The Alkaline Water Myth
University of Alaska
Professor Douglass Bourne
October 13, 2021
The adage goes, “the human body is made up of more than 80% water.” A slight variation from what we currently understand, of which the human body is made up of approximately 60%-68% water.1 (Journal of Biological Chemistry, 1945) Despite this discrepancy, the human body undeniably requires water to operate. Naturally, our next question is, should we be drinking any particular type of water – mineralized or alkaline? These types of questions, along with concerns about water purity, provide ideal kindling for pseudoscientific claims. In 2018, the bottled water industry grossed over 18 billion dollars with zero signs of slowing down. (statista.com, 2021) How do they do it? By using a tactful form of omission.
The bottled water industry began in the 17th century. For a time, bottled mineral water was sold in pharmacies for its purported medicinal value and labeled as a cure for cancer, epilepsy, asthma, and so on, as far up as the 1900s. Hydropathic Institutions sprung up across Europe and early America, claiming to heal any ailment by either drinking or bathing in copious amounts of water. Over the centuries, we have learned that simply bathing in water or drinking it won’t cure anything – save dehydration– yet misinformation on the medicinal benefits of water remains. Though debunked through several resources, the most misleading pseudoscientific claim today is the therapeutic value of alkaline water. Briefly defined, alkaline means a substance with a PH level greater than 7.
Filling in the Blanks
The Alkaline Movement originated in Russia but fruited in Japan during the ’60s. Whereas Japan focused on the medicinal values of hydrogen-rich electrolyzed reduced (HrEr) water, Russia’s interest narrowed in on hydrogen production as a renewable energy technology. If it weren’t such a serious issue, it would be almost comedic to discover that the primary mistake in the alkaline water trend begins right at the name. HrEr water is naturally alkaline; therefore, scientists often refer to it simply as alkaline-electrolyzed water. (Jackson, 2018) At first glance, uneducated consumers wouldn’t grasp the significant difference between alkaline water with added electrolytes vs. alkaline-electrolyzed water. It sounds like the same thing, right? Far from it! And you guessed it; marketing companies are relying on this gap in communication knowing full well – that without further clarification– consumers will eagerly fill in the blanks. An excellent example of this can be found at healthykitchen101.com. The first study cited specifies HrEr water. Yet, the author doesn’t spot or clarify this distinction and associates the reference with general alkaline water.
Further research strongly supports that the health benefits of HrEr water don’t necessarily stem from its alkalinity but rather the presence of hydrogen in the water. 2 (Tanaka, 2018). In fact, unlike alkaline water, hydrogen water is GRAS – generally regarded as safe – certified by the FDA. 4 (Ostojic S. M., 2016) Still, this doesn’t stop websites like TasteandCraze.com from making contradictory statements such as, “Alkaline water is different from the tap because it’s less acidic—it has a pH over seven, meaning that it has a lower concentration of hydrogen ions.” Not only does this blog fail to cite its sources, but it doesn’t even bother to name an author, let alone what country the website is based in. Compared to websites like healthline.com – a personal favorite – the credibility of these articles on the same subject is like night and day.
According to GreenerChoices.org, the most popular brand of bottled water is brought to us by Essentia, which according to its website “…became the top-selling premium bottled water brand and #1 ionized alkaline water [by 2017],” Touting the rights to use proprietary technology in developing a “premium [mineral] ionized alkaline water” at a whopping alkaline level of 9.5 – or greater, Essentia’s proprietary methods don’t spin well with the scientific communities ethics in transparency. However, the company does assure consumers that their three-step purification process is free from BPA, chlorine, and fluoride. (Essentiawater.com, 2021)
The ever-higher reaching alkaline levels in bottled water continues to raise concerns, particularly with dietitians. Your body generally prefers a neutral PH, and it has its own complex system working to keep it that way. Additionally, forcing PH extremes can cause serious health problems, especially for the kidneys and lungs.5 (III, J. L. L. 2021) UCLA Professor of Medicine Dr. Robert Ashley shared this, “Knowing the pH of one’s [water source, has more to do with protecting] against excessive acidity than high alkalinity. (uclahealth.org, 2018) Professor Joseph Orszagh was a researcher at the Université de Mons-Hainaut in Belgium, specializing in water management and purification. His research team –among many others around the world– thoroughly debunked any claims that ingesting alkaline water influenced the PH levels in the stomach, let alone the body. (eautarcie.org, 2018) In layman’s terms, due to the extreme acidic state of the stomach, alkaline water would neutralize in the stomach bile before it ever had an opportunity to influence PH levels within the body.
Homemade Alkaline Water
An international Japan-based company Enagic manufactures one of the world’s most popular and well-known in-home water machines known as Kangen. Enagic states, “Our passion is to transform the tap water in your home into pure, healthy electrolyzed-reduced and hydrogen rich drinking water.”(Enagic.com, 2021) The cost of one of these apparatuses is equivalent to what I paid for my first car. It comes then as no surprