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PH Balance (LONG ARTICLE) but interesting


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Excerpt: pH balance by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP Think fast: What’s your pH? If you are like a lot of my patients, you might be familiar with the term “pH” from biology class or a skin cleanser commercial. But the idea of balancing your inner pH has become a hot trend these days, making headlines, spawning an assortment of products in many health food stores, and collecting a fair share of serious devotees — many of whom are adopting a strict dietary regime and ingesting a lot of supplements to

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  1. #1
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    PH Balance (LONG ARTICLE) but interesting

    pH balance
    by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP

    Think fast: What’s your pH?

    If you are like a lot of my patients, you might be familiar with the term “pH” from biology class or a skin cleanser commercial. But the idea of balancing your inner pH has become a hot trend these days, making headlines, spawning an assortment of products in many health food stores, and collecting a fair share of serious devotees — many of whom are adopting a strict dietary regime and ingesting a lot of supplements to “alkalize” their bodies in reaction to the overly acidic diet of most modern Americans.

    The pH scale is shorthand for the ratio of acid to alkaline (base) activity. When it comes to your health, what role does pH play? Proponents would have you believe that balancing your pH will cure all health woes. While pH is one of many factors I look at when considering a woman’s health, I would never consider it to the exclusion of everything else. That’s far too simplistic and doesn’t take into account the complicated role pH plays in our physiology.

    The underlying truth to the pH equation is that different areas of your body have corresponding “normal” pH ranges. The key to balance is having the right pH in the right place. Testing your pH can be a valuable tool when you are learning about your body, but it needs to be understood within a wider context. To make sense of this, and help you answer my initial question, let’s discuss what pH is and what proactive steps you can take to keep it working in your favor.

    The basics — and the acids

    The concept of pH — a measure of the acidity of a solution in terms of its hydrogen ion activity — was introduced in the early 1900’s. Some believe the abbreviation “pH” is a contraction of the Latin pondus hydrogenii, meaning weight of hydrogen or potential hydrogen. Others trace the abbreviation to the French pouvoir hydrogène, or hydrogen power. Whatever its roots, pH is the scale that represents whether something is acidic (more hydrogen activity) or alkaline (less hydrogen activity).

    Pure water has a pH of 7.0, directly in the middle of the pH scale, which is considered neutral. Readings below 7.0 are considered acidic, and numbers above 7.0 are considered basic, or alkaline. Various substances in our lives can fall on widely varying sides of that neutral point. Coffee has a pH of 5.0 (on the acidic side of neutral), and the aptly named acid rain we hear about measures way below neutral, at about –5.0. On the other side are things like household lye, which has a strongly alkaline pH of 12.5.

    But how does this relate to pH in our bodies, and how do we know when things aren’t right?

    Body pH balance
    In terms of body pH balance, there is no one “correct” reading for the entire body. For instance, healthy human skin has a proper pH of 5.5 (slightly acidic). Saliva, on the other hand, has a pH of around 6.5–7.4 (teetering on either side of neutral). Similarly, when the body is in good working order, human blood reveals a pH of about 7.3–7.4 (slightly alkaline). Other parts of a healthy, well-functioning body will show still different pH readings.

    Why is this? It’s all part of the same body, so why wouldn’t a person’s acid/alkaline balance be the same all over? Because different parts of our bodies serve different purposes. Each of those purposes and the related processes requires a different acid/alkaline environment for optimum function.

    Skin needs to be slightly acidic in order to deal with environmental factors like bacteria and other toxins. Likewise, the vagina maintains an acidic environment to protect itself, and when the pH is changed, infections like bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections can result. The stomach and other parts of the digestive system are highly acidic out of biological necessity. The digestive acids are part of how we process and use the foods we eat as fuel. They are part of our internal combustion for nutrition.

    Part of the confusion over body pH arises from the relatively neutral pH balance of our blood, saliva, and urine — what we can easily test for. This has led to the misapprehension that pH levels are static throughout the body when in fact they are not. Eating more of certain alkalizing foods (particularly leafy greens) can help balance the pH level of your GI tract over time and ultimately promote better well-being, but this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It takes time and commitment to certain lifestyle changes, including exercise and regular detoxification. It also takes knowing whether or not your pH is truly off balance.

    Enthusiasts of the “pH miracle” say that simply living in the modern world — with its reliance on refined sugars, grain-fed beef, and unhealthy fats — means we are all overly acidic. I agree with this to an extent, but would not go so far as to apply this notion universally. And I certainly think that before anyone begins megadosing on supplements or downing gallons of “green” water, they need to define their individual needs. (Remember, the key to pH is balance!) The best way to do this? Test your pH.

