Most of us never consider the acid/alkaline balance of our blood, but a proper pH is a crucial aspect to overall health. Many doctors stress the importance of reducing acidity and increasing alkalinity with an alkaline diet because a balanced pH helps protect us from the inside out. Disease and disorder, they say, cannot take root in a body whose pH is in balance.
What is the meaning of “pH balance”? And how do you know if your pH levels are off?
PH balance refers to a proper balance in the body between acidity and alkalinity. Keeping your body at a healthy pH level may help prevent unhealthy microbes and organisms from flourishing, tissues and organs from becoming damaged, minerals from being depleted, and your immune system from being compromised.
A 2012 review published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Healthstates:
It is generally accepted that agricultural humans today have a diet poor in magnesium and potassium as well as fiber, and rich in saturated fat, simple sugars, sodium, and chloride as compared to the preagricultural period. This results in a diet that may induce metabolic acidosis which is mismatched to our genetically determined nutritional requirements. (1)
The very best way to balance your pH is to eat lot of nutrient-dense, alkalizing plant foods and to limit your intake of processed foods. Because so many different factors — gut health, stress, sleep, medications and medical history — also affect your internal pH level, other lifestyle habits can also be helpful for restoring balance.
What Is Ph Balance? And Why Is It Key for Good Health?
What we call “pH” is short for the “potential of hydrogen,” or the measure of the hydrogen ion concentration of a solution. (2) pH is also a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of our body’s fluids and tissues. It is measured on a pH scale that ranges from 0 to 14. The more acidic a solution is, the lower its pH value. The more alkaline it is, the higher the pH number is. The acidity or alkalinity of different solutions, including human blood but also many others found outside the body (such as the ocean), are indicated on the pH scale.
What should the body’s pH level be ideally? Here is a basic ph balance chart that shows you the ideal pH level of the human body:
- A pH of 7 is considered neutral. “Neutral” means it is equally acidic as alkaline.
- The healthiest pH level for the human body is one that is slightly more alkaline than acidic.
- How alkaline should your body be? Optimally, we want to keep our bodies at a pH of 7.365 to 7.45.
- Your pH level will fluctuate throughout the day depending on many factors (more on these below), but the normal range is between 6 and 7.5.
Alkaline diets (sometimes also called alkaline ash diets) that help restore proper pH levels have been associated with health improvements including:
- Protection against plaque formation in blood vessels
- Prevention of calcium accumulating in urine
- Prevention of kidney stones, kidney disease and damage
- Reduced inflammation and chronic pain
- Maintaining stronger bones/better bone mineral density
- Reductions in muscle wasting or spasms
- Increased protection against chronic diseases including hypertension, diabetes and arthritis
- Better protection against vitamin D deficiency and related consequences (3)
- and much more
The Causes of pH Imbalance & Acidity:
The Merck Manual’s definition of acidosis is “An overproduction of acid in the blood or an excessive loss of bicarbonate from the blood (metabolic acidosis), or a buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood that results from poor lung function or depressed breathing (respiratory acidosis).” (4)
What can cause your pH level to shift towards a more acidic state, thereby causing imbalance?
An increase in acid overwhelms the body’s acid-base control systems, causing the blood to become overly acidic. Normally, the kidneys maintain proper balance of pH and electrolyte levels, including calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium. But when we are exposed to acidic substances, these electrolytes are used to combat acidity.
The kidneys start to excrete more minerals out of the body via the urine. High degrees of acidity force our bodies to rob minerals from our bones, cells, organs and tissues. Cells end up lacking enough minerals to properly dispose of waste or oxygenate the body completely. Vitamin absorption is then compromised by mineral loss. Toxins and pathogens can start to accumulate in the body, and this can suppress the immune system.
These are some of ill effects that too much acidity can contribute to:
- Allergies, asthma and congestion
- Frequent colds
- Joint and muscle pain
- Skin problems
- Weight gain
- Nausea and vomiting (due to metabolic acidosis)
When it becomes more severe, or over the long term, acidosis can lead to more serious health problems, including:
- Heart disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Cognitive changes including confusion
How Can You Achieve Proper pH balance? Take These 4 Steps
First and foremost, you can reduce your risk for falling out of pH balance by taking a look at how your overall lifestyle and habits might be affecting your nutrient levels, gut and immune system.
