Acid-base balance: the basis of health
Are you suffering from persistent stress, chronic fatigue or an unbalanced diet? If you are experiencing any of the above, you might need support to regulate your acid-base balance. For all important metabolic functions to work optimally for optimal health, the body’s acid and base must be in the right balance. Unfortunately, our modern lives make this very difficult. If your acid-base balance is disturbed, optimal functioning of the body will be impaired. Possible health consequences of long-term hyperacidity include chronic fatigue, pain, weight gain and even osteoporosis.
Zinc is valuable for forming buffers and thus supports a stable acid-base balance. Zinc also contributes to maintaining healthy: skin, the function of the immune system, bones.
Minerals, such as calcium and magnesium contribute to healthy muscle function and maintaining healthy bones. In addition, magnesium is involved in reducing tiredness and fatigue.
Lungs: Breathe out acids in the form of carbon dioxide
Kidneys: Wash out acids etc. in the form of uric acid with the urine
Liver: Converts fats to acids which can then be excreted by the kidneys
Intestine: Excretes acids via the stool
Skin: Gets rid of acids via sweat
Connective tissue and muscle tissue: Can temporarily store excess acid
Bones: the Largest storage medium for basic minerals that the body can access when there is an increased need. These minerals can be mobilized when the body is too acidic to neutralize this. If the body is chronically acidic too many of these bicarbonate minerals will be taken out of bones impacting bone density, bone mass and resulting in bone loss.
Blood: contains bicarbonate which can bind acids resulting in a neutral compound
Our metabolism naturally produces acids and bases every day as it goes about its activities. These acids and bases are constantly changing the environments that they are produced in. This is what makes our buffering systems so important. The main buffering system in the body is the kidneys. They deal with these changes daily keeping us in balance. All these systems mentioned above are integral to maintaining equilibrium in the body, but if they are stressed or overused they can have their own consequences. For example, when an environment is in chronic acidosis the body will continue to try and neutralize this acid by increasing the number of bases in the environment. It will do this by mobilizing nutrients from the bones that are basic in pH. If this is done on a continual basis this can impact bone health leading to significant loss of strength of the bones and result in a fracture. Therefore, a good acid-base balance is integral for both enzymatic and cell activity as well as the optimal functioning of all buffering systems.
Acidosis refers to when the body's acid exposure becomes acutely or chronically high and thereby inhibits metabolic processes. It is more common than metabolic alkalosis. Acute metabolic acidosis can be caused by acute metabolic disorders such as diabetes or kidney disease. Chronic metabolic acidosis usually develops unnoticed over years of chronic exposure to acidic compounds based on lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, chronic disease, and stress. Factors including foods with animal protein, exercise, stress, inflammation and a low-carb diet result in the production of acids acutely. When these lifestyle factors become excessive such as chronic stress or inflammation, diets high in animal protein and low in carbohydrates or excessive exercise over a long period of time they can contribute to the formation of an acidic environment in the body. On their own, they are not necessarily harmful, but they are risk factors for metabolic acidosis which can have its own health complications. Signs of metabolic acidosis in the body are vague and nonspecific. They can include symptoms such as chronic fatigue and exhaustion, a decrease in bone mass or bone density as well as skin/nail and digestive problems. It can also impact the peripheral and central nervous system functioning causing brain fog, restlessness, and increased muscle cramps.
The body requires that blood is always a constant pH (level of acidity), within a very narrow pH-value range: 7.38-7.42. It regulates pH by using buffers. Buffers can bind and release acids, depending on the need, but for most North Americans there is more of a need for buffers that have a high acid-binding capacity, such as alkaline minerals (calcium carbonate, potassium bicarbonate etc).
In a perfect situation, the body will be able to regulate the pH of the blood. However, in North America, most people are too acidic. There are many causes of hyperacidity: our diet (too much protein and not enough fruits and vegetables), stress, medications, external toxins and lack of exercise are a few of the major causes of hyperacidity.
When the body has excess acidity, it will pull alkaline minerals from anywhere it can find them to buffer the pH of the blood, keeping it within its strict range. And the largest store of minerals is in the bones. A low (acidic) pH will change the way that the cells in bone work: osteoclasts (cells that break down bone) become activated, and osteoblasts (cells that build up bone) become inhibited.
Once the body gets into a state of chronic acidosis it takes time to bring it back into a healthy balance. One of the ways to begin supporting the body's acid-base balance is to make simple lifestyle changes.