    Testing your pH
    Physicians use esophageal and gastric pH meters to help identify the causes of heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD). Such tests determine the amount of acid in the environment being tested. Similarly, you can test the pH of your saliva and/or your urine with simple litmus strips, which are available in most pharmacies. Keep in mind that in order to get the full picture of your body’s pH, you’ll need to carry out the test several times throughout the day.

    Tracking your urine or salivary pH over the course of a few days will provide a window into what is going on in your internal world. A diet that lacks essential vitamins and nutrients and is high in acid–forming foods will show up in acidic urine. This is a good indicator that your body is struggling to maintain an optimal digestive environment (also affected by your intestinal flora and immune system), which could be contributing to systemic inflammation — that ubiquitous bugaboo at the root of so many chronic health concerns, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. Over time this struggle may be mirrored by a steady rise of the pro-inflammatory blood acid homocysteine in your blood.

    And of course, you are what you eat.

    pH and the diet
    Advocates of what is called an alkalinizing diet can be very adamant in their opinions. Scientific studies of these theories are greatly lacking, and many practitioners of conventional medicine look askance at correlations between pH in the diet and pH in the body. But I find that much of what the pH–diet proponents are saying is useful, if taken in the broader context of a woman’s whole health picture.

    Many of the theories are based on the assumption that the pH of the diet should support and reflect what we know to be the properly balanced pH of human blood, which is normally 7.35–7.45. Or that what we eat, averaged out, should have a neutral pH. They believe that when the diet does not support the body’s natural pH balance, all systems suffer, and disease and illness can result.

    The digestive system is acidic; it has to be in order to function. Short of consuming so much of something that it would amount to poisoning, a human being simply can’t consume enough of any alkaline substance to ultimately change what’s happening in the stomach for more than a few minutes. The stomach — and the body — will go to its internal stores to regain its own pH balance.

    Blood, too, maintains its own pH balance. There is a dangerous and relatively unique condition known as acidosis, present when blood acidity falls below 7.35. This can be caused by significant lung or liver problems, or other situations which allow carbon dioxide to build up in the bloodstream. But for most people, in most situations, the body balances the blood’s pH as a matter of course.

    Our bodies know what the balance is, and they find it — if we let them and if we give them what they need through diet and nutritional supplements to maintain it on their own. Most importantly, you can’t just add lots and lots of alkaline foods and supplements to your diet and presume these will offset any amount of acid you consume or create. The idea is to remove the overproductive acid sources first because in most situations, no amount of alkalizing can balance a toxically acidic environment. And to cap it off, detoxification is slower in an overly acidic environment.

    You may think it’s acid — but it’s not

    Considering whether a food is acidic or alkaline in the diet can require some mind-bending because it’s easy to think of acids as things that dissolve and corrode. That comes from our common use of the word. But think of the corrosive nature of raw lye (very alkaline), and it’s easy to see that we have to think of the words differently when it comes to pH in the diet.

    Some foods that we think of as “acidic” are, in fact, alkaline in the diet. This is because what is being measured is whether the food is acid–forming or alkaline–forming, not where the food itself falls on the pH scale. So, things like lemons and tangerines are alkalizing, even though we think of citrus as sharp and sour, and it does contain several acids. Similarly, foods we might normally think of as absorbent and noncorrosive in nature are effectively acid-forming when ingested. Oatmeal and soybeans are two examples. What’s important is not the pH of the food as it goes into our bodies, but the resultant pH as our digestive systems burn the food, and what sorts of residue the burned-through nutrients leave behind. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the concept of balance is described as “warming”/yang or “cooling”/yin foods.

    This isn’t the sort of association most of us can make instantly, so we have compiled a basic list of common acidic and alkalizing foods to guide you. But why is it important to have the proper acid–alkaline balance in our diets? The answer has to do with the dance that occurs between acid and alkaline elements in our digestion.

    pH and digestion

    In our goal to obtain all the nutrients our bodies need from our food, pH plays an essential role, both in the breakdown of food and in providing an optimal environment for the microbes that colonize the gut. The process begins in the mouth, where the enzyme amylase is present. Amylase, responsible for breaking down starch, works in a fairly neutral environment, so when the pH falls below 6.5 it is no longer active.

    As food makes its way from your mouth to your stomach, the pH along the passageway begins to fall. Your stomach pH can range from 1.5 to 7.0, depending on the stage of digestion it’s in. Pepsin, the enzyme responsible for protein breakdown, needs an acidic environment and therefore gets released into the stomach when pH is low. The stomach pH continues to fall, and at about 2.0, fat collects into globules and the “bolus” of food makes its way to the small intestine.

