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Alkaline Water: Beneficial or Bogus?

21/07/2015 3:09 AM IST | Updated 20/07/2016 3:29 PM IST
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When it comes to health, water is kind of a big deal. In fact, no other substance is as important for our bodies. So if you're consistently drinking water, you're already doing something great for your health.

But you may have heard that alkaline water -- water that's less acidic than tap water -- is even better. Let's investigate whether this is actually true, if alkalized water is really better for health and fitness.

About alkaline water

Alkaline water is rich in alkalizing compounds, including calcium, silica, potassium, magnesium, and bicarbonate.

Some people claim that a more alkaline diet -- including the use of alkaline water -- can help your body buffer acidity, which can lead to better health and fitness. A few research reviews even support the claims. However, the jury's still out on drinking alkaline water specifically. And some remain very skeptical.

Is it worth buying specialty water to get the alleged benefits? Or is alkaline water just another questionable diet trend up there with juice detoxes and coffee hacking?

Read on to learn whether alkaline water is worth a sip.

Do you even need to "alkalize"?

"Alkaline" has almost become a buzzword in health circles. But the idea that everyone needs to "alkalize" is at best an oversimplification.

The concept with alkaline water is this: Tap water contains different dissolved elements that influence its pH level. Pure water has a pH level close to 7. Alkaline water has a pH above 7. So the idea is that to create a more alkaline balance in your body, you should drink water with a higher pH.

But there are a few problems with this concept.

First of all, each organ system has a unique pH range, and our bodies naturally do a fantastic job of maintaining blood pH within each respective range.

Secondly if your pH is out of balance, it's important to get to the underlying cause. Without knowing the cause, you can't determine whether alkaline water will really help you.

What's more, focusing on the pH level of our water is sort of besides the point. Because if alkaline water is helpful, that might be due to the minerals it contains rather than its pH level, per se.

Also, keep in mind that overall body alkalinity isn't always a good thing. For example, if you have a kidney condition, or you're taking a medication that alters kidney function, some of the minerals in alkaline water could start to accumulate in your body. In this case, high alkalinity might lead to negative side effects.

As always, when troubleshooting a health concern, it's important to get to the bottom of the core issue, and make sure that you're targeting the real cause, not the symptom.

Possible benefits of alkaline water

That said, let's explore the possible benefits of alkaline water before we dismiss the idea, as many skeptics do.

Gut health

Some proponents of alkalized water say that it could improve your gut health. Ionized water possesses a negative oxidation-reduction potential, which means it might offer extra disinfectant properties, helping to protect you from dangerous microorganisms.

Glycation, Alzheimers & Diabetes

Ionized water seems to result in lowered glycation levels and reduced liver damage in rats with poor blood sugar control. Why this that important? Here's the mini science lesson.

Glycation is a reaction that takes place when simple sugar molecules, such as fructose or glucose, become attached to proteins or lipid fats without the moderation of an enzyme. This results in the formation of rogue molecules known as advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs). AGEs are associated with health risks such as Alzheimer's and diabetes.

Now, rats are not humans, and it is tricky to extrapolate directly from animal studies to human health. We need more data to know whether this concept has legs.

Alkalized water and athletes

If there's one group that may benefit from drinking alkaline water it's those who are physically active. Why? Because intense exercise spurs muscles to produce more hydrogen ions than one can efficiently remove. Thus, acidity increases and fatigue sets in.

Drinking alkaline water might enhance the body's buffering capacity and temper the acidity, thus improving our performance.

Note that mineral supplements (calcium, magnesium, potassium) decrease cardio-respiratory stress and blood lactate responses, while improving power output in endurance athletes. That's why long-distance runners sometimes supplement with sodium bicarbonate. Alkaline water may work similarly.

Finally, over time, the mineral content of alkalized water could help active people retain more fluid in the cardiovascular system. This might improve overall hydration status and fluid reserves.

Where can you find alkaline water?

If you do want to give alkaline water a try, it can be confusing to figure out which waters are actually more alkaline.

Here's a quick overview:

· Essentia guarantees a pH of 9.5 (which is more alkaline).

· Dasani ranges between 5.0-7.0 (which is neutral or more acidic).

· Aquafina ranges between 5.5-7.0 (which is neutral or more acidic).

· Smartwater has a pH of about 7.0 (which is neutral).

· Evian has a pH of 7.2 (which is more alkaline).

In the end, bottled mineral waters tend to be alkaline. Non-mineral bottled waters are unlikely to be alkaline. And adding mineral powders to regular tap water can it more alkaline.

Instead of buying bottled water or supplementing with minerals, you can also buy a machine, called a water ionizer, which creates alkaline water via a process called ionization.

The bottom line

It's possible that alkaline water could offer some benefits, to some people, in certain circumstances.

But until we learn more, I suggest you save your money: Stick to tap water most of the time and, if you're concerned about your acid/base balance plant-based dietary supplements and alkaline mineral supplements seem to have more research support.

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About the author

John Berardi, Ph.D. is a founder of Precision Nutrition, the world's largest online nutrition coaching company. He also sits on the health and performance advisory boards of Nike, Titleist and Equinox.

Dr. Berardi was recently selected as one of the 20 smartest coaches in the world by livestrong.com, the internet's most popular fitness site.

In the last five years, Dr. Berardi and his team have personally helped over 30,000 people improve their eating, lose weight, and boost their health through their renowned Precision Nutrition Coaching program.

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