pH balance is one of the most common subjects I get questions about from patients, readers, and students.
Many of us hear about the alkaline diet, alkalizing water, alkalizing foods, etc. But there is much confusion over what your body’s pH should actually be, what causes pH imbalance in the first place (spoiler alert: it isn’t always your diet), and how to strike he proper acid/alkaline balance for better health.
While the topic can get complicated, striking a healthy balance is actually relatively simple when you understand how your body’s pH works.
What is pH…and what does it have to do with health?
pH stands for “power of hydrogen”, and is measured on the power of hydrogen scale which runs from 0 to 14.
When pH is below 7 it’s considered acidic, above 7 is considered alkaline, and right around 7 is considered balanced or neutral.
So what does this have to do with health?
Your bodily systems all have an optimal pH range in which they are designed to function.
And your body, more specifically your kidneys, typically do a great job maintaining proper pH via electrolytes such as magnesium, sodium, and potassium.
But, when your diet and lifestyle is imbalanced it can cause an excess of acidity to develop.
This forces your body to use up those precious electrolytes to try and maintain homeostasis in the blood.
Now, excess acidity isn’t usually a big deal if it only goes on for a short time, however if it become chronic it can cause mineral depletion. As minerals are depleted from our bones, organs, etc. our immunity is compromised and pH balance becomes even harder for the body to maintain.
This is why the alkaline diet, alkaline water, etc. has become so popular. However…
…you don’t always want alkaline pH either
Yes, overly acidic blood, urine, or saliva is a problem. But, many of our organs and systems aren’t meant to be overly alkaline either.
For example, while your blood pH should be around 7.3—fairly neutral, your stomach should be around 2—very acidic—in order to properly digest food.
Same goes for your skin, which has a natural acid mantle to protect you from pathogens. Yet, many skin care and baby care companies tout their products as being “pH balanced”, which is the opposite of what you want on your skin.
And for women, it’s important our vaginas be acidic—usually around 3.8-4.5—to protect from pathogens and maintain healthy flora.
Saliva ph is ideally between 6.0 and 7.0 and urine ph between 5.5 and 7.0 and for optimal health.
So, the idea of “the more alkaline the better” isn’t always accurate. Remember, we’re shooting for balance here.
How lifestyle contributes to pH levels in the body
Notice I mentioned lifestyle as a causal factor of pH imbalance in the body…not just diet.
That’s because I’ve seen countless patients go to great lengths to eat a “perfect alkaline diet” yet still struggle to maintain healthy pH levels.
This is because diet is only part of the equation.
The truth is stress often trumps diet when it comes to achieving and maintaining healthy pH.
How stress can cause pH imbalance
Stress causes the body to become overly acidic for a few different reasons:
#1: Stress causes your autonomic nervous system to go into overdrive (also known as fight or flight) which results in the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
An imbalance of these hormones will rob your body of critical minerals such as magnesium, and electrolytes, which makes it harder for your kidneys to maintain proper pH.
This isn’t a problem if you feel stressed out now and then, but you feel chronically stressed you can be sure your pH will be imbalanced.
#2: Stressed out people tend to sleep less, which further depresses your immune system while causing your body to produce more stress hormones and excess acid1.
#3: When you’re stressed out and tired, your appetite-producing hormones: leptin, ghrelin, and insulin become imbalanced2. This can make it very difficult to resist indulging in acid-producing foods, such as sweets (more on foods coming up).
How to eat and drink for optimal pH balance
The good news is, eating and drinking to support optimal pH does not have to be complicated, inconvenient, or extreme.
The key is to focus on whole, fresh foods while avoiding the usual unhealthy suspects.
- Avoid eating too many acid-forming foods—such as sugar, white flour, red meat, coffee, fried foods, dairy products, alcohol, and grains
- Eat a diet rich in alkalizing, whole foods—such as fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, plant proteins, green drinks, apple cider vinegar (yes, it’s alkalizing!), and sea vegetables
- Consider a trace mineral supplement—if your diet and stress levels are optimal, then you may not need this. But for everyone else, a trace mineral supplement will help protect against mineral loss while supporting healthy electrolyte function
- Stay hydrated—by drinking at least 8 glasses of filtered or spring water daily. Coconut water is also an excellent source of natural electrolytes. Get more creative way to stay hydrated here.
- Avoid over-consumption of alkaline water—this is a controversial bit of advice, but it needs to be said. If you drink too much alkaline water you can actually do your body harm over time (I’ve seen this happen many times with patients). So, if you are overly acidic and want to try it out for a few weeks go ahead; just make sure you’re monitoring your pH levels. Which brings us to our next point.
How to test your pH at home
The easiest way to test your pH is to test your urine and saliva using pH strips made of litmus paper. You can find these at your local natural foods store or online.
- To test your saliva, place a pH strip on your tongue first thing in the morning per manufacturer’s instructions.
- To test your urine, collect a small sample of your first morning urine and dip the pH strip in it.
This simple and inexpensive test will allow you to track how your diet and lifestyle are contributing to pH balance. I highly recommend this practice to my patients, as provides real-time information which will help motivate you to keep making the healthiest choices.
If you need personalized assistance to guide your body to healthier pH levels, please consult with a licensed healthcare professional who is experienced in this area. A Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine or a Naturopath is often a good place to start in your search.
In service to your vibrant health,