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Acid and Alkaline – A Balancing Act

There is a concept in health that refers to the human body’s ability and drive to maintain life in the face of changes, whether internally or externally.  The term used for this concept is “homeostasis.” The dictionary defines homeostasis as “the tendency of a system, especially the physiological system of higher animals, to maintain stability, owing to the coordinated response of its parts to any situation or stimulus tending to disturb its normal condition or function.”  In other words, our bodies will make all sorts of biochemical adjustments to make sure that we keep living.  Sometimes, the adjustments that are made actually are the cause of what we consider to be chronic diseases. Depression is an example of this.  Going back to caveman times, when we were Paleolithic hunter/gatherers, suppose we lived together in our family unit and the leader of the unit was killed in a hunting accident.  Depression is a common response to the loss of a close relative or loved one.  There is a physiological reason (a survival instinct) for the depression to happen.  After the loss of the pack leader, the depression is designed to keep everyone a little less active and a little closer to home until a new leader is identified that can better serve the survival of the group as a whole. Another example would be high cholesterol.  Cholesterol has many important functions in the body, including being used for the production of certain hormones, the making of vitamin D, the construction of cell membranes, and for acting as a band-aid for the repair of cracked blood vessels.  If your cholesterol is elevated, there is most likely a life preserving reason why! I love to point out that the body, in its infinite wisdom, always responds perfectly to the stimulus that it is exposed to.  Put another way, the chronic diseases that we suffer from are merely responses to what we are exposed to… our diet, our exercise (or lack there of) and the way we interpret the world around us.  The diet and exercise habits of today are vastly different from what we were influenced by for the majority of our evolutionary history. So wouldn’t it be great if there was some sort of indicator that we could follow or measure that would let us know how are bodies are responding? Of course, there are many such indicators, including blood pressure, pulse, cholesterol and blood glucose that tell us what is going on.  Unfortunately, according to the medical standards in western society, any diversion from the norm in any of the above indicators is merely a reason for some sort of pharmaceutical intervention… a prescription medication. Certainly, if the body has made the blood pressure increase for a reason and we make the blood pressure go down “artificially” through the use of some chemical, then the body will end up adjusting the blood pressure again.  And I see this happen in practice constantly, and so do you.  It is quite common for blood pressure medicines to “lose their effectiveness” over time and the need for higher dosages, or additional medicines, occurs, which certainly gives the doctors and pharmaceutical companies something to be happy about. There is another indicator that is less commonly known about that in my estimation is easy to measure and easy to adjust that can have a great effect on your health, in general and specific ways.  I’m talking about pH… the balance of acid and alkaline in your body. pH is a measure of the number of negative hydroxyl ions (OH-) compared to the number of positive hydrogen ions (H+).  The pH scale goes from 0 to 14, where 0 is the most acidic and 14 is the most alkaline. The pH of our blood is extraordinarily maintained to be within a very narrow range… and the body will go to great lengths to keep the status quo.  Well-oxygenated arterial blood has a pH of from 7.35 to 7.45.  Any variation from this range results in grave health consequences, including death. It is important to note that there are other fluids in the body that pH plays an essential role in.  The extra cellular fluid (fluid that surrounds cells and tissues in the body) also needs to have a tight control on the pH.  Of course, different stomach and gut enzymes work at specific pH ranges.  Lastly, urine and saliva are supposed to be maintained at certain values on the pH scale. What is interesting to note is that there is very little that you can do to make adjustments in your blood pH.  Because of homeostasis, your body will make the adjustments regardless of any other factors.  However… and this is the big however… there are ways that you can eliminate the body’s need to make adjustments, which can have lasting positive effects on your overall health and the way that you age. When blood pH gets out of the desired range, it is a clear indicator to nature that the organism has died and it is time to allow for the recycling of all of the parts… it is an “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” kind of scenario.  As so, bacteria, viruses, fungi, cancers, etc., are all signaled to go to work in reducing the body back to dirt.  When your system is too acidic, in essence, you have prematurely told nature that you are dead, or at least dying. It is a fact that eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) causes your body to be too acidic.  It is a fact that exposure to stress causes your body to produce and retain too many acids.  It is also a fact that the over-stimulation of your immune system causes the same result.  In essence, our poor diet and life-style choices cause our bodies to have to go to great lengths to buffer out the acids and maintain the proper pH.  I’ll give some specific examples of this and what you can do to fix it later on. But first, let’s discuss what the body does to maintain proper pH.  It is through the use of certain minerals that the body is able to neutralize the acids and maintain the slightly alkaline blood standard required for life.  Also, the body excretes the acids through breathing out carbon dioxide and releases the acids through sweat, urine and feces. If the body has an excess of acids and does not get enough minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium from the diet (and in the proper balance) to neutralize them, then it will use the mineral store in the body to do that work.  And we have a name for that “mineral bank”… it’s called the skeleton.  Our bones are not just here to hold us up; they are also a storage facility for minerals needed to maintain the required, narrow window of blood pH.  And remember that the proper blood pH is job number one. The prevalence of osteoporosis in our country today is a direct result of this homeostatic process… or more succinctly, a direct result of the things that we do that requires the body to need to make the pH adjustments in the first place.  And there are other “symptoms” that are directly or indirectly linked to this same process… such as muscle weakness and fatigue, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, ungraceful or premature aging, constant infections, and many more! What are the dietary factors negatively affecting pH?  To answer that question, we must have an understanding of which foods are alkalinizing and which are acidifying.  Just knowing that a particular food is acidic does not give you much information.  For instance, lemons and limes are acidic, but their effect on the body is alkalinizing. See this chart for some food categories and which foods in that category increase or decrease the acid load in the body.  

