Alkaline Water Benefits: A Viable Heartburn Remedy?
Recently, ionized alkaline water has been promoted as a heartburn remedy. I have reviewed the research and physiology behind this new-age cure and put together this report.
Below you will find out how ionized alkaline water works and whether alkaline water benefits those suffering from acid reflux and its effects on other conditions.
Ionized Alkaline Water – What Is It?
Alkaline water is simply water that has been buffered with a base (a base is an alkaline substance), such as bicarbonate. Most ionized alkaline waters are advertised to have a pH between 9.5 and 10.
If you did not know, pH is a measurement of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. The pH scale goes from 0-14; a pH of 7 is neutral while anything below 7 is acidic and anything above 7 is alkaline.
The pH of bodily fluids varies greatly from location to location. For example, the pH of stomach acid is typically 1.5-2 (indicating a powerful acid), whereas the pH of the blood is 7.35-7.45 (indicating a mild base).
What pH really measures is the amount of H+ (hydrogen ions) and the amount of OH- (hydroxide ions) a solution contains. Alkaline water has been “ionized” through the creation of “OH-” ions.
When H+ and OH- meet, they combine to form H2O, also known as water. This process is known as neutralization. If H+ and OH- are present in equal quantities, many of them will combine to form water (typically some will remain ionized) and the pH of the solution will become neutral.
Alkaline Water – Path of Action on Acid Reflux
Recently alkaline water has been billed as one of the best heartburn remedies because in theory, the alkaline water will neutralize stomach acid and thereby will stop heartburn.
The idea however of liberally drinking alkaline solutions as if that would be good for the stomach demonstrates a poor grasp of physiology. Alkaline water may indeed neutralize stomach acid, but at what cost? What you really have to stop and consider is.. why is the stomach acidic in the first place and what will happen if we neutralize that acid?
To keep things brief, using alkaline solutions regularly on the stomach is not good for digestion. One of the key digestive enzymes in the stomach, pepsin, needs a very acidic environment to operate in. If of the stomach even approaches neutral, pepsin will completely cease to function.
Pepsin is necessary for protein digestion. We are not able to adequately digest our food without it. Pepsin is stored as pepsinogen in specialized cells in the stomach, and only when exposed to a low pH does pepsinogen convert into pepsin and become active.
This is simply a protective mechanism; pepsin loves to break down proteins into amino acid chains; if pepsin were to be always “on”, it could digest the cells that store it! Keeping its functionality tied to acid is a very clever way for the body to be able to digest protein without digesting itself.
However, when we drink alkaline water, even if we do successfully neutralize stomach acid, we are only interrupting the stomach’s natural environment and the function of pepsin.
Does Ionized Alkaline Water Work to Stop Acid Reflux?
Does alkaline water stop acid reflux? Yes and no. It operates much in the same way as an antacid. Antacids can be effective but often lead to indigestion and stomach aches if taken over time.
If you have ever taken an antacid before, you know that they often work well for occasional heartburn, but if you take them over time they lead to indigestion, a sour stomach, and overall become less effective.
After all, your body adapts to stress. If you continuously eat and drink basic substances, your body will simply produce more stomach acid to counteract this.
Other Ionized Alkaline Water Benefits
Proponents of alkaline water (typically people selling water ionizers!) also claim that drinking this water will reduce cancer rates and improve acid-base balance in the body.
I have found that there is some evidence that suggests that alkaline water may reduce the breakdown of bone tissue. Calcium carbonate, a base, is a major component of bone tissue, and our body can and will break down bone tissue if the blood gets too acidic. Alkaline water provides some pH and may prevent this from happening.
In healthy individuals, the absorption and replacing of bone is a completely normal and healthy process. With that said, alkaline water may be beneficial for those with low bone density or osteoporosis, as drinking it may protect bone tissue from breaking down.
For better or worse, there is no evidence that the benefits of alkaline water include reduced cancer risk, nor do I find that very likely to happen in the future.
If you have read our celery article, you know that many fruits and vegetables have alkaline byproducts when digested. I suspect any link between alkaline diets and reduced cancer risk is simply due to the health benefits of fruits and vegetables rather than the merits of the pH of our food. This helps explain why alkaline diets are associated with better health whereas alkaline water is not.
Ionized Alkaline Water Benefits – The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that even if alkaline water does reduce reflux, it is a “band-aid” fix. Your body will adapt and your digestive tract will suffer if you over-rely on alkaline water (or any antacid) to relieve heartburn in the long term. We do not recommend drinking this as a heartburn remedy.
However, alkaline water may be beneficial for those with low bone density or osteoporosis. At the time of this writing, there is no evidence to suggest that alkaline water can reduce cancer rates or provides any other health benefits.