ACID-ALKALINE BALANCE FOR GOOD HEALTH
When it comes to health, balance is everything. Specifically, to ensure good health, the body needs to maintain the proper balance between two basic types of chemical compounds – acids and alkalis. The balance of these compounds is essential for both minute-to-minute and long-term survival, and creates what is known as the pH value of our body’s fluids, which include blood, saliva, urine and the fluids both between and inside the cells.
Albert Szent-Gyogyi, Nobel Laureate and the discoverer of Vitamin C, once noted, “the body is alkaline by design, but acidic by function.” He was referring to the fact that each minute of each day, the body’s metabolic processes produce enormous quantities of acid even though, in order to do their jobs properly, the cells and tissues require a slightly alkaline environment. Therefore, in order to maintain its health, the body must neutralize or excrete the vast majority of acids that it produces on a minute-to-minute basis. Healthy bodies maintain a narrow range of pH blood and tissue balance at all times. For this reason, proper acid-alkaline balance is one of the most essential elements of optimal health, while imbalances between acid and alkaline compounds are certain signs that the body is in danger of becoming unhealthy and increasingly susceptible to disease.
WHAT IS pH AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO OUR HEALTH?
pH was originally defined in 1909 by Soren Peter Lauritz Sorensen, a Danish Biochemist. Literally meaning “potential for hydrogen,” pH is used to indicate the concentration of hydrogen ions in a fluid. Since dissolved acids are what produce hydrogen ions, we know that the more hydrogen ions there are present, the more acidic the solution will be.
pH is measured on a scale of 0 to 14.
7 is neutral; in other words, it is neither acidic nor alkaline. Any measurement lower than 7 is considered acidic while any measurement above 7 is considered alkaline. Because an acid gives off hydrogen ions while a base accepts hydrogen ions, acids and bases can react with one another, altering the acid-base balance of a substance. In the body, the bicarbonate ion is a major base that transforms and neutralizes acids by taking on their hydrogen ions. Largely, it is the balance between bicarbonate and hydrogen ions that determine acid-base balance. pH values are determined by the concentration of hydrogen ions represented as moles per liter (the term mole is short for molecular weight.) Pure water, which is a neutral element, has a concentration of hydrogen ions that equals 0.0000001, or 10^-7 moles per liter. By comparison, extremely acidic substances can have hydrogen ion concentrations as high as 0.01, or 10^-2 moles per liter. Concentrations of hydrogen ions are stated as powers of 10 so to indicate the substance’s pH value, we remove the base number and the minus sign. Thus, neutral water has a pH value of 7, while a pH of 2 indicates very high acidity, and a pH of 12 indicates very high alkalinity. A change in one point of pH is equal to a ten-fold change in hydrogen ion concentration.
Despite the understanding of the importance of pH in the maintenance of life, until recently, the mainstream medical establishment overlooked the existence of low-grade pH imbalances. Fortunately, for decades, holistic physicians both in the United States and in Europe have recognized the link between chronic low-grade acid-alkali imbalance and disease. The primary force creating low-grade metabolic acidosis is our diet. The typical Western diet is acidogenic, meaning that it consists primarily of foods that have an ongoing acidifying effect on the body. This is especially true of the so-called standard American diet, which health experts now recognize as one of the leading causes of our nation’s rising rate of chronic, degenerative diseases, as well as the leading cause of the epidemic of obesity that is now occurring among our country’s children.
HOW THE BODY MAINTAINS ACID-ALKALINE BALANCE
There are several layered buffer systems within the cells and the blood that work to neutralize or buffer acid by-products. These buffer systems –known as the bicarbonate, phosphate, and protein buffer systems – help maintain stable cellular and blood acid-alkaline balance.
The primary organs that work to eliminate acid buildup in the body are the kidneys and the lungs, followed to a lesser extent, by the skin. Although some of these organs play a more significant role than others, they are all engaged in the important activity of preserving internal pH balance.
The kidneys help regulate acid-alkaline balance of the bloodstream by eliminating solid acids–especially sulfuric and uric acid –through urination. When the levels of such acids become excessive, the kidneys excrete increased levels of hydrogen ions. This process acts as a filtering mechanism that dilutes the acids and moves them out of the bloodstream to be eliminated by the urine. In its excretion of acids, the kidneys utilize various alkali reserve compounds, and if these are not available from the diet, the body calls upon alkali reserves store in the watery layer around the bone and in the bone itself. At times, even the muscle tissue is broken down to release an alkalizing amino acid called glutamine, which is then employed in the manufacture of ammonia, a base used to rescue the body from acidosis.
Regardless of how hard the kidneys work, or how efficient they are at producing and recycling alkalizing bicarbonate, these organs can only rid the body of a certain amount of acids each day. If the alkalizing agents are in short supply and the body’s production of acids is high, a degree of acidosis (acid buildup) occurs within the body. This buildup of acids beyond the kidney’s capacity to eliminate them, can set the stage for a wide variety of health problems, beginning with the disruption of proper cell function. Then, over time, numerous biochemical reactions are impaired and the stage is set for disease and dysfunction.
The lungs also work to keep the body’s pH levels balanced by eliminating volatile (gas-formed) acids. When you breathe, the carbon dioxide produced through metabolic processes inside the body combines with water in the blood. The combination produces carbonic acid, which the lungs then eliminate as part of the process of respiration. One telltale sign that the body is becoming increasingly acidic is increased respiratory rate. The increase is caused by the body’s attempts to eliminate increased levels of carbonic acid. Conversely, if the body is overly alkaline (alkalosis), the rate of breathing generally decreases. This is because the body is attempting to retain enough acids to reverse excess alkalinity and restore balance.
The skin, through its sweat glands, is the final organ responsible for eliminating acids. The skin perspires, which helps to flush acids out of the body. Skin cannot eliminate nearly as much acid as the kidneys and lungs can. The body is capable of eliminating on average, a quart of sweat every twenty-four hours, whereas it can eliminate one and a half quarts of urine. Moreover, sweat is unable to eliminate acids in the same concentrations that urine can. Body odor produced by perspiration can be a strong indication of a state of over-acidity.