We’ve all heard of pH, things being balanced or unbalanced, acidic or alkaline. Besides being health taglines, what does this mean, and why should we care about our body’s pH?
This article will discuss what pH is, the difference between acidic and alkaline, pH’s effect on the body, and how we can adjust our pH.
What Does pH Mean?
The two letters “pH” show up all over diet and health headlines, and fancy bottled waters boasting an alkaline pH. What exactly do those letters stand for?
The letters “pH” stands for “the power of Hydrogen.” pH measures the molecular density of hydrogen ions in a substance, usually water. pH is measured on a scale ranging from 0 to 14, with 0 to 6.9 being acidic and 7.1 to 14 being alkaline. Pure water is neutral at 7.
Ideal pH Levels for Our Bodies
We should aim for a pH level of 7.3 to 7.4, which is slightly alkaline. At this level, our bodies are running at their smoothest, and a list of issues can arise if our pH levels change to drastically.
An acidic pH can cause Acidosis, also known as Metabolic Acidosis. Acidosis is a buildup of excess acid in body fluid, which can cause rapid breathing, confusion, tiredness, headache, jaundice, and increased heart rate.
There are four kinds of Acidosis.
- Diabetic Acidosis: Diabetic Acidosis occurs in people with poorly controlled diabetes. Not enough insulin in the blood causes acidic ketones.
- Hyperchloremic Acidosis: Hyperchloremic Acidosis occurs from loss of sodium bicarbonate, which is most often caused by vomiting and diarrhea.
- Lactic Acidosis: Lactic Acidosis is caused by a buildup of lactic acid in the body. Chronic alcohol use, heart failure, cancer, seizures, liver failure, low blood sugar, and lack of oxygen can all cause Lactic Acidosis. Pushing yourself too much doing a workout or run can cause lactic acid buildup, too!
- Renal Tubular Acidosis: Renal Tubular Acidosis is when the kidneys don’t excrete enough acids into the urine, causing the body to store acids.
Acidosis that goes unchecked can ravage the body in a number of ways such as kidney stones, chronic kidney problems, kidney failure, bone disease, and growth problems in younger individuals.
Preventing Acidosis can be as easy as drinking more water, but can be difficult for those who may need to reduce alcohol use or struggle with diabetes management.
An overly alkaline pH can cause alkalosis. There are four variations of alkalosis that can occur.
- Respiratory Alkalosis: Respiratory Alkalosis can be caused by a drop of carbon dioxide in the blood, carbon dioxide being an acid. Respiratory Alkalosis causes include hyperventilation (an anxiety symptom), fever, breathing difficulty, frequent exposure to high altitudes, lung and liver disease.
- Metabolic Alkalosis: Metabolic Alkalosis is caused by too much bicarbonate in the blood, bicarbonate being a base, or by losing too much acid in the body. Causes of Metabolic Alkalosis include loss of electrolytes, too many diuretics (substances that cause urination), loss of potassium and sodium, antacids, laxatives, and alcohol abuse.
- Hypochloremic Alkalosis: Hypochloremic Alkalosis is from a significant drop of chloride in the body, which can come from excessive vomiting and/or sweating.
- Hypokalemic Alkalosis: Alkalosis may be the result of low potassium in the body. Potassium is generally introduced to the body through diet, but not eating enough potassium isn’t usually the culprit for Hypokalemic Alkalosis. Potassium loss can be caused by kidney disease, excessive sweating, and diarrhea. Potassium is essential for the heart, muscles, kidneys, and nervous and digestive systems.
Symptoms of Alkalosis include nausea, numbness, prolonged muscle spasms, muscle twitching, and hands tremors. Panic attacks can have very similar symptoms.
If Alkalosis isn’t treated early enough, Alkalosis may cause issues as serious as shock or comas.
Preventing Alkalosis generally involves keeping or adopting healthy choices such as drinking enough water (especially before, during, and after exercise), and drinking electrolyte enhanced drinks, avoiding excess pop and sugar-heavy juices, and not overdoing caffeine.