    Your small intestine is where most of the nutrients in your food get absorbed, and where the pH increases from 2.0 to 6.5 as the food passes from the stomach to the small and large intestines.

    The acidic environment of the stomach is not only necessary for processing food, but it also helps to protect your body from pathogenic organisms or food antigens that shouldn’t be there. Interestingly, in my experience, many people with acid reflux and heartburn — a condition conventional medicine blames on an overly acidic diet—actually have too little acid in their stomachs — a problem that’s compounded by all those peptic reuptake pills like Pepcid and TUMS that increase the alkaline quota in the stomach. I find that many of my patients get rid of their heartburn and acid reflux by adding more acid to their diets. For more on this, please see our article on IBS.

    Protein — particularly in the form of red meats — requires huge amounts of alkaline minerals for complete digestive processing. When the system goes looking for this alkalinity needed to offset the acids, it looks first to the foods in the digestive system. This is where the good greens and essential vitamins and minerals come in. If it fails to find alkaline nourishment there, one of the first places it goes searching is to the calcium (as well as magnesium, phosphorus and potassium) stored in our bones.

    pH and bone loss
    The relationship between bone loss and blood acidity is an emerging area of study. It’s been known for a while that vegetarians and women eating a low–protein diet have a lower rate of bone loss over time. (In one recent study of over a thousand postmenopausal women, a diet rich in vegetable sources of protein versus animal proteins was associated with lower rates of bone loss and risk of fracture.)

    This may be because as the body is digesting acid–producing foods, such as the red meat, poultry and eggs non-vegetarians eat, the net dietary acid load increases as pH drops, and the body looks for a way to bring the balance back. Calcium and other elements in short supply can be borrowed from the bone to achieve this balance. The result is loss in bone density. Vegetarians not only have less acid produced during digestion, but vegetables and fruits additionally metabolize into potassium bicarbonate (think Alka–Seltzer), which helps to offset imbalance.

    But don’t forget that bone loss is a natural, in fact vital process. Only bone loss (called resorption) can initiate healthy new bone formation (called deposition or formation). As with all things in nature, good bone health relies on a balance between this action and counteraction, like breathing out and breathing in. However, when the body has to drain the stores to offset acid overload in the digestive track, the net result can be loss of bone density, which can lead to osteopenia and ultimately osteoporosis.

    New studies are showing that high levels of homocysteine in the blood double the risk of osteoporosis–related fractures, along with other inflammatory conditions like heart attack, stroke, fuzzy thinking, and Alzheimer’s disease. A recent report published in the New England Journal of Medicine asserted that elevated homocysteine levels inhibit new bone formation by interrupting the cross-linking of collagen fibers in bone tissue.

    It’s also possible, as I mentioned above, that the body tries to neutralize acidic blood serum (i.e., low pH) by releasing more bone calcium. Homocysteine levels can also be stabilized by eating foods and taking a vitamin supplement rich in folic acid, B12, and B6. Some researchers also describe a beneficial synergistic effect on homocysteine levels between omega–3 fatty acids and the metabolism of these vitamins.

    Be aware that a minority of the population cannot convert folic acid due to certain enzyme deficiencies. If your homocysteine levels remain high even after a few weeks of B supplementation, you may want to ask your practitioner about adding a more bioavailable form of folate called 5-methyl-tetrahydrofolate (MTHFT) to your diet.

    Relative to both pH and digestion and pH and bone loss, get this: Just by eating foods such as slow-roasted sweet potatoes, onions, and leeks, which are high in inulin, you can optimize your body’s ability to fully absorb the calcium present in your food and thereby decrease your risk for osteoporosis. Inulin is a type of prebiotic — it is believed to serve as a welcoming “fuel” for friendly gut flora, paving the way for beneficial bacteria to thrive further down into the colon, where it lowers the pH and improves the solubility and absorption of calcium by the body.

    Naturally improving your pH balance

    The most important aspect of this is to understand that you must make the proper nutrients, vitamins and minerals available to your body when it needs them. At Women to Women, we call this optimal nutrition, and in this day and age you need to work a little to get it. Here are some ideas on how to balance your diet and support healthy digestive pH levels.

