Is alkaline water worth the hype?

Have you heard all the recent buzz about alkaline water? People claim alkaline water has powerful health benefits, from preventing cancer to boosting weight loss. All these health claims probably have you wondering — what is alkaline water and should you be drinking it?

What is alkaline water?

Alkaline water is water containing a higher pH level (around 8 or 9) than regular drinking water (pH closer to 7). The higher the pH level, the less acidic a substance is. For comparison, lemon juice has a pH around 2, so it is very acidic.

There are two types of alkaline water — natural and artificial.

Natural alkaline water, also known as spring water, is created when water passes over rocks, picking up minerals from the rocky surface, which increases the water’s alkalinity. Artificial alkaline water undergoes a process called electrolysis via an ionizer. Vendors love advertising this to add legitimacy to the product, but what does it really mean? In theory, ionizers use an electric current to separate the acidic and neutral water molecules (pH of 7 and less) from the alkaline ones (pH greater than 7) and filter them out, resulting in alkaline water. But there is no significant evidence to imply that these machines work as described. Additionally, electrolysis is not a purification method. It is recommended that water undergo reverse-osmosis for purification before being hooked up to the ionizer. However, this process also removes natural minerals, which are supposed to be added back in by the ionizer. Since the ionizer may not work correctly, it is not guaranteed that these minerals are actually added back.

What science says about alkaline water

People claim many things about the health benefits of alkaline water, including its ability to:

  • Prevent and treat cancer
  • Promote bone health
  • Boost anti-aging efforts
  • Prevent and manage chronic conditions
  • Improve rehydration
  • Lead to weight loss
  • Prevent acid reflux

If alkaline water actually achieved all the claims listed above, there would be breaking news — we’d all have alkaline water in our hands right now. When claims like these are made, it’s best to approach it with skepticism and look for biases and limitations in the research to understand its applicability.

Let’s talk about what science says regarding alkaline water.

Cancer

This theory is unsubstantiated as of yet, but cancer is thought to thrive in an acidic environment. Supposedly, consuming alkaline water will raise your blood pH and create an unfavorable environment for the cancer. But multiple studies show that while urine pH changes, blood pH is not significantly altered by diet. Our bodies have natural mechanisms to maintain proper blood pH (7.35-7.45) and even the smallest change in pH can lead to severe health issues. These stances are supported by the American Institute of Cancer Research.

Weight loss

Alkaline water is thought to lead to weight loss, which points to its ability to help manage diabetes and hypertension. This theory relies on the concept that the body makes fat cells to store excess acid, so by creating an alkaline environment, the body will make fewer fat cells. However, this thinking is flawed. In fact, fat cells are created to store energy from excess food intake, not excess acid.

Acid reflux

One small study found that water with a pH of 8.8 could destroy an enzyme in the stomach called pepsin, thus potentially relieving people of acid reflux symptoms like heartburn. However, there are some limitations to this study since it was performed in a lab. Also, destroying pepsin in the stomach could lead to other complications since pepsin is involved in digestion. Additionally, the alkaline water could lower your stomach acidity, which aids the immune system by destroying viruses, bacteria and other pathogens.

Conclusion — alkaline water should not yet be recommended as a treatment for acid reflux.

Hydration

Some claim that alkaline water is more hydrating than regular drinking water. However, studies don’t show a significant difference between the two in terms of hydration.

A small study was conducted regarding the rehydration abilities of alkaline water compared to regular water. In this study, blood viscosity was decreased significantly in subjects rehydrating with alkaline water than those rehydrating with regular water. Blood viscosity is a measure of how easy or difficult it is for your blood to move through your body. So, by lowering blood viscosity, blood flow is improved post-workout, meaning your muscles and other tissues receive oxygen more promptly and effectively for recovery. It’s worth noting that blood viscosity is only one measure of rehydration, which is already difficult to conclusively measure. Other factors assessed in this study did not show significant differences between alkaline and regular water.

So, it is possible there are recovery benefits to drinking alkaline water, but it’s not necessary for rehydration.

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Potential benefits of alkaline water

However, alkaline water may contain minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, all of which have health benefits.

  • Calcium is important for the health of our bones, heart muscles and nerves.
  • Magnesium is needed for optimum breakdown of food into energy and muscle, nerve, heart and kidney function.
  • Potassium plays a critical role in keeping the heart pumping and helps regulate digestion.

It is crucial to point out that while natural alkaline water is one way of obtaining these minerals, it is not the only way — meaning you don’t need to buy this water to get these important minerals.

It is crucial to point out that while natural alkaline water is one way of obtaining these minerals, it is not the only way — meaning you don’t need to buy this water to get these important minerals.

A diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables will help make sure you’re getting sufficient amounts of these nutrients. This kind of healthy diet is also associated with reduced risk and better management of cancer and other chronic diseases, promoting an overall healthier lifestyle.

All this to say, while alkaline water is not necessary to live a healthy and happy life, it is safe to consume. Just don’t replace large components of your daily intake with alkaline water.

Questions? Talk to a nutrition expert.

About the author

Rebecca Rigby, RD, LD

Rebecca Rigby, LD, RD, is a wellness coordinator and licensed and registered dietitian on staff at Baylor Scott & White Health.

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Is alkaline water worth the hype?