How much weight does this water trend really have in the medical world? Let’s take a closer look.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if all you had to do to avoid getting cancer was crack open a bottle of your favorite alkaline water and start chugging?
We thought the same thing, so we reached out to Jorge J. Nieva, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center of Keck Medicine of USC for his expertise insights.
The internet rumor is that cancer is caused by extra acidity in your body, and that by drinking alkaline water you can “neutralize” your body’s acidity. While we wish cancer prevention was that amazingly simple, science comes down on the side of “not very likely.”
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Here, we dive deep into the reasons.
pH and Your Body
Healthy bodies have a pH of about 7.4, which is slightly alkaline. (In liquids, 7 is neutral, anything lower is acidic, while anything higher is alkaline or basic.) Your body is really good at maintaining that pH of 7.4. It has to be. “Your body’s PH is not going to change from 7.4 to 7.6, explains Dr. Nieva. “If it changes much out of that range, you’re in the ICU.”
“Your lungs and kidney don’t let your PH change; that’s what they do,” he explains. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most common acid in your body and is a constantly being produced by your cells. When you produce CO2 in excess (for example, after an intense workout), your body is designed to eliminate it. Your blood carries the acid away from your organs and you breathe the excess out of your lungs. That is why you breath faster when you exercise, it is to keep your body’s pH normal and remove the excess CO2. Your kidneys also get in on the act, eliminating acid in the urine, but at a much slower rate than your lungs.
So where did the idea come from that alkaline water can prevent cancer?
Cancer cells can’t live in a high alkaline environment and the immediate areas in your body surrounding the cancer cells can become acidic. The thinking follows that if your body is more alkaline, you won’t get cancer.
Wait, that sounds like fans of alkaline water may be onto something. They aren’t?
While cancer cells can’t survive in high alkaline environments, neither can any of the other cells in your body.
And while the tissues immediately surrounding the tumor are more acidic, it’s a result of the way it use oxygen and create energy, not because the tumor itself is inherently more acidic. Researchers don’t know exactly why this process happens and are studying it as it may lead to the discovery of more effective cancer treatments.
Now onto alkaline water…
Everything you eat or drink goes straight your stomach, where it is greeted by your stomach acid, which has a pH of 3. It sounds redundant, but your stomach acid naturally has to be acidic to break down the food that you’ve eaten or liquid you’ve drunk. The acidity also makes your food sterile so that you don’t get infections from the bacteria on the surface of foods. From there, it’s onto your intestines where the whole mix gets neutralized back to slightly alkaline by your pancreatic secretions and enzymes. Your intestines are the great leveler and everything you eat ends up at the same pH, regardless of the pH it had while still on your plate or in your glass.
If you’ve been chugging alkaline water by the gallon, you’ll just pee it out in the end, anyway. “You take in alkaline water, you make alkaline urine,” Dr. Nieva says. “That’s all you’re going to do.”
Your body is an efficient machine and it’s designed to maintain a safe, slightly alkaline level of 7.4. The good news is, that unless you have a kidney problem, you’re not doing any harm by drinking alkaline water. The even better news? You can save your money and stay hydrated by drinking water straight from the tap.
If you’re in the Southern California area and are in search of a cancer specialist, call (800)USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit www.cancer.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/ to schedule an appointment.
By Anne Fritz