To take you back a little bit to high school chemistry class, one of the most important molecules for human in health is hydrogen. The balance of hydrogen in the body is referred to as pH, or potential of hydrogen. The body works hard to tightly control pH or the number of hydrogen molecules in the body somewhere between 7.35 and 7.45 based on a scale from 0 to 14. Seven is considered “neutral” on the pH scale, anything below seven is acidic and above seven is considered alkaline, therefore the body likes to stay slightly alkaline. Moving outside of this carefully controlled range, even by a very small amount can result in organ failure and death. Whereas maintaining an alkaline pH provides an optimal environment for your body to function the way it was intended.
Due to the importance of maintaining the correct balance of hydrogen, the body has many systems in place to maintain ideal pH on its own. The pancreas, lungs, and kidneys work together to continuously maintain the balance of certain minerals in order to keep pH properly balanced. The pancreas releases bicarbonate, which binds to excess hydrogen, and is eventually excreted via the lungs as carbon dioxide. The kidneys filter out any acidic compounds and generate more bicarbonate to maintain the delicate balance.
Maintaining a slightly alkaline body, the way it was intended to be, is the most important factor for long-term health. Alkalinity is associated with higher energy, better digestion, increased mental function, and a decreased risk of almost every disease. Whereas acidosis leads to fatigue, brain fog, problems with weight, and potentially the development of disease. As the body becomes more acidic, it is forced to pull calcium from bones to maintain acid/base balance, researchers believe we may lose over ½ our skeletal mass over our lifetime trying to correct acidosis induced by foods. An acidic diet has also been linked to accelerated muscle loss. Whereas the correction of acidosis via the adoption of an alkaline diet has been shown to preserve muscle. There is also some evidence that acidosis plays a role in the development of inflammation-related illnesses like cancer, arthritis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. But, our current diet and environment force the body to work harder to maintain this delicate balance and the inability to do so may lead to many chronic illnesses.
Prior to industrialized times, human diets were high in potassium, magnesium, fiber, and healthy fats, raw materials needed for the organs to maintain acid-base balance. The ancestral diet was also low in sodium, sugar, processed fats, alcohol, caffeine, and refined grains, all of which increase acidity. The body was able to effortlessly maintain balance because it was not constantly trying to manage and neutralize acid-producing foods. It had the minerals it needed from alkaline foods to neutralize the acidity if needed. To throw another wrench in the equation, we live in an extremely stressful and toxic environment that encourages acidosis, another layer for our body to deal with. Eventually our bodies get tired of managing the hydrogen molecules, and as we age kidney function decreases, preventing the body from efficiently maintaining balance, and the body struggles to maintain its optimal pH level. Clearly, alkalinity is incredibly important for health and there are many things you can do to help your body maintain its naturally alkaline state from diet to lifestyle changes, which we will continue to cover in future articles.