Why most health claims about the benefits of alkaline water are false - and whether you should still drink it
- There are almost no science-backed benefits of drinking
alkaline waterin place of regular water.
- Alkaline water does not cure cancer, reduce your risk of heart disease, or prevent osteoporosis.
- Drinking alkaline water likely won't harm your
health, and it can still be hydrating, but it is more expensive than regular water.
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Staying hydrated is an important aspect of health. While some claim alkaline water - water with a pH greater than seven - is more beneficial than regular water, most of the benefits are untrue or have yet to be proven.
What is alkaline water?
Alkaline water is water with a pH greater than seven - pH levels range from zero to 14 and determine how acidic or basic a substance is. Regular drinking water is between 6.5 to 8.5. Anything higher than seven is more basic, such as seawater, and anything lower is more acidic, like grapefruit juice.
"Alkaline water is typically at a pH level of eight or nine," says Luke Corey, RD, a performance dietitian with Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine and team nutritionist for the Minnesota Timberwolves. "The other part is the water normally has alkaline minerals added to it, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium."
Certain bodies of water are naturally alkaline due to passing through porous rocks and collecting minerals along the way. But a vast majority of alkaline water is primarily processed at a manufacturing plant, according to Corey. The plant will use a procedure called electrolysis, which makes the pH more basic.
The idea behind drinking alkaline water is that the higher pH level will neutralize the natural acidity in our bloodstream. Proponents of the water say this effect has certain health benefits that regular water does not.
For the most part, there are no scientifically proven health benefits for alkaline water over regular water, and studies that show positive benefits include considerable caveats.
There are many health myths about alkaline water
Proponents of alkaline water claim that it:
- Slows the aging process
- Boosts the body's mineral content
- Prevents cancer
- Reduces your risk for heart disease
- Prevents bone loss (osteoporosis)
While there have been some sample studies on these relationships, Corey says that they primarily used a small number of participants or the subjects were animals, which means results cannot be applied to the greater human population.
In fact, the FDA denied a petition in 2007 proposing that alkaline water minimizes the risk of osteoporosis after evaluating numerous studies and reviews on the relationship. The agency found the proposed health claims did not meet their criteria for being scientifically significant due to lack of evidence.
More so, your body does a great job of maintaining pH balance all on its own, says Kate Patton, RD, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic's Center for Human
"Typically our body does its own neutralizing and management of normal drinking water and the pH of seven," says Patton. "Some claim that alkaline water can detox your body, but your kidneys and liver are really responsible for that naturally as well...you really don't need special water."
Alkaline water does not treat cancer
Some studies have found more acidic environments in the body strengthen cancer cells. Proponents of alkaline water suggest a diet high in alkaline could prevent or cure the disease. But these studies were conducted in lab cells and cannot completely analyze how cancer cells form and function in the human body.
A 2016 systematic review found there is a lack of evidence for or against alkaline water's ability to treat cancer. The review concluded that media and marketing promotion for alkaline water treating cancer is unjustified and scientifically inaccurate.
Furthermore, Robert O. Young, the man who originally promoted an alkaline diet as a treatment for cancer, was sentenced to prison in 2017 for practicing medicine without a license. The Medical Board of California also investigated Young's claims and found that none of the 15 cancer patients that were treated with an alkaline diet survived the disease.
Alkaline water isn't necessarily more hydrating
A small 2016 study followed healthy adults who either drank alkaline water or regular water after exercise-induced dehydration. It found those who drank alkaline water had significantly reduced whole blood viscosity - the thickness and stickiness of blood - which signifies greater hydration.
While this may seem promising, the study was funded by the popular alkaline water brand Essentia Water. Some of the researchers received consulting fees and one reported receiving stock options as a conflict of interest while working on this study.
Corey says although the electrolyte minerals found in alkaline water may naturally help your body utilize it slightly better than regular water, the difference is minuscule. Therefore, people shouldn't rely on alkaline water to hydrate you better than normal water.
Alkaline water side effects
While drinking a bottle of alkaline water every day won't significantly impact your body, drinking alkaline water in extreme amounts, such as a gallon or more daily, could potentially disrupt your body's natural pH balance.
This may lead to health conditions like alkalosis, which occurs when your bloodstream loses too much acidity. Symptoms of alkalosis include:
- Hand tremors
According to Corey, some groups should especially avoid alkaline water, since the minerals can accumulate in their bodies, like:
- People with kidney disease or taking medicine that impacts their kidney function
- Those with gastrointestinal diseases, such as Crohn's disease or colitis
Alkaline water has a higher pH level than regular water and contains alkaline minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Most proposed health benefits for alkaline water are unsubstantiated as our body does a great job managing itself, without anything special.
Overall, there's no harm drinking alkaline water, says Patton, it's just more expensive water. However, if you prefer alkaline water and it means you'll be drinking more water in the long run, then that's a healthy lifestyle decision.
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