfectly capable of maintaining its own pH balance, uses minerals to buffer acid. When it is not getting enough of those minerals from the food or water ingested, it robs calcium from its own bones to neutralize the acid. This is further aggravated by the fact that demineralized water has a strong affinity to bond with minerals. Many of the food supplied minerals these individuals were consuming ended up expelled in urine without the body ever having an opportunity to utilize them. Drinking demineralized water is not a good thing. Maybe this is why it is so rarely found in nature available to drink?
The Arrival of Alkaline Water Ionizers
At about the same time these facts were being discussed in the medical community, a machine from Japan called an alkaline water ionizer was beginning to gain popularity. These alkaline water ionizers utilize a process called electrolysis to split apart water molecules with electricity and artificially create a new type of alkaline water. Quite a few clinical studies, particularly in Japan, were performed using this water. Like all good studies, physical characteristics of the test water were noted such as pH, ORP (Oxidation Reduction Potential), etc. A few of these studies cited a number of benefits observed from drinking this alkaline ionized water. This is where capitalism stepped in.
Overnight it seemed the number of companies building and marketing these alkaline water ionizers skyrocketed. In a flurry of marketing and ‘less than scientific’ assessments, the health benefits derived from drinking "alkaline ionized water" were erroneously bestowed upon the alkaline pH.
This all brings up an interesting question. If it is the minerals from alkaline water that the body needs, what is it possibly getting from an artificial pH? An artificial pH merely has an abundance of OH- and less H+. Can the body utilize these ions as if they were minerals? The answer is no. Does any water found in nature have a pH that does not perfectly match its mineral content? Again, no. The truth is, outside of the first 30 or so days of consumption, all benefits from alkaline ionized water are a result of the negatively charged ion of hydrogen, H-. The H- is also responsible for the negative ORP measurement commonly referred to by the resellers of alkaline water ionizers.
While a pH test device may indicate that two waters each have a pH of 9.5, this reading is merely an indicator of an effect and does not specify the cause. For this reason, I have coined two terms relative to pH. Stable and unstable. A stable pH is a pH that perfectly corresponds to the mineral content of the water. It is stable because the minerals in the water continually influence the Dissociation Dance and hold the pH relatively steady. An unstable pH is a pH where the H+ and OH- concentrations were artificially altered. An unstable pH does not correspond to the mineral content in the water. It is unstable because the water will more quickly revert back to a pH that is in harmony with its actual mineral content.
Natural is Better
If you only take one thing away from this article it should be this: An alkaline pH is only beneficial to the body if it is natural, i.e. due to minerals in the water. All water coming from nature has a pH that perfectly corresponds to its mineral content.
The most common side effects of consuming water with an unstable and artificial pH is nervous tension, over-alkalization of the digestive system, and compromised immune function. However, much more severe side effects were revealed in a clinical study involving rats. The study revealed injury to cardiac tissues (heart muscle) resulted from drinking alkaline ionized water. In a time when cardiac disease is a leading killer, electrolyzed alkaline ionized water is not an appropriate choice for drinking water.
From a natural standpoint, common alkaline ionized water is the GMO food (Genetically Modified Organism) of the water world. It is incredibly artificial and unnatural, never to be found in nature. If history has shown us anything, it is the further we remove ourselves from what is natural, the more our bodies fall out of balance and become susceptible to disease.
All common alkaline water ionizers provide hydrogen derived benefits. However, they also provide artificial pH side effects. It is not possible for any common alkaline water ionizer to separate the two. If an alkaline water ionizer uses electricity, it's the type you want to avoid.
When it comes to alkaline water, only a natural pH provides the body with lasting benefits. A stable, naturally alkaline water combats osteoporosis while providing the body ample acid-buffering reserves. If you live a less than perfect lifestyle, naturally alkaline water is a necessity.
Clinical studies demonstrating side effects from ionized water consumption: