When I decided to exercise more, I started drinking lots of bottled water. My workout buddy recommended alkaline drinking water for its abundant health properties.
My grocer carried it, but it was pricey! Was it worth it? I had to find answers so I did some research. I finally decided on a home water treatment system. Even if it isn’t a miracle cure, I drink alkaline water daily for its good taste and other benefits.
What is Alkaline Water?
To understand the properties of this type of water, we need to discuss pH (power of hydrogen).
The pH scale
Any discussion of healthy drinking water must include a review of the pH scale.
Here is a brief discussion of water and pH.
Water is called H2O. Why? Because it is made up of 2 hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom.
Because of how atomic bonding works, water is actually arranged as 1 positively-charged hydrogen ion (H+) and 1 negatively-charged hydroxide ion (OH-).
Alkalinity is caused by the presence of more hydrogen ions. This means the substance becomes positively-charged overall, because it contains more protons.
Acidity occurs when there are more negative hydroxyl ions in the substance. This makes the substance negatively-charged overall because it contains more electrons.
The pH scale is a measure of acidity and alkalinity. The substances measured are referred to as acids or acidic, and bases or basic. The scale measures from 0 to 14, with water right in the middle at 7.0.
Moving from one number to the next on the pH scale represents an exponential difference in strength.
For example, lemon juice has a pH of about 2.0. Going down the pH scale from 7.0 to 2.0 does not mean lemon juice is 5 times more acidic than water. It means it is 10 to the 5th power or 100,000 times more acidic than water!
Strong acids are like the hydrochloric acid in your stomach that helps to digest your food. Another example is the sulfuric acid used in fertilizers. Strong bases are like the chlorine bleach you use to whiten your laundry. An even stronger base is sodium hydroxide (lye), a chemical used in commercial drain cleaners.
Commercial Ionized Water
If you go to the soft drink aisle of your grocery store you will see shelves full of high-pH water. This is water that has been put through a patented ionizing process in order to have a pH of 9.0 or higher (for comparison, baking soda has a pH of 9.0).
What Is the Advantage of Water with a High pH?
Even though it is all the rage in health and fitness circles right now, water with a high alkalinity and the alkaline diet have both been popular for decades. One major reason for this is something called the Acid-Ash Hypothesis. It claims that an alkaline diet can:
- neutralize acidic circulatory, digestive and urinary systems.
- prevent cancer
- prevent heart disease
- minimize bone loss (by preventing calcium loss)
- improve metabolism
- reverse aging
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for regulating bottled drinking water. It does not support the claims of cancer prevention or balancing the entire body’s pH levels.
When your body’s pH levels go too far above or below the slightly alkaline pH of 7.35-7.45, tissue and organ damage can occur. But drinking water is not likely to alter the pH levels in your whole body.
Another main argument of the Acid-Ash Hypothesis is that an acidic diet (one that is composed largely of grains, meats and dairy) encourages calcium loss and, therefore, bone damage. They base this on the increased calcium levels found in the urine of people whose diet is acidic.
However, research published in the December 2009 issue of the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research concluded that “…changes in calcium excretion do not accurately represent changes in calcium balance”.
They warn that “[p]romotion of the acid-ash hypothesis or ‘alkaline diet’ to the public to prevent calcium loss is not justified.”
What about chlorine?
You might be asking why chlorine in your drinking water is a bad thing if it is a base and alkaline water is also basic.
That’s a reasonable question.
The problem with chlorine used in your drinking water as a disinfectant relates to chemical processes that create harmful molecules called disinfectant by-products, or DBPs. These by-products can lead to a multitude of illnesses and even death.
High-pH water, on the other hand, has also been purified without the use of chlorine. The result (like all those water bottles in your grocery store) is basic water that has had all (or most ) of the bad stuff removed.
Please note: ionizing water and purifying it are two different things. Look for water that has been put through both processes.
Water with a high pH can balance acidic pH levels–only to a point
There is little scientific evidence that drinking water with a high pH can balance the pH levels of your entire body (levels vary by system in your body, even though the overall balance hovers between 7.35 and 7.45).
One thing that is tried and true is your body’s ability to achieve its own acid-base balance. If you are healthy, your lungs get rid of excess acid by breathing faster. One term for this is “blowing off CO2”.
Excess alkalinity in your body is eliminated by the filtration and re-circulation system of your kidneys.
One part of your body where more basic water can be helpful is in your upper GI tract (your esophagus and stomach).
If you suffer from acid indigestion or acid reflux, then water with a higher pH could actually help because it has not been acted on by your bodily mechanisms yet. One way to avoid having to continually pop an antacid is by drinking ionized water.
Water with a Higher pH Hydrates You Better
Research published in the July 2009 online issue of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition weighs in on the debate. It concludes that water given to cyclists after a stretch of dehydrating exercise hydrated the cyclists better when it had a high pH of 10.0.
The enhanced hydrating ability of water with a high pH has to do with cell membranes.
The 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Peter Agre and Roderick MacKinnon for their discovery of cell membrane proteins they call aquaporins.
These are channels in the membrane of every cell in your body. They either permit or prohibit the passage of water into the cell based on the ph of the water.
Your cells hold a high number of positively-charged particles called protons. Acidic water also contains lots of protons, while basic water carries lots of negatively-charged electrons. When aquaporins encounter the overall positive acidic water, they reject it. But when they encounter the overall negatively-charged basic water, they open the channels and let it in.
To better understand this, think of magnets. They stick to metal surfaces, but depending on the direction the magnet is facing, it will either attract or repel another magnet.
Acid water and the environment inside the cell are like magnets with both positive sides facing each other–they repel one another. Basic water and the environment inside the cell are like magnets with opposite sides facing each other–there is an attraction.
Ionized liquids are used as ingredients in cleaners and disinfectants
The acidic solution produced is used for sanitizing and disinfecting while the basic solution is used in cleaners due to its emulsifying and surfactant properties.
When water goes through a chemical process called electrolysis, two groups of water molecules are created: one acidic and one alkaline.
Purification by deionization involves two tanks. The tanks contain positively-charged hydrogen and negatively charged hydroxyl. As water passes through, this system attracts and retains the harmful negative ions and lets positive ions pass through.
This process is referred to as ionization or de-ionization.
Adding alkaline minerals to the water
Natural spring water tends to have a higher pH than tap water. It is naturally alkaline. This is because it picks up minerals as it travels over rocks in the spring.
Adding minerals to tap water mimics the natural alkalinity of spring water. These minerals serve several roles in our bodies.
- Calcium helps our bodies to maintain healthy skeletal and circulatory systems.
- Magnesium helps our bodies convert food into energy and keeps our muscular, nervous, renal and cardiac systems functioning well.
- Potassium supports cardiac and skeletal muscle as well as metabolic processes.
The added minerals help you meet your daily need for trace minerals. According to a book published by the World Health Organization (WHO), “…subclinical deficiencies of iron, magnesium, zinc and calcium prevail in both the developed and developing worlds.”
The researchers went on to explain that the mineral content of municipal water supplies varied so that levels were unpredictable from one part of a city to another.
How Do You Know if Your Water Is Acidic?
The US Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for regulating drinking water from the tap. It gives detailed guidance for testing the pH of your drinking water. County health departments and state-certified labs can both test your drinking water. The Safe Drinking Water Hotline can be reached by calling 800-426-4791.
Is Mineral Water the Same Thing as De-ionized Water?
Yes, if we base the answer to that question solely on the definition of alkalinity. Remember that a solution is alkaline if it has a pH higher than 7.0.
The difference is that water packaged, treated or sold specifically as alkaline has a pH of 9.0 or higher.
Why Should You Consider a Home Water Ionizing System?
No shelf life
Patented processes have been invented to make ionized water more stable on the shelf. This is because “…one of the biggest limitations of EO [electrolyzed oxidizing] water technology is that the shelf-life of both acidic and alkaline [drinking] water solutions is very short.”
That’s because the ions whose charges were reversed naturally tend back toward their natural state.
With a home water treatment system, shelf life is irrelevant because you use the water soon after it comes out of the tap.
You also don’t have to be concerned about any harmful chemicals leaching into your water from plastic water bottles, like you do with store-bought mineral water.
Mineral or other high-pH water from the store is expensive, often costing several dollars per gallon. While home systems cost more up front, they pay for their value by providing the water you want at only a few cents per gallon.
When you purchase high-pH water from the store, you only get the alkaline liquid. Home ionizing systems supply you with both the alkaline and the acidic water: the alkaline for drinking and cooking, and the acidic for cleaning and sterilizing.
Producing your own de-ionized water is more convenient and beneficial than buying store-bought varieties.
- You can sidestep the grocery store
- You can produce only as much as you need at one time, minimizing waste.
- You can tailor the mineral content. It has already been established that tap water pH levels vary. Home ionizing systems allow you to filter out specific minerals and add others to your liking, for a consistent pH level in every glass.
- You can enjoy better taste. The minerals added often give water a sweeter taste than tap water and bottled mineral water.
There is a lot of misinformation floating around about alkaline drinking water. Even without the hype, the good taste and ability to hydrate better make this water a good choice.