Alkaline water: healthy or just hip?

Medical sentiment is crystal clear

Numerous options on the bottled water shelf may have you considering the pH plunge. Claims that alkaline water improves digestion, relieves stiff joints, and decreases chronic illness are encouraging, and its silky taste can’t be denied.  But nutritional science just doesn’t match the marketing.

“There are a few studies showing the potential benefits of mineral water to individuals with increased risk of heart disease, or to high performing athletes,” says Megan Scully, a registered dietitian at Medcan. “But the overall medical sentiment is simple: stick to hydrating with plain tap water.”

Understanding alkaline water

Less acidic than tap water, added compounds and minerals (like calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium, potassium and zinc) raise its pH level above 7.  It can be sourced from a spring or chemically altered with an ionizer, or created by adding specific powders or baking soda to tap water.

Is alkalizing necessary?

Scully says the body does a great job itself of regulating and controlling pH levels. A full panel blood and urine analysis can reveal your pH level status.

pH trouble arises when the body produces or retains too much acid, which may result from a kidney or other type of condition. When blood pH drops to concerning levels (metabolic acidosis occurs when blood pH drops below 7.35), it’s important to work with a health-care provider to determine the underlying cause. Self medicating with alkaline water is not a solution.

“It is nearly impossible to increase alkalinity at a cellular level,” says Scully. “Neither alkaline water nor an alkaline-rich diet would change blood pH to outside of the normal range.”

Scully believes more research is needed across the board to support the circulating claims.

Plain water just fine

Any over-the-counter product that can help, can also harm.  For those with kidney conditions or on certain medications, alkaline water could lead to negative consequences.

“I don’t recommend it, I don’t dissuade people from using it. Evidence suggests surprisingly little benefits to most ‘so-called sports drinks’,” says Dr. Scott Gledhill, primary care physician at Medcan.

Scully advises sticking to Canadian pure, plain tap water.  If you’re curious about trying alkaline water, be sure it’s not interfering with any condition or medication. Athletes or individuals with cardiovascular disease risk can speak to their health-care provider about possible benefits.

Megan Scully is a registered dietitian at Medcan. After her ballet fitness classes she hydrates with cold water, sometimes flavoured with sliced lemon or lime. 

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