    Take a high-quality daily multivitamin like the one we offer through our Personal Program. This will offset any nutritional gaps and insure that your body has the reserves it needs. The right supplement should contain essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium and magnesium. In addition, I recommend an essential fatty acid supplement, and a good quality probiotic can help the body absorb the minerals that are all-important to your bones.
    Fill your plate with fresh vegetables, particularly the dark green leafy kind. Add fresh lemon or lime to foods and beverages as a flavor accent. Enjoy plenty of fruit between meals. Again, foods which are fresh, organic, and deeply pigmented or brightly colored are the kinds that benefit you the most!
    Consider boosting your diet with “green foods” or “green drinks,” which contain the pigment chlorophyll in abundance. The plant world’s equivalent of the hemoglobin in our blood, we can thank chlorophyll for generating all our food (except perhaps fungi!). It works in the body as a strong detoxifier and immunity–building agent. Foods that contain high levels of chlorophyll include the algae Spirulina and Chlorella and the juice of wheat grass and other sprouted grains. These foods offer high levels of other micronutrients as well, and their neat packaging can be especially helpful for those who lack time to prepare whole balanced meals or people recovering from illness.
    Watch your red meat intake, and keep your servings of the acidifying proteins down to 4 oz per meal (the size of a deck of cards).
    Avoid refined carbohydrates whenever you can, including sugar, and emphasize the “whole” in whole grains. Eliminate all processed foods, particularly those that contain partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats).
    Clear the digestive slate with a gentle detox plan, like our Quick Cleanse, to get a better reading on how your diet — and pH — are affecting your sense of well-being. You may be surprised at how well you feel!
    If you suffer from IBS, acid reflux, or regular heartburn, consider testing your pH. Remember that you may have too little acid in your stomach, not too much. Don’t just assume that an acid stomach means you’re too acidic.
    Chew your food slowly and thoroughly. Enjoy every bite!
    The beauty of balance

    The subject of body pH may be having its 15 minutes of fame — and if it helps you to tune in to what’s going on in your body and eat a healthier diet, I’m all for that. Indeed, there are some people who are extremely sensitive to fluctuating pH levels and need to take serious action — but you won’t know until you find a good healthcare practitioner to guide you. And even then, pH is only one piece of the puzzle. To my mind, pH is a helpful indicator of overall balance in the body. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg, and no amount of trendy drinks or diet plans will make it more than that.

    That being said, paying attention to your pH is one place you can begin to make a positive change. If it feels like a good place for you to start taking better care of yourself, I encourage you to do so. From there, it’s my hope that you will continue to listen to your body and help it find balance on all fronts, including your hormones, your emotions, and your lifestyle.

  2. #2
    Cyborg Miss24k's Avatar
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    Re: PH Balance (LONG ARTICLE) but interesting

    Great post girl. I've read alot about PH balance, because 1 of my problems awhile ago was just that, I was out of balance.

  3. #3
    Elite Mentor
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    Re: PH Balance (LONG ARTICLE) but interesting

    FANTASTIC POST
    Great stuff - very important as well and something that gets overlooked.

  4. #4
    Elite Mentor
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    Re: PH Balance (LONG ARTICLE) but interesting

    There's also a test you can do with baking soda.

  5. #5
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    Re: PH Balance (LONG ARTICLE) but interesting

    Quote Quote posted by Miss24k
    Great post girl. I've read alot about PH balance, because 1 of my problems awhile ago was just that, I was out of balance.

    Did you ever find out why? From what I can tell from the article, eating clean keeps your body in balance. Was it the lack of fruit/veggies? Just curious

  6. #6
    Cyborg Miss24k's Avatar
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    Re: PH Balance (LONG ARTICLE) but interesting

    Quote Quote posted by Roonytunes

    Did you ever find out why? From what I can tell from the article, eating clean keeps your body in balance. Was it the lack of fruit/veggies? Just curious

    Well you can be eating clean, but not eating enough alkaline foods. Last year my trainer had me eating like 250g of protein, mostly from animal protein (which is VERY acid forming). And I only found out I was out of wack when my digestive system got f*ck (again too much protein not enough greens compared to the amounts of meat I was eating.) and I wasn't dropping fat.

    Let's just say I learned a hell of alot over the year, and poured alot of money down the drain.

    I trusted somebody with my body, I listened and did everything I was told, and screwed my body for along period of time in the process. So I'll be my own personal trainer for this year's shows, after everything I'm finally more determined that I ever was to get on stage!

  7. #7
    Da Pope
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    Re: PH Balance (LONG ARTICLE) but interesting

    Great post Treil.

    24K off topic but I really miss your training journals. I know, time consuming

  8. #8
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    Re: PH Balance (LONG ARTICLE) but interesting

    Great Post!!!
    Glad it's not PURE HISTERIA!!!

  9. #9
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    Re: PH Balance (LONG ARTICLE) but interesting

    Quote Quote posted by *Bunny*
    Great post Treil.

    24K off topic but I really miss your training journals. I know, time consuming

    I've been so busy lately. I am doing a show soon well in March, so I'm thinking of starting a journal towards this show, but I just don't know if I have the time.

  10. #10
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    Re: PH Balance (LONG ARTICLE) but interesting

    timely
    thanks!

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