As I write this, I’m drinking from a tall bottle of Qure purified water. It has a smooth but distinct taste, like a fine mineral water—but that’s not Qure’s main offering.
With a pH of at least 9.5, it qualifies as alkaline water, a new breed of bottled water intended to counterbalance an acidic system (or acidosis). Qure, and other alkaline water brands, are infused with ionic minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. According to their site, these ionic minerals are more bioavailable to our bodies than their inorganic counterparts (i.e., those from rocks and soil that may be found in tap water and may collect in our bodies over time).
I was turned onto this water when I noticed a friend continually bringing it to work, and I wondered if drinking alkaline water could really contribute to improved health. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
The Acid/Alkaline Balance
Our bodies rely on nutrition to help maintain a healthy internal acid-alkaline balance. (Here is a refresher on pH if you’ve forgotten chemistry class.) Although it’s common to think of our system as acidic (because stomach acid is, well, acid), our blood and tissues need to be slightly alkaline. When all is averaged together, ideally, the body will be at a pH of about 7.4.
The food we eat leaves either an acidic or alkaline residue. Here’s where it can get confusing, though: some food, like dairy milk, has an alkaline pH, but during digestion, it’s a different story. Dairy actually leaves behind an acidic residue (as do most animal products). To add more confusion to the mix, the taste of something may also be misleading. For example, lemon juice has a acidic flavor profile. When it’s digested, however, it’s alkalinizing for the body, which is why you often see hot lemon water described as a detox aid.
When we eat too many foods that are too acidifying in the body, we risk chronic acidosis and decreased bone density. In order for our bodies to balance the pH, calcium, which is alkaline, may be depleted from our bones. This phenomenon undergirds the theory that excessive diary intake may increase the risk for osteoporosis. In other words, it’s like your body is giving itself an antacid—courtesy of your bones. In fact, one of the reasons a whole-foods vegan diet is so healthy is that whole, plant foods are alkalinizing—or only slightly acidifying.
Aside from bone loss, a consistently acidic diet has been connected to increased risk for inflammation, tissue degeneration, and disease.
Okay, okay—But What about Alkaline Water? Can it help?
Alkaline water is intended to serve as a supplement to a healthy, plant-filled diet and help fend off the unwelcome effects of an acidic diet. I personally find the theory lovely—drink alkaline water, be more balanced. Thus far, however, evidence to support this easy-to-love claim is mostly anecdotal.
First, if it’s confirmed that you do have an acidic system, the most important thing is to find out why. Getting to the heart of your acidosis, whether it’s caused by diet, medication, or something in your environment, will be more efficient than relying on a supplement (water).
Second, be wary of alkaline water if you have a kidney condition or are taking meds that alter kidney function: the minerals in alkaline or mineral water may put a strain on the kidneys, leading to unwanted mineral buildup in the body.
Athletes, however, may benefit from alkaline water since it can help the body retain more fluid in the cardiovascular system. This process happens gradually over time, however, and does not happen the instant you sip alkaline water (this is not a Gatorade commercial!).
Some evidence suggests that alkaline water, or ionized water, may reduce glycation, i.e., when sugar molecules (like those from fructose or glucose) attach to lipids or proteins without the moderation of an enzyme. These form “rogue molecules,” or advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that can contribute to premature aging, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. In other words, ionized water may serve as a supplement for healthy blood sugar maintenance. Maybe.
Another claim put forth by alkaline water proponents is that alkaline water maybe be safer than tap water. When tap water is disinfected, the disinfectants may interact with organic matter in the water, creating disinfectant by-products (DBPs), which aren’t so friendly to our health. Alkaline water may break down some DBPs, making them less dangerous to us. Alkaline water is also credited with helping the body detox environmental toxins. On the other hand, other DPPs may be present in alkaline water, so it’s hard to say if alkaline water actually protects us from toxins any better than tap water.
A note on tap water: Tap water tends to get a bad rap, but the Environmental Protection agency takes several measures, including annual quality reports, to ensure that tap water is safe. There are sometimes mishaps, however. In the past year, my hometown of Corpus Christi dealt with fecal matter in the drinking water. Twice. But maybe my town is just special. If you’re concerned about contaminants in your tap water, you may consider investing in a filter that removes them. As far as pH is concerned, tap water’s pH may vary depending on its mineral content, but water quality regulations specify that it not be under 6.5.
My Verdict: We Need More Evidence (But I Like the Theory!)
Alkaline water comes with several nice-sounding claims that have yet to be substantiated in a scientific, peer-reviewed context. If the idea appeals to you, however, it doesn’t seem like alkaline water can hurt anything but your wallet—unless you have a kidney condition, as mentioned above. Although I don’t have a lot of love for plastic bottles, the next time my town has sewage-in-the-water scare (ugh), I’ll be heading to the store for some ionized water.
More on healthy drinking: The Benefits of Matcha Tea
Why You Should Be Drinking Aloe Vera Juice
Get more like this–sign up for our newsletter for exclusive inspirational content!
Photos: Anda Ambriosini via Unsplash