By Rehan Iqbal
There is a growing interest in the pH of our bodies in relation to the food we eat and the water we drink. If you’ve been researching an alkaline diet or alkaline water, you will see terms like pH, acidity, and alkalinity used frequently.
A question asked by a lot of people is that of the relationship between pH and alkalinity, or what is the difference between pH and alkalinity? If you are not sure what all this means, I’ll be explaining all there is to know about pH vs alkalinity. It’s all about chemistry and how different elements react.
This may sound a little complicated if you’re not that into science, but it really is quite simple once you get the basics. I’ll keep things as simple as I can, so that anyone can understand how pH works and why it is important.
What is pH?
pH stands for potential for hydrogen. This is probably a meaningless statement if don’t understand why hydrogen is important in the general scheme of things.
Hydrogen protons (H+) are the basis for all acids. Essentially, an acidic liquid has the ability to donate positive hydrogen ions when they react with water or any neutral substance. The potential for hydrogen (pH) how many H+ ions can be accepted when it reacts with an acid. A higher pH is able to neutralize more H+ ions, making it less acidic.
Pure water (H₂0) is essentially neutral, there is a balance between the oxygen and hydrogen, or hydroxides and hydronium ions. Without making things too complicated. We can view pure water as the center of the pH scale, it’s potential for hydrogen is neither high nor low.
If we move to the other end of scale, increased hydrogen ions reduces the potential for hydrogen (pH). There are plenty of H+ ions, so it will be more likely to donate H+ than accept it. In relation to 1 H+ in water, battery acid has 10,000,000 H+. That’s a huge number and not easy to work with. This is why the pH scale was introduced.
Instead of saying that battery acid is 10,0000,000 H+, we simply place it on a scale that is relative to a pure or neutral substance, like pure water. Battery acid is about as acidic as it gets and, therefore, has a pH value of zero. This means that it has no ability to accept any hydrogen+ ions. It actually has 10 million H+ ions to donate relative to the same quantity of pure water.
If we place neutral pure water in the middle of the scale (pH 7) then all numbers lower than pH 7 will be increasingly acidic, down to pH 0, which is the pH of battery acid. Numbers greater than 7 (up to 15) will have the opposite effect. These substances will have negatively charged ions that have the ability neutralize acids by bonding with the available H+ ions.
What is Alkaline?
When discussing pH, I only referred to the low potential for hydrogen. This would be acids. When we move to other end of the pH scale, we find substances that have less H+ than pure water. Essentially, these substances are able to neutralize an acid by accepting the extra H+ ions. These substances are known as alkaline. They are mostly carbonate (C0₃) and bicarbonate (HCO₃). Baking soda is a bicarbonate and is a common alkaline buffer or antacid.
So, How Does Alkaline Work?
We’ve established that acids have a lot of H+ ions. In order to neutralize an acid, we need to join these positive ions to negative ions. This creates a neutral state. Every C0₃ molecule has is 2- ions, this means it can accept 2 X H+ ions, thereby neutralizing those acidic ions. HCO₃ is 1-, meaning each molecule can accept 1 X H+ to neutralize it.
Alkaline substances are known as buffers because they are able to accept H+ which will neutralize the acid. A high potential for hydrogen means that a substance can accept more H+. Therefore, a substance with a high pH will be more alkaline than one with a low pH.
Baking soda (-1) has 0.01 H+ relative to pure water, meaning that for every 1 baking soda molecule, 1 H+ will be neutralized, baking soda has is pH 9. Baking soda is about a million times less acidic than battery acid. On the high end of the pH scale, liquid drain cleaner has 0.000,000,1 H+ relative to pure water. Drain cleaner is about a million times less acidic than a neutral substance like pure water.
Basically, alkaline substances are used to neutralize acids. The higher the pH of a substance, the more effective it will be at performing this task.
pH and the Human Body
Human blood is almost neutral (around pH 7.4). This means that the ideal state for our body is slightly alkaline though basically neutral. The exception is the gastric acid in our stomachs which is highly acidic with a pH of 1 to 3. These acids are used to digest proteins.
Everything that we eat and drink passes through the stomach and is then absorbed into the body through our blood. The kidneys and lungs regulate the pH of our blood by removing excess acid and sending it to our urine.
The modern diet tends to be highly acidic. Foods like meat, fish, and poultry are all acidic. Sugars and carbonated water (soda) are also very acidic. Coffee is mildly acidic. If you look at your diet, in terms of how much acid and alkaline you consume, you’ll probably find that you consume mostly acids.
As a result of our acidic diet, many people suffer from acid-related ailments like acidosis, diabetes, and acid reflux. The majority of kidney diseases are related to a highly acidic diet. In order to neutralize the acids in our food, we need to balance our diet and incorporate more alkaline food and drink into our daily habits.
In the beginning of the article, I made numerous references to pure water as the base point for a neutral substance. However, we never find pure water in nature. Minerals found in rocks and soil end up in our water sources. These minerals will have an effect on the water we drink. They can be either alkaline or acidic, depending on the type of minerals found in a particular area.
Even with the naturally occurring minerals, most water sources are fairly neutral. Tap water will only be slightly acidic or alkaline as a result of naturally occurring minerals. Water utilities are required to monitor water supplies to ensure that it remains relatively neutral. This is the EPA recommendation for drinking water.
However, since our diets are predominantly acidic, it is preferable to increase the amount of alkaline that we consume. This has lead to the increased popularity of alkaline water. While there is some controversy around the topic, the available medical data suggests that drinking alkaline water has numerous health benefits.
Water can be alkalized by adding alkaline minerals or bicarbonates, like baking soda. This does affect the taste of the water and there is limit to how much of these minerals can be added to water. The most effective method of increasing the pH of water is to electrolyze it. Using electrolysis allows us to negatively charge the water, thereby increasing its ability to accept H+ ions and neutralize acids.
Alkaline water machines use electrolysis to increase the pH of water, generally up to about pH 8 to 10. Many believe that drinking water with a higher pH is a healthy alternative to drinking regular tap or bottled water. Alkaline water has become somewhat of a sensation, receiving a lot of attention in the media.
Sales in bottled alkaline water have increased exponentially over the last few years as the health benefits of alkaline water have become more widely recognized. The problem with bottled water is that it is expensive, and the plastic bottles are becoming an environmental problem. As a result, home alkaline water machines have become a popular option for many. While these machines are quite expensive to buy, you end up saving a lot over time. Making your own alkaline water is a lot cheaper, and more convenient than buying gallons of bottled water.