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Just keep breathing...

I know many people within the wellness industry have been supportive of the theory that your body needs to be "alkaline" in order to be healthy. But personally I see many flaws with this theory. Sure eating a lot more vegetables, fruits and greens will have positive effects on your health but is not because your body suddenly becomes "alkaline" it's because these are highly nutritious foods.

Your body is a complicated but highly specialized machine that already does a wonderful job at maintaining its pH in balance. When speaking about pH in chemistry, the scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic, 7 neutral and 14 basic or alkaline. Different parts of your body will have a different pH level, your stomach for example is an acidic environment with a pH of 1 to 3.5 – very important for proper food digestion.  Your blood maintains a very narrow range between 7.35 and 7.45, any variability outside of this range could have serious health consequences.

Someone in my facebook network shared this picture a couple days ago, and while I agree that all the lemons in the world wont make a difference, I didn’t just want to share it without any additional information as to why I agree with it.  One thing missing in this image though, is that your kidneys also play an important role in maintaining your blood’s pH.

You see, the hypothalamus plays a pivotal role in an astounding number of functional and behavioural activities that are essential for day-to-day survival. Its overall role is to collect and integrate a variety of information from the body and to organize neural and endocrine responses that maintain homeostasis. Homeostasis can be defined as the constant internal environment of the organism – including things like body temperature, blood oxygen levels, of course pH levels, among others.

On the other hand the lungs help control your body’s pH balance by releasing carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide is a slightly acidic compound and a waste product produced by cells in the body as they use oxygen.

The cells release it into your blood, and it’s taken up to your lungs.  When you exhale, you’re expelling that carbon dioxide, a process that also helps regulate your body’s pH balance by reducing acidity.  The amount of carbon dioxide you exhale is a function of how deeply you inhale or exhale. Your brain constantly monitors this in order to maintain the proper pH balance in your body.

The kidneys help the lungs maintain acid-base balance by excreting acids or bases into the blood. The kidneys’ effect on acidity works much more slowly than that of the lungs.

If you want to learn more about this pH balance mechanism click here  and/or here.

So, what happens to your body when the blood pH goes out of the normal range?

One of two things can happen – A condition known as “Acidosis”, when the level goes lower than 7.35, or “Alkalosis” when it’s above 7.45. Both of these conditions are further subdivided into respiratory, when the cause is linked to the lungs or respiration. And metabolic when is caused by a problem with the kidneys. Your body will work hard to maintain optimal levels and buffer any changes. If you want to learn more about the differences and symptoms of each of these conditions, follow these links:

Treatments for a related condition will vary depending on the underlying cause, but to give you an idea some of them include:

  • Oral or intravenous sodium bicarbonate to raise blood pH

  • Medications to dilate your airways

  • Sodium citrate to treat kidney failure

  • Slowed breathing if the underlying cause is hyperventilation

  • Oxygen therapy

  • Fluids or electrolyte drinks to restore electrolyte balance

Should you forget about eating your Veggies then?

Not so fast!

While the theory behind making your blood alkaline with foods to cure or prevent disease may be missing the mark when it comes to biochemistry, eating your veggies is still going to be beneficial to your health.

Evidence does suggests that over 35% of cancer deaths are related to high body fat, physical inactivity and poor nutrition (aka a lot of junk food and not enough plants). Over a hundred studies performed since the 1980's have suggested that consuming large amounts of vegetables and fruits can reduce the risk of cancer in half compared to those that have a diet lacking plant foods.

Of course not all cancers respond the same to dietary factors, but we can all agree that there is enough evidence to encourage us to eat more plants. And its not just cancer, a higher level of vegetable and fruit consumption has also been associated with a lower incidence of other chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, eye disease, type 2 diabetes or osteoporosis. In conclusion, the alkaline diet may show all its health benefits because it is based on whole and unprocessed foods. But this has nothing to do with altering your pH level.

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