Diet: Whereas animal proteins are converted to acids during metabolism fruits and vegetables are converted to bases when they are metabolized. This makes them ideal for making the shift from a diet that supports an acidic environment to one that supports a basic environment. A diet high in fruits and vegetables is called an alkaline diet. In addition fruits and vegetables are inherently anti-inflammatory. It is important to have these days in your diet. Staying hydrated and drinking water daily is also important as it supports the body's natural buffering systems.
Exercise and relaxation: Exercise and physical activity in moderation have a positive effect on the entire body. Weight-bearing exercise supports bone health. Exercise, in general, promotes the movement of fluids and lymph in the body that can help the body to remove toxins as well as produces endorphins to increase our mood. Most importantly the combination of exercise and relaxation helps to decrease the stress of our daily lives. It is only when exercise is done in excess that lactic acid is produced when exercise becomes a risk factor for lactic acidosis and ultimately fostering an acidic environment. Taking time to exercise and subsequently relax can help combat many of the factors that can create an acidic environment in the body.
Minerals: Minerals can help support our bodies innate buffering systems to support our acid-base balance and pH level. Zinc specifically is needed as a cofactor to make the buffering system work. Zinc can also help to strengthen skin, nails, and bones and it boosts the immune system, which can support the body when the acid-base balance is off. Calcium and magnesium are also important minerals to support the body when the acid-base balance is off. Calcium promotes strong bones by supporting bone density and structure whereas magnesium supports the nervous and muscular systems. Minerals help maintain equilibrium in the body and support bodies healing journey back to equilibrium.
Diet is one of the main ways that we can impact the acid-base balance and pH level in our bodies. It is a small step that we can take every day to make a lasting change to the acidity of our organ systems and body fluids. A healthy diet means eating a balanced diet that includes both acidic foods and alkaline foods. But what does an acid-base diet that is optimal for health look like and which foods have an acidic effect in the body and which an alkaline/basic effect? Acid-base tables that show you what effect the food has on your body can be helpful for this. One example of this is the PRAL table.
The abbreviation "PRAL" stands for "potential renal acid load", i.e., the potential acid load affecting the kidneys relative to 100 grams of the respective food. In essence, it looks at how acidic 100g of food is. Since the kidneys are the major buffering system in the body, this table specifically looks at how the acidic nature of each food will affect the kidneys directly. Using the dietary table, foods can be classified into basic such as various varieties of fruit and vegetables or acidic such as meat, sausage, and dairy products. Whether food is acidic or basic depends on whether acids or bases are created in the body when it is metabolized for energy. On the table, this is shown based on the value and colour of each food. Foods metabolized to form acids are yellow while those that form bases are blue. In addition, the number given to each food indicates the acidic or basic effect the food has on the body. A low negative value means that the food has a basic effect on the body. For example, spinach is -14 is more basic than food that is -1. On the other hand, a high positive value indicates that the food has a strong acidifying effect on the body. When in doubt plant-based foods tend to be more basic than animal-based.
The goal is to have a diet that is a good mix of both acidic and basic foods so that we can maintain the acid-base equilibrium and pH balance that is so vital to our functioning as human begins. The PRAL value is a hugely important factor, but not the only factor to consider for nutrition with regard to health. For example, sugar is listed as slightly basic on the PRAL table but there are many other health concerns related to sugar beyond what the PRAL table tells us. The PRAL table is a tool not the be all and end all of the healthy eating.
Here you can download a PDF-of-the-PRAL-table with more than 100 foods.
Q: Why is acid-base balance important?
A: When our body is healthy each of the systems and enzymes is functionally optimally. In order to function its best, each system has a specific pH or acidity that it functions the best on. The pH is controlled by the balance of acids and bases in the body. If the pH of the extracellular fluid is off in a specific system then it will not be able to function at its best and our health will start to decline. This makes it very important to maintain certain acid-base homeostasis in the body.
Q: How is an acid-base balance maintained in the body?
A: The acid-base homeostasis in the body is maintained by many buffer systems in the body. These systems in the body are compensatory mechanisms and correct any changes in pH so that it doesn't impact the overall functioning of the body.
Q: What contributes to acid-base changes in the body?
A: The acid-base balance in the body is determined by the amount of acidic and basic compounds present in the body. The acidic compounds are hydrogen ions while the basic compounds are bicarbonate ions. Hydrogen ions are positively charged while bicarbonate ions are negatively charged. Normally the values of these two things in the body will balance each other out so that there is no acid-base imbalance. However, when there is more of one ion than of the other an imbalance will occur. Both hydrogen and bicarbonate ions are produced normally in the body as our metabolism performs normal functions. As the food is broken down it will either produce bicarbonate ions or hydrogen ions. Those that produce bicarbonate are called alkaline-forming foods while those that form hydrogen are acid-forming. If the dietary acid load is too high this will result in the body tending to be more acidotic. Therefore paying attention to the foods we eat and having a well-rounded diet can actually prevent acid-base imbalances in the extracellular fluid in the body.
