pH-Balancing Your Body (And how pH relates to kidney stones)


by Max Wettstein, Copyright 2005

     With this next topic, I’m straying a bit off of main stream health issues, and getting a little bit more into what might be considered alternative or homeopathic medicine, but stay with me, because this subject of pH balancing your body is legitimate and interesting.  Just like every living thing in nature, our bodies have a certain pH level they need to maintain to be healthy.  When we’re talking about pH levels were are talking about acid vs. alkaline.  The pH level of pure water is 7.0, the neutral point of the scale, neither acid nor alkaline/base.  The higher in value you go on the scale the more alkaline and the lower you go the more acid.  Baking soda is very alkaline for instance, (pH of 9.0).  Lemon juice is very acidic, (pH of 2.0).  Soda/cola has a very acidic pH of 3.0!  Different parts of our body maintain different pH levels, some areas acidic, such as the stomach and urine, and some areas alkaline, such as the pancreas, and the blood.  The pH range of the blood, (7.35 to 7.45), is slightly alkaline and maintaining this pH level is very critical to your health.  If the pH of your blood were to stray from this critical range, illness and eventually even death could occur.  More commonly, due to illness, fever, starvation, or carbohydrate deficiency, the blood pH will shift toward acidic, and this condition is known as acidosis.  Fortunately, the pH of your saliva is easy to check and is a good benchmark of your overall health and blood pH.  Your saliva pH should measure slightly alkaline as well at about 7.45, (you can buy pH testing paper at any drug store), and if it measures acidic, well chances are your immune system is compromised.  Most cancer patients test acidic for instance.  (Note: If you decide to test your pH at home, make sure you haven’t recently eaten and rinse out your mouth first, or your results will not be accurate.)

     Okay, so now we know that maintaining a certain pH level of our blood is important, but why should we worry about it, and do we even have any control over it?  After all, most of us have lived this long just fine without worrying about our pH, so why bother now?  Worrying about cholesterol and blood pressure is stressful enough and the last thing we need is one more ‘level’ to worry about.  Well, fortunately, you don’t really need to worry about it because your body will handle pH balancing on its own, except in extreme cases, but it is something you may want to consider, especially if you find your immune system is chronically suppressed or you have a history of kidney stones.  And the good news is you don’t need any medication to help your body maintain ideal pH.  Raw fruits and vegetables and plenty of water are all that is required.

     Raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole, unrefined grains, are all alkalinizing foods.  Conversely, meats, dairy, sodas, coffee, and processed and refined foods, are all acidic when digested.  Since our blood absolutely has to maintain its slightly-alkaline pH range, it has to neutralize all the acidic foods we eat.  When protein is digested there is a uric-acid, and sulfuric-acid byproduct.  Fat when metabolized through ketosis has an acetic-acid byproduct.  Anaerobic exercise also produces lactic-acid as a byproduct.  All of these acids must be offset and neutralized by other alkaline-forming foods, and minerals such as calcium, sodium, and potassium.  A normal, healthy person whom eats a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and drinks adequate water will have no problem neutralizing all these acids, and has no cause for concern.  But one who comes to mind for concern is the extreme low-carb/‘Atkins’ dieter, who is not only consuming large quantities of meat, dairy, and protein, all acid forming foods, but very little raw fruits and veggies.  Take this same individual and add several coffees and diet sodas into his diet, not enough water, and the body really becomes challenged at maintaining ideal pH.

     It is not just the acid forming foods either – there is more going on physiologically with the ‘Atkins’ dieter.  During the extreme low-carb phase of the first few weeks, the diet by design sets you up for ketosis.  Ketosis is an emergency metabolic condition the body defaults to when it has run out of carbs/glycogen for energy production.  The body metabolizes fat into ketones for energy, to save the brain from slipping into coma since it no longer has glucose for fuel.  In normal energy production and fat metabolism, the body requires the assistance of carbohydrates to use fat for fuel.  Without any carbohydrates available, ketosis takes over.  Ketosis produces acetoacetic-acid as a byproduct, and over time period greater than a day or two, results in ketoacidosis, where the blood is literally shifting towards the acid pH range.  This acidic blood condition is found in persons in survival situations who have gone without food for several days, people fasting, and low-carb dieters, alike.  You may be losing fat, but not without serious stress to your body, especially your kidneys. 

      A related, but more well known kidney condition that can result from all of this extra acid being neutralized by the body, are two types of kidney stones – uric-acid stones and calcium-oxalate stones, (There are many types of kidney stones, formed by multiple causes).  Now this is not intended to be an in-depth discussion on kidney stones, but if you have a history of stones, you should take note.  Most kidney stones occur in people with inherited metabolic disorders, making them genetically predispositioned to developing them.  White men over the age of 40 are at even higher risk, especially if you drink a lot of coffee and soda, both of which are acidic, and both of which contain oxalate, (This description sounds like a lot of pilots I know).  Calcium binds to oxalate to form crystals in your urine.  Calcium is the primary mineral used by the blood to neutralize acids such as uric, (protein metabolism), and acetoacetic, (fat metabolism and ketosis).   By the way, if you’re not getting enough calcium in your diet, it will be leached from your bones.  The body will do whatever it takes to prevent blood-acidosis.  If you stay well-hydrated these crystals in your urine will remain diluted and pass out of your system no problem.  But if you are chronically dehydrated, your urine can become highly acidic and these crystals will begin to combine into stones, especially if you have a family history.  Once you develop one stone, your risk of developing more increases greatly.

     The bottom line here is to stay hydrated so your urine is always diluted, (This will help offset all the coffee or soda you may be drinking!).  Even though one of the most common types of stones are composed of calcium-oxalate, most medical professionals agree that consuming dietary calcium will not increase your risk, and calcium is beneficial in so many other ways, for proper muscle function, neutralizing acids, and bone support.  If you really want to take an extra step for your health, be sure to eat plenty of whole fruits and vegetables to help your body alkalinize itself.  Even though citrus fruits are acidic, the body treats them as alkalinizing foods.  For pilots on the go, there are now several meal-replacement bars available at ‘Trader Joes’, and other health food markets that have active-greens, and plant extracts in them, full of essential fatty acids and enzymes and even probiotics.  There are so many junk bars on the market now, full of sugar, sugar-alcohols, collagen and trans-fats, (partially-hydrogenated oils), that you really need to examine the ingredients of your bar carefully.  Optimum health is not just about going low-carb, (...Unless you’re diagnosed as being insulin-resistant or a borderline type-2 diabetic.)  I know many of us health conscious pilots cherish our low-carb snacks to control insulin, while we’re just sitting around all day flying long Transcons, and it is good to be strategic about carb-consumption timing.  However, going ‘No-carb’ is never a good thing and it is really the sugar content we need to be aware of.  

 Sources:  Lessons from the Miracle Doctors by Jon Barron; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, (NIDDK);; Dr. C. Booth, ND, PhD,

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