This Is What Alkaline Water Really Does to Your Body
Alkaline water is having a moment—but is it really worth the extra money? Here's what experts have to say about this beverage trend.
Alkaline water is trending—but that doesn’t mean it’s necessary, or even beneficial, to drink. Health expert Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD, explains that alkaline water essentially contains added minerals that raise the pH level of the water. “These added minerals and compounds allow for the water to be a lot less acidic than usual,” she says. Making your body less acidic is often touted as a benefit of alkaline water, says Kris Sollid, RD, senior director of nutrition communications for the International Food Information Council Foundation.
The pH scale measures the acidity and the basicity of a liquid or solution from zero to 14. Anything below seven is acidic, and everything above seven is alkaline, says Jamie Koufman, MD, a physician who specializes in laryngology. The human body—in particular the lungs, liver, and kidneys—controls and maintains a normal and neutral pH of 7.4 in the blood, according to Niket Sonpal, MD, an assistant clinical professor at Touro College of Medicine. Know the 9 signs you are drinking too much water.
Dr. Koufman says that no science backs the claim that drinking alkaline water changes the entire pH balance of the body. The hydrochloric acid in the stomach neutralizes alkaline water before the blood absorbs it, Sollid says. The stomach needs this acid and low pH to digest proteins and kill food-borne pathogens, according to Dr. Sonpal. So fiddling with a healthy and fully functioning body’s pH is unnecessary. Plus, Dr. Koufman notes that if the body takes in extra acid or extra alkaline, it disposes of it through the urine. You’re probably better off just drinking lemon water, which does have some impressive health benefits.
According to Dr. Koufman, however, alkaline water can benefit people who suffer from acid reflux because, as her published research has found, the stomach enzyme pepsin dies at pH 8. Pepsin is responsible for inflammation in the ears, nose, and throat, but when alkaline water touches the tissues of the throat and esophagus, it helps wash out pepsin. “Alkaline water does help wash out stomach enzymes and [the] esophagus, [so] it can alleviate reflux symptoms, even undiagnosed ones,” she says.
Dr. Sonpal, however, tells his reflux patients to drink regular water because there isn’t enough data to indicate that alkaline water helps. As for its possible negative side effects, he says that the beverage isn’t inherently bad for the average person—but it’s also not entirely risk-free. “Alkaline water can actually be dangerous for people with certain health conditions such as kidney disease or different forms of inherited renal tubular acidosis,” he says. In some rare cases, he adds, going “overboard” on alkaline water could cause alkalosis, resulting in nausea, vomiting, muscle twitches, and confusion.
There’s also a difference between drinking artificial and natural alkaline water. The chemical process that creates some alkaline waters could strip it of essential minerals necessary for good health—and in some cases might also have contaminants, Healthline reports. Dr. Koufman recommends only naturally occurring alkaline water. Learn the 9 things that happen to your body when you drink enough water.
All that said, Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe explains that the current body of research available on alkaline water isn’t strong enough to support claims of the potential benefits. A healthy, functioning body is already doing what is necessary to maintain your blood pH. Sollid reiterates that alkaline water won’t affect the body’s acidity levels—which is a good thing because the body requires a balanced pH. “Thankfully, the pH of our body is a tightly controlled process that even the most expensive bottled water can’t interrupt,” he says. Bottom line, Sollid says, drinking regular water will keep you hydrated and healthy without the added cost of the trendy alkaline variety. Next, check out these 8 unexpected reasons you are always thirsty.