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Alkaline water is one of those controversial topics that can leave you clueless as to what to think about it. Many people put alkaline water in the same group as homeopathy and faith healing while others swear on it as if it was water straight out of the Lazarus pit.
We’ll try to clear most of the confusion here, but bear in mind that the current research on alkaline water still leaves a lot to be desired. Scientists may discover more with relation to alkaline water in the coming years, but for now this is what we know.
What is alkaline water?
Put simply, alkaline water is any water with a pH level higher than 8. pH stands for “potential Hydrogen” and indicates how many free hydrogen ions are in the water. The pH scale goes from 0 to 14 with anything between 0 and 7 being considered acidic and anything between 7 and 14 considered alkaline or basic.
For reference, the standard pH level of our body and blood is around 7.35-7.4. To give you several more comparisons, alcohols such as wine or beer have an acidity between 3 and 4 on the pH scale. Most household cleaners, on the other hand, are very high on the pH scale, usually around 13.
When we say basic, we’re talking about the chemical meaning of the word, i.e. a substance with a higher pH level. In other words, most of the time, when people talk about alkaline water, they’re actually talking about basic water.
So, now that we know what pH and alkaline (or basic) mean, what’s the difference between alkaline water and standard tap water?
The minerals in alkaline water
Most drinkable and/or tap water we have access to has an average pH of around 7. Drinking such water is perfectly fine and normal for our bodies.
However, the pH balance of the water isn’t all that matters. Alkaline water is more than just “basic” water, because it also contains alkaline minerals (hence the name). Natural alkaline spring water usually gathers these alkaline minerals, like calcium and magnesium, as it runs over rocks and soil.
These alkaline minerals are important because they increase the pH levels of water but also because they give the water a negative oxidation-reduction potential (ORP). ORP is the water’s ability to act as a pro-oxidant or antioxidant. If a substance has negative ORP, that means it’s more antioxidizing.
All this is crucial because most of the commercially sold “alkaline” water is actually just tap water with artificially raised pH levels to alkaline levels. The trouble with these bottled alkaline water is that they typically don’t have enough actual alkaline minerals in it.
So, when most people are talking about alkaline water (or selling it to you), they’re actually talking about tap water that’s been artificially turned basic in a lab without possessing many of the properties natural alkaline water offers.
What are some of the advertised benefits of alkaline water?
When talking with alkaline water’s proponents you’ll hear many benefits associated with drinking this type of water. Some of these include:
- Cancer protection/treating properties
- Immune system boosting
- Weight loss
- General detoxification
- Skin health
- Bone loss prevention
- Improved hydration
And more. While some of these do have certain merits, it goes without saying that most of these are unfounded and have not been proven scientifically.
Additionally, a lot of the research done on the subject is equally unfounded as it’s usually either done/sponsored by commercial alkaline water manufacturers or is just unverifiable. A lot of the research is also done exclusively on animals which also says a lot.
What are the actual pros and cons of alkaline water?
Providing that we’re talking about natural alkaline water or that you’re using a quality alkaline water pitcher, here are the pros and cons you can realistically expect from it:
Pros of alkaline water:
- It improves hydration – there are sufficient and adequate studies (1) (2) (3) done on the topic to conclude that alkaline water – especially with ~10 pH level – improves the hydration we get from the water.
- It soothes our acid reflux or heartburn – alkaline water has been shown to help deacticate pepsin, an enzyme that contributes to heartburns. Alkaline water is rarely sufficient on its own but together with a good plant-based diet and medication, it can help reduce even severe reflux symptoms.
- It has antioxidative properties – quality alkaline water with negative ORP levels is an antioxidant and works well against free radicals. Most commercially-sold “alkaline” water doesn’t do that, but alkaline water with negative ORP does.
- It can help with diabetes management – drinking alkaline water won’t change your blood’s pH levels as you’d have to basically drown yourself with it to change them. That’s because our bodies have internal mechanisms to regulate our blood’s pH level. However, studies have shown that because today’s diets are highly acidic, drinking alkaline water can make it slightly easier for those same mechanisms to do their job and maintain our blood’s pH levels.
- May help with bone loss prevention – Alkaline water does appear to have bone loss prevention properties according to some studies. The research is still scarce, however, so take that with a pinch of salt for now. At best, quality alkaline water seems like it can help the body prevent bone loss.
Cons of alkaline water:
- Hard to procure – Commercial alkaline water is expensive and natural alkaline water is hard to find. This makes using a countertop alkaline pitcher filter the best bet for most consumers.
- Mineral deficiencies – Most commercial alkaline water lacks a lot of the essential minerals that can be found even in plain tap water. That’s why it’s generally better to filter your own tap water than to buy commercially bottled water.
- Stomach acidity – Alkaline water can alter our stomachs’ acidity levels. Our stomachs don’t share the ~7.4 pH levels of the rest of our bodies. Instead, our stomach acid has an acidity of between 1.5 and 3.5 which helps it do its job. Drinking too much alkaline water can cause metabolic alkalosis and affect the pH of our stomachs.
What’s the difference between natural and manufactured alkaline water?
As we mentioned above, natural alkaline water owes its properties to alkaline minerals it picks up from the rocks and soil it runs over or through. It has a naturally high pH level and may have a lot of real benefits.
Manufactured “alkaline” basic water, on the other hand, is usually tap water that’s gone through electrolysis. In this process, ionizers separate the acidic and alkaline molecules of the water with electricity. As the process removes the acidic molecules, the pH level of the water rises and it becomes more basic.
The problems with this are several.
First, such manufactured basic water lacks the very alkaline minerals that give natural alkaline spring water most of its benefits. Secondly, the process usually includes insufficient purification which leads to a lot of contaminants, pathogens, and other toxins remaining in the water.
In short, most of the time you’ll be better off just using a countertop alkaline water filter at home or even just adding lemon juice or baking soda to your tap water rather than buying commercial “alkaline” water.
To learn about the opposite of alkaline water, read our informative guide on what is acidic water.