Below are the primary factors that contribute to acidity (acidosis) and pH imbalance in your body:
- Alcohol and drug use (including acetazolamide, opioids, sedatives and aspirin)
- Antibiotic overuse
- Kidney disease or kidney malfunction
- Poor digestion and gut health
- Eating lots of processed and refined foods that are high in sodium, added sugar, refined grains, preservatives, etc. (5)
- Low intake of potassium, calcium and other minerals (6)
- High consumption of artificial sweeteners, food coloring and preservatives
- Pesticides and herbicides that can remain on non-organic foods
- Chronic stress
- Sleep-created disorders, such as sleep apnea
- Declining nutrient levels in foods due to industrial farming and poor quality topsoil
- Low levels of fiber in the diet
- Lack of exercise/sedentary lifestyle
- Excess animal meats in the diet (from non-grass fed sources)
- Excess hormones from processed foods, health and beauty products, and plastics
- Exposure to chemicals and radiation from household cleansers, building materials, computers, cell phones and microwaves
- Poor chewing and eating habits
- Lung diseases or damage, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, severe pneumonia, pulmonary edema and asthma
How do you raise your body’s pH level, in order to make it more slightly more alkaline rather than acidic?
Below are steps you can take to to help restore pH balance:
1. Reduce Intake of Acidic Foods
If you currently eat a “Standard American Diet,” you’ll likely need to give certain things up in order to eat a diet that’s lower in acidic foods. Acidic foods to limit or eliminate from your diet include:
- Processed meats such as deli meats, cold cuts, hot dogs, salami and cured meats, etc.
- Foods high in sodium
- Added sugar
- Processed cereal grains, such as corn flakes, etc.
- Conventional meats: beef, chicken and pork
- Fried foods
- Milk and dairy procused
- Refined grains including white rice, white bread, pasta, cereals, etc.
- Caffeine and alcohol
There are also some otherwise healthy foods that contribute to acidity, but still don’t need to be completed avoided. These foods can still contribute many nutrients to your diet, so continue to eat them in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet.
- Most high-protein foods, such as meat and eggs
- Lentils and other legumes
- Brown rice
- Whole grain bread (I recommend sprouted bread)
2. Eat an Alkaline Diet
If there’s such thing as a pH balance diet, it’s one that includes lots of green plants and other alkalizing foods. It’s also smart to purchase as much organic food as possible, since crops that are grown in organic, mineral-dense soil tend to be more alkalizing and have higher vitamin and mineral content. Here are foods that are included in a well-rounded alkaline diet:
- Leafy green vegetables — for example, kale, chard, beet greens, dandelion, spinach, wheat grass, alfalfa grass, etc.
- Other non-starchy veggies — including mushrooms, tomatoes, avocado, radishes, cucumber, jicama, broccoli, oregano, garlic, ginger, green beans, endive, cabbage, celery, zucchini and asparagus.
- Raw foods — Uncooked fruits and vegetables are said to be biogenic or “life-giving.” Cooking foods depletes alkalinizing minerals. Increase your intake of raw foods, and try juicing or lightly steaming fruits and vegetables. Ideally try to consume a good portion of your produce raw or only lightly cooked (such as steamed), as raw foods can help supply high levels of alkalizing minerals.
- Superfoods — for example, maca root, spirulina, sea veggies, bone broth and green powder mixes that contain chlorophyll.
- Healthy fats — these include coconut oil, MCT oil or virgin olive oil (fats found in wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, cage-free eggs, nuts, seeds and organic grass-fed butter are also good additions to your diet, even if they aren’t necessarily alkalizing).
- Starchy plants — like sweet potato, turnips and beets.
- Plant proteins — such as almonds, navy beans, lima beans and most other beans are good choices.
- Most fruits — Strangely enough, acidic fruits such as grapefruit and tomatoes don’t create acidity in the body. They do just the opposite and contribute to an alkaline environment. Citrus fruits, dates and raisins are all very alkalizing and may help prevent acidosis.
- Green drinks (vegetable juices) — Drinks made from green vegetables and grasses in powder form are loaded with alkaline-forming foods and chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is structurally similar to our own blood and alkalizes the blood.
- Apple cider vinegar — ACV tastes acidic but actually may help restore pH balance.