Alkaline Causing

Food Category



Mineral Water, Green Tea


Beer, Coffee, Alcohol

Quail, Duck Eggs


Chicken Eggs

Ghee (clarified butter)


Milk, Cream, Butter, Yogurt, Cheese, Ice Cream



Beef, Lamb, Pork, Veal, Fish, Shellfish, Organ Mets, Venison

Oats, Quinoa, Wild Rice

Grains and Cereals

Barley, Corn, Rye, Wheat, Spelt, White Rice, Millet, Amaranth

Pumpkin seed, Cashews, Primrose Oil, Cod Liver Oil, Olive Oil, Flax Oil

Nuts and Seeds

Hazelnuts, Walnuts, Pecans, Sesame oil, Safflower Oil, Sunflower Oil, Canola Oil, Grapeseed Oil

Lentils, Onion, Sea Vegetables, Yams, Garlic, Asparagus, kale, Parsley, Broccoli, Bell Peppers, Potato, Mushrooms, Eggplant, Collard Greens, Brussel Sprouts, Beets, Lettuces

Beans, Vegetable, Legumes

Soybean, Peanuts, Carrots, Pinto beans, White Beans, Lima Beans, Spinach, fava Beans, Kidney Beans, Zucchini, Rhubarb

Lime, Nectarine, Melons, Citrus Fruits, Apricot, Banana, Berries, Cherry, Apples, Peaches, Papaya


Cranberry, Plums Tomatoes, Prunes, Dried Fruit, Figs, Dates

Molasses, Rice Syrup


Sugar, Cocoa, Saccharin, Honey, Maple Syrup, Aspartame

  As you can see, foods that are generally accepted as healthful are the ones that are also alkalinizing… ones like fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds and even green tea.  Conversely, foods that we know may be bad for us end up on the acidifying side of the chart, like sugar, meats and most grains. I think it is important to note that some people might take this information and conclude that only a high protein/low carbohydrate diet would be acidifying.  Well, not necessarily… because most people that don’t eat much animal protein just end up substituting their meat with grains, pastas and cereals instead, which most of which are still acidifying.  The point is that plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables are the way to go.  And if you are on an Atkins-like diet (long term) that prohibits your fruit intake, you may be making a mistake.  The proper diet for weight control is a “carbohydrate-controlled” diet, not a low carbohydrate diet! Let me give you just one example of a “western culture food” that has a profound effect on body pH and ultimately osteoporosis… soda.  The pH of a cola with phosphoric acid is around 3.  The kidneys cannot excrete urine with a pH lower than 5 without causing damage.  To get 12 oz of that soda to a pH of 5 would require a dilution of 100 fold, an additional 33 liters of urine.  The body can’t product that much fluid; so another buffering mechanism must take place… using minerals like calcium and magnesium.  If the diet is not supplying enough of them (and your diets most likely are not) then they will have to come from somewhere else, like your bones! Are you wondering if your system is too acidic?  The answer is easy… look at what your body is telling you… do you suffer from diabetes, arthritis, heart disease or osteoporosis?  Are your muscles weak?  Do you tire easily?  Are you aging quicker than your actual years?  Do you lose your breath with minor exertions? Of course, many of these symptoms can be attributed to a host of “causes” so here are some other ways of measuring your pH…  
  1. Saliva – normal saliva pH should be from 6.5 to 7.0.  Anything below 6.5 may be an indication that the system is too acidic.
  2. Urine – normal urine (first morning) pH should be 6.5 to 7.5.  Anything below 6.5 is an indication of the body doing extra work to get rid of excess acids.
  3. Holding your breath – the inability to hold the breath can be an indication of an overly acidic system.  You should be able to hold your breath for at least 20 seconds.  If you can’t then you may be too acidic.  [Please do this one sitting down!]
  Once you have the measure of where you are on the acid/alkaline scale, then you can start to make adjustments in your diet and life-style to correct this vital imbalance.  Begin by adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet.  Get rid of the sugars, sodas and caffeine.  Start taking more time to relax and play instead of work, work, work! At times it seems like the advice always comes down to the same thing… really more common sense than anything else.  It is nice to know that as time goes on and our scientific techniques become more advanced, we are finding that the old answers are indeed the right answers… we should have listened to our grandmothers!
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