Friday, August 14, 2009

What Foods Should I Eat to Reduce the Acid In My Body?

I'm concerned about eating too many acid foods because of some things I've heard about acid being bad in your body. Are there alkaline foods to eat to balance this out, or is taking bicarbonate a better idea? Mark S.

Dear Mark,

I'm not sure to what your sources are referring when they say that acid can be bad: some rumours from supplement companies try to scare you into using their product by saying your blood might be too acid, causing health problems; sometimes people refer to a high level of stomach acid when people experience heartburn. So let me start at the beginning and take each of these scenarios one at a time.

Certainly, there are foods that are more acidic (with a low pH) on the pH scale, and foods that are more alkaline (or more basic, with a higher pH). (There are actually extremely few foods that have a pH of more than 7.0). But once they get into your system all of that can change. When the food in a meal starts working its way through your digestive tract, the stomach acid makes the entire stomach environment acidic regardless of what you ate. This aids the process of digestion, so it's usually a good thing.
Some things people eat may cause them to either produce more stomach acid, or--more likely--cause more reflux. Reflux is when some of the stomach contents are pushed back up into the esophagus, causing what we know as heartburn.

People often complain that they get heartburn from eating tomatoes and citrus fruits. However, these foods have a pH close to 4.0. Stomach acid is lower than 2.0 which is literally one hundred times stronger than a pH of 4.0. The stomach acid is what burns coming back up. A person's diet might be cause the sphincter at the end of the esophagus to not close all the way, and allow some acid to come back up (reflux).
Just to give an example of how acid foods don't always mean more heartburn, coca-cola has a pH of about 3.0 (ten times more acidic than both the citrus fruits and the tomato sauce), and I've never heard anyone complain that drinking coke gives them heartburn.

Some factors that can help heartburn are (1) not eating until the point where you are stuffed, but learning to stop sooner, (2) not lying down immediately after eating, and (3) not wearing tight clothing that puts pressure on your stomach (which is higher up than your abdomen, practically between your ribs).

Now, as for your blood pH, this is very carefully controlled in your body to maintain a level between 7.35 and 7.45 (a bit alkaline, but very close to the neutral pH of 7.0). Your body has several systems to keep this level in place for hundreds of reactions that are continually taking place in your blood and your body in order to maintain life! If the pH goes out of whack, you can die.

No one is walking around with an acidic blood pH because of their diet, and getting symptoms like 'fatigue' or 'aches and pains' (as many 'health' sites selling 'nutrients' claim).
When the pH of the blood changes (which can happen under extreme conditions, such as intense physical activity, lung disease, or kidney disease), the body corrects it by altering the amount of carbon dioxide that is retained or excreted. The lungs and kidneys function in a carefully choreographed balance to maintain your blood pH where it needs to be.

Stress and bad diets, while they may very well affect how good your stomach feels, cannot affect blood acid level; and acid-neutralizing pills, while they may lean toward neutralizing some of the environment of your digestive system, do not affect your blood pH.

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