Depending on your current state of health and your goals, you might have even better success with reversing acidity by adhering to an alkalizing, very low-carb ketogenic diet. The Keto diet and its foods are also supportive of pH balance include: healthy fats and oils, all types of leafy greens, powdered greens and drink mixes, and superfoods.
Most high protein foods are acid forming, so if you’re eating lots of meat and animal foods, it’s important to balance these with alkalizing plant foods. (7) If you’re following a low carb diet and taking steps to reduce acidity, then you can eat the foods mentioned above and also incorporate some legumes, beans, nuts and lower amounts of starchy plants (since these contain more sugar and carbs).
3. Drink Alkaline Water
According to the Water Research Center’s website, “The normal range for pH in surface water systems is 6.5 to 8.5 and for groundwater systems is 6 to 8.5.” (8) This means that there is a lot of variation when it comes to pH levels between different sources of water. When water has a pH level less than 6.5, it is considered “acidic, soft, and corrosive,” which means it may potentially leach metal ions such as iron, manganese, copper, lead, and zinc from aquifers, plumbing fixtures, and piping, plus contain certain toxic metals and have a sour taste. The best way to treat the problem of acidic (low pH) water is to use a neutralizer that raises the pH.
Evidence suggests that the ideal pH level of alkaline ionized water for long-term human consumption is between 8.5 and 9.5. (9) Alkaline water is just what it sounds like: water that is highly acidic, with a pH of between 9 to 11. Adding pH drops, lemon or lime, or baking soda to your water also boosts alkalinity. Distilled water is neutral, with a pH of 7. (10)
Water filtered using a reverse osmosis filter is slightly acidic, with a pH level slightly lower than 7. Distilled water and filtered water may not be too alkaline, but as far as pH balance is concerned they are still a better option than tap water or purified bottled water that are more acidic.
4. Reduce Exposure to Drugs, Toxins & Chemicals
Many different drugs, chemicals, pollutants and toxins can disturb pH balance and contribute to acidity — such as alcohol, products containing caffeine, acetazolamide, opioids, sedatives, carbonic anhydrase inhibitors, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and aspirin. (11) Other types of poisoning and chemical exposure can also cause acidosis, which can be very dangerous when it becomes severe. (12)
It’s important to address any underlying health conditions that might be causing you to rely on these drugs regularly. For example, might a lack of sleep, stress, sedentary lifestyle or even allergies be contributing to your health problems? try to determine what types of steps s you can take to naturally reduce your need for medications and drugs. If you live or work in an environment with lots of air pollution take steps to protect yourself as much as possible.
Testing Your pH Level
Here is how to test your own pH level:
- You can test your pH by purchasing strips at your local health foods store or pharmacy.
- You can measure your pH with saliva or urine. Your second urination of the morning will give you the best results.
- You compare the colors on your test strip to a pH scale chart that comes with your test strip kit.
- During the day, the best time to test your pH is one hour before a meal and two hours after a meal.
- If you test with your saliva, you want to try to ideally stay between a pH of 6.8 and 7.3 (remember that optimal pH is about 7.365).
Precautions Regarding pH Balance & the Alkaline Diet
As mentioned above, certain foods on the acidic list — like eggs, meat and walnuts — might not be alkalizing, but don’t let that scare you away from eating them. They contain a host of health benefits like antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.
A healthy balance is what we are shooting for where pH is concerned; it is also possible to become too alkaline, so extremes in either direction are not ideal. Eating a variety of foods, focusing on quality, and addressing other lifestyle concerns are all important for maintaining homeostasis (balance).
Final Thoughts on Achieving pH Balance
- pH is short for “potential of hydrogen,” which is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of our body’s fluids and tissues. pH is measured on a pH scale ranging from 0 to 14.
- The healthiest pH level for the human body is slightly more alkaline than acidic, with an optimal pH of 7.365 (although this fluctuates slightly throughout the day).
- Causes of acidosis (too much acidity) include a poor diet, poor gut health, certain medications and drugs, kidney or lung disease, and many other unhealthy lifestyle habits.
- An alkaline diet is one that includes whole foods that have positive effects on pH levels of the blood and urine. An alkaline diet includes lots of fresh vegetables and whole fruits, some raw foods, green juices, beans, nuts and healthy fats.
- Foods that are acidic and can contribute to pH imbalance include: high-sodium foods, processed grains, too much meat and animal protein, added sugars, and conventional milk.