The list of issues that can go wrong with a misbalance of pH can be scary and can be a real threat. Luckily, there are ways we can work the teeter-totter that is our body’s pH scale.
A great way to help balance our pH is to stay properly hydrated! The usual recommendation is eight to 10 cups of water a day. That’s about half a gallon, which is 16 cups. Sipping from a half-gallon jug throughout the day isn’t a bad way to keep track of your water intake. Drinking an eight-ounce glass every hour doesn’t seem like too big of a task. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the volume; you’re not drinking it all at once!
Another good way to stay on top of your pH balance is to know what your pH is. You can test your levels at home with litmus paper or a urine test which are available online or at drug stores. Healthy urine tests are usually acidic, around a 6, because the kidneys excrete acid through urination. The most accurate way to test your pH is through a blood test, but that requires a doctor’s visit.
Of course, keeping our diets in check is key.
A pH-healthy Diet
As with so many matters of the body, proper diet is on the solution list. A lot of nutritionists and dietitians see a lot of diets being too acidic, so focusing on more alkaline foods can help. Veggies, fruits, legumes, and nuts are good places to start at in the grocery store.
Electrolytes are important in the pH scale balancing act, and potassium-heavy foods are at the forefront of that fight. Potassium is commonly found in fruits and vegetables, particularly carrots, bananas, and spinach. Potassium is also found in beans, milk, and bran.
An alkaline diet is a generally, all around healthy diet that also goes towards supporting muscle, bone, and cardiovascular health.
Avoiding foods that build up acid is just as important as important as steering towards alkaline foods. Red meat, poultry, fish, dairy, grain, alcohol, refined sugar, and processed foods are all acidic builders. Meats, dairy, and grain are good things in moderation, but eating over the daily recommended totals may not be in your best interests.
Products to Assist Healthy pH Inside and Out
Being diet hawks, drinking our recommended water, and testing, and knowing the signs of pH imbalance are all solid ways to help, but there is also an army of products out there to aid in our fight.
At-home urine pH tests from Maximum Wellbeing is a non-invasive self-check if you feel something’s off, or if you want to make sure you’re in the proper pH ballpark. The product page explains the effects of acidity, how the product works, what you’re looking for, and recommends proper medical evaluation if the numbers aren’t right.
Hair and body products haven’t escaped the pH buzz, either. Pharmaca offers Klorane Soothing & Anti-Irritating Gel Conditioner with Peony, which boasts being a “lightweight, moisturizing pH balanced gel conditioner that provides an immediate & 24-hour soothing sensation directly on the scalp while hair becomes soft and shiny.” pH does matter in hair health. Well balanced pH means healthy and stronger hair. Ideal pH for the hair and scalp is on the acidic side, being around 4 to 5.5.
pH Balance Skincare is a company devoted to beauty and skin products that keep pH in mind. pH Balance’s Hydrating Cleanser has its pH rating of 5.5 right on the bottle. This cleanser sets itself apart from others, “This sulfate-free cleanser is clinically tested & pH balanced for optimal skin health. Formulated free of fragrance and other irritants, it delivers gentle hypo-allergenic care.” Like hair, our skin’s pH runs on the acidic side, being 4.7 to 5.75. pH is important to the skin’s function as a barrier; if skin’s pH range gets too alkaline, it can release water and dehydrate, become dry and irritated, and more sensitive.
pH balance pills have been on the scene for a while, taking care of vaginal pH levels, which is completely different than the rest of the body’s pH level. If vaginal pH levels are off, issues such as yeast infections, odors, yeast and bacterial infections can occur. pH balance pills can help keep everything in order down there if things are a bit off. pH balance pills have probiotics, microorganisms that can help your body out in a good way when ingested. Healthy vaginal pH range is 3.8 to 4.5, but will change with age. ReNew Life’s Women’s Probiotic is a fairly priced, 25-capsule per bottle helper.
pH, or “the power of Hydrogen,” plays a major part in our health and function inside and outside. Maintaining a healthy balance is a must because being too acidic or too alkaline can have serious repercussions. Luckily, we can keep ourselves balanced through hydration, good dieting, and several hair, skin, and probiotic products.