Q: How does acid-base balance affect bone health and bone diseases?
A: Our bones are one of the most potent stores of minerals in our bodies. These minerals, such as calcium, help to keep our bones strong and prevent bone fractures. If our bones do not have as many minerals this can lead to a high risk of decreased bone mineral density and bone diseases such as osteoporosis or osteopenia. While these minerals help maintain bone health they are also mobilized when the body is too acidic to neutralize these acidic ions. Many of the minerals and ion in the bones are basic. This mechanism helps maintain acid-base equilibrium short term but if used long-term it can actually have negative impacts on our health. If the body is chronically acidic too many of these bicarbonate minerals will be taken out of bones impacting bone density, bone mass and resulting in bone loss. If there is a family history of bone disease paying attention to dietary acid can be one way to prevent the mobilization of basic compounds from the bones. If you have found yourself in a chronic acidotic state a bone density test may be a useful tool to determine bone health. Eating a well-rounded diet, performing a weight-bearing physical activity, weight loss if overweight and maintaining the acid-base balance in the body can be one way to keep a bone-healthy body.
Q: How can you measure pH in the body?
A: One way to get an idea of the general pH of the body is by measuring urine pH. This can be done by peeing on acid-base strips. This is not a completely accurate test but it helps to give a general idea of whether there is an acid-base disturbance in the body. It can also help you decide if the body needs more acid-producing or alkaline-promoting nutrients. It will not tell you what the cause of the acidosis or alkalosis is if there is one present or where in the body tissues this imbalance is most prominent.
The health benefits of having a good acid-base balance in the body are evident. Basentabs is an antacid containing alkaline salts. It helps in the development and maintenance of bones.
- What is Acid-base balance all about?
- Why is acid-base balance important?
- The role of zinc and minerals
- What organs regulate acid-base balance?
- What does the body's regulatory system do?
- What are the causes, symptoms, & consequences of metabolic acidosis
- Acidity and Your Bones
- How do you support your acid-base balance?
- How do you use diet to help maintain acid-base balance?
- Health means acids and bases in equilibrium
Our metabolism is based on complex biochemical processes where countless enzymes in our body convert our food, proteins, fats and carbohydrates, into energy. For these enzymes to function optimally the extracellular fluid that they live in must be balanced.
This means ensuring that there is the optimal equilibrium of acids and bases in this fluid found within our bodies. Without this optimal balance, our body systems will not be able to function properly and symptoms or illness can result.
Acids are chemical compounds that contain positively charged hydrogen ions. Bases (or alkaline solutions) are chemical compounds with negatively charged ions called bicarbonate (HCO3). Both of these types of compounds are naturally occurring in our body and are both integral for our functioning as human beings. For example, hydrogen’s are produced at various stages in our metabolism including the breakdown of carbohydrates, meats, and fatty acids.
These hydrogen products are necessary for our bodies to use the nutrients from our food. They also have their own functions in our bodies. The problems arise when the ratio between the acids and bases becomes skewed causing parts of our bodies to become either too acidic or too basic. This can happen from the overproduction of either acids or bases from various enzymatic reactions. When this happens dysfunction can arise in these parts of the body or organ systems.
The way that acid-base balance is measured in the body is called pH.
A neutral pH, when the value of acids and bases is equal, is a measure of 7. If the amount of bases in an environment is more than the number of acids then the pH increases. A basic measurement ranges from 7.1 to 14 and this is called an alkaline state. On the other hand, an acidic pH occurs when there is an increased amount of acids in comparison to bases resulting in an acidic state. These measures range from 6.9 to 1. Each organ system in our body requires a specific pH to perform its function.
While the stomach functions well with an acidic pH from 1 to 4, the pancreas needs a basic value. Therefore, pancreatic juice ideally has a pH of 8.5. Our optimal blood pH ranges between the narrow limits of 7.35 and 7.45. This makes it integral to maintain the pH of the blood plasma within this small window. Changes beyond this will have severe consequences on our health. When the pH in each system increases from it's normal this is called an “alkalosis” and when the pH decreases from it's normal this is called an “acidosis”.
Both can cause a wide range of symptoms including changing nerve and cell function and are a risk factor for chronic disease.
To prevent changes in the normal pH of an area of the body, our body has regulatory mechanisms, which counteract imbalances rapidly. Illness can result either from imbalances themselves or if these "buffer systems" is overloaded.