Can your body be too acidic? Can what you eat make a difference?
Life on earth is dependent on the appropriate pH levels. In the human body this is tightly controlled by homeostasis (a balance in the body that keeps blood levels normal or very close to normal).
As times have changed, we as a human race (with urbanization – moving to the city) are consuming a lot more saturated fat (fat from animal products), simple sugars (e.g. carbonated soft drinks) and sodium (salt) – the modern day ‘diet’. Therefore, the question has been asked, ‘Is the modern diet causing a disruption in pH levels – to a more acidic profile?’
We know that a diet which is low in the food sources of magnesium (whole grains), potassium (fruits and vegetables) as well as fibre (fruits, vegetables, whole grains and oats) is known as an unhealthy diet and therefore when combined with aging (because as we age there is a gradual loss of the kidneys ability to regulate the acid-base balance) and the characteristics described above (high saturated fat, high sugar and high salt) it could theoretically contribute to an overall acid presentation.
So is this all that bad? Well, having some acid is not all that bad… our body actually uses acidic environments as a barrier of protection vs. bacteria and ‘other ugly bugs’, examples of these are the pH of the skin, gastric juices and vaginal fluids.
So let us go back to what I said in the beginning. The human body has an amazing capability to tightly control the pH levels within the blood and that the kidneys are the key regulators of the acid-base balance within the body. So unless your kidneys are totally ‘shot’ – in other words you have diagnosed kidney failure (very low GFR – as the doctors like to say) then you can have problems controlling your inner acid-base balance. However, if you do not have kidney problems, then your body is very capable of controlling the acid-base balance.
How does it do this? The answer… your urine or wee! A study conducted for a period of 5 years showed that those consuming a healthy prudent diet (balanced diet – inclusion of all food groups in the correct moderations) – urine pH measurements (which do vary) did not predict any negative health outcomes.
So what changes the pH of the urine? The pH of your urine is dependent on what is ‘going on’ within the body and what you have eaten throughout the day. The pH value of the urine will for one, depend on whether more alkaline (ash, base) or acidic foods have been consumed. It can range from a pH of 4.6 (acidic) to a pH of 8.8 (alkaline).
Examples of foods with a high acid load are: proteins (meat) and animal products (cheese) while foods with a more alkaline load are: fruits and vegetables. Therefore, if you eat a diet which ONLY includes meat and cheese and other acidic foods and NO alkaline foods (fruit & veg) at all then it is likely that you may suffer from chronic acidosis which has been linked with urolithiasis, hypertension, insulin resistance and osteoporosis. However, if you consume a relatively healthy diet (inclusion of most food groups, some fruit and vegetables) then your kidneys will automatically ensure that the balance is maintained by either producing acidic urine if there is too much ‘acid’ in the body or alkaline urine if there is too much base/ash in the body. Please note that a meat, cheese and only other acid foods is NOT a good diet irrespective of acid or ash/base content!
Diets or eating plans which promote changes solely based on acid-ash are at most times dangerous as they promote ‘cutting out’ certain foods. Now, whenever a diet promotes the exclusion of any food groups (unless of course you have a medically diagnosed allergy) then it should immediately start ringing the warning bells in your head. There is no ‘quick fix’ to eating healthily and there is also no ‘one-food’ that contains everything you need to be healthy thus we need to eat a variety of foods to get all the macronutrients and micronutrients our body needs to be healthy.
Often when people follow unconventional diets (not prescribed by trained dietitian or based on extensive research) it can result in some sort of deficiency if not managed correctly. For example: If you cut out milk and dairy products you may suffer from osteoporosis in the future or if you cut out all meat products (vegan) then you may suffer from anaemia and B12 deficiency if you do manage your diet plan correctly.
In summary, I would not recommend following a diet based on acid-ash concept as
- Body ensures a balance via homeostasis with the kidneys being the main regulator therefore there is no need to strictly control the foods you eat based on their acid or ash content
- The kidneys have an amazing ability to control pH in the body even if you are getting on in years and continue to do so even at a low filtration rate – they only ‘conk’ out at very low GFR’s
- Healthy eating plan should include foods from ALL food groups, if not seek professional advice to ensure no deficiencies arise in the future
- Cutting out certain foods should be done under the supervision of your health professional (preferably the food experts = dietitians)
So the answer to the question of whether or not it can affect your acid ash profile = No, it is unlikely that foods affect your BLOOD pH and the role of genetics is mostly likely to play a stronger role in whether or not your appear to be more acid or ash. BEST is to aim for a HEALTHY BALANCE AND VARIED DIET which includes all of the food groups in the right portions