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Alkaline diets, also known as alkalizing diets, are purported to support health by keeping the body's pH high. While there are real and substantial benefits to most alkaline diets, their most zealous advocates usually get the science wrong.

Robert Young, who sometimes identifies himself in social media as Young Robert, is a man with a mission. The author of best-selling books such as The pH Miracle and The pH Miracle for Diabetes, Dr. Young isn't afraid to tell the world that acid in the human body is deadly.

When the bloodstream becomes acidic, Dr. Young asserts, infectious microorganisms appear. In fact, Young says, these microbes are human cells transformed into pathogens through the action of acidity, or low pH.

The way to correct low pH is with colloidal, alkalizing minerals that reach directly to the cell, and restore it to normal function, he says. People who want to overcome any illness need only to restore the alkalinity of the human body and to eat a healthy diet of healing plant foods.

The surprising fact is, an astonishing number of people have been able to reverse diabetes on Dr. Young's diet and diets like it. So several years ago, I asked Dr. Young if he wouldn't mind sharing photos of those human cells as they were being transformed into bacteria. I never heard back from him about my request.

And when I noted that his diabetes diet actually works, and I had known other doctors who used a similar program, Dr. Young angrily replied that no other doctor I could have known could emulate his program,and anyone who dared to disagree with him on any point was utterly wrong. However, just because a program doesn't have a scientific basis, doesn't mean it won't work.

What's pH?

Before explaining why alkalizing diet sometimes is the right diet for the wrong reasons, it may be helpful to review the basic idea of pH.

Chemists measure concentrations of hydrogen ions, the ions that make acids acidic, with pH. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14, from very acidic to very alkaline, with 7, or neutral, in the middle. Each increment in the scale corresponds to a power of 10.

A solution with a pH of 5 is 10 times as acidic as a solution with a pH of 6, and a solution with a pH of 4 is 10 times as acidic as a solution with a pH of 5. Going the other direction, above 7, alkaline, or basic, solutions contain hydroxide (OH-) ions. A solution with a pH of 9 is 10 times as alkaline as a solution with a pH of 8, and so on. In the middle, solutions contain HOH, or H2O, water, but neither hydrogen nor hydroxide ions.

The Body Regulates pH Very Tightly

Chemical reactions can't occur at just any pH. Bioelectrical reactions, like those that occur in every cell in the body countless times per second, also require the right pH. Usually, for any body process, there is a very narrow range of pH values at which a chemical transformation can occur.

Different parts of the body operate at different pH. Stomach acid might have a pH of 1.5 to 3.5. The bloodstream, which is slightly alkaline, usually has a pH of 7.35 to 7.45. Because pH determines the strength of electrical charges, which are important for nerve transmissions and muscle contractions and relaxation, the bloodstream pH is tightly controlled by the kidneys. If bloodstream pH goes to low, acidosis can occur, too many electrical charges can flow into nerves and muscles, and death may follow. If bloodstream pH goes to high, alkalosis can occur, carbon dioxide can build up in the bloodstream, and death may follow.

Lower pH isn't always good. Higher pH isn't always bad. And in either case, the kidneys keep bloodstream within a very narrow range by excreting calcium and the amino acid glutamine. An "acidic" diet does not make the bloodstream acidic. It forces the kidneys to excrete calcium and glutamine. A number of things have to go wrong, and they very seldom do, for bloodstream pH to vary outside the range of 7.35 to 7.45.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Krupp D, Shi L, Remer T. Longitudinal relationships between diet-dependent renal acid load and blood pressure development in healthy children. Kidney Int. 2013 Sep 11. doi: 10.1038/ki.2013.331.
  • Pereira PC, Miranda DM, Oliveira EA, Silva AC. Molecular pathophysiology of renal tubular acidosis. Curr Genomics. Mar 2009.10(1):51-9.
  • Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/8453554475/
  • Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/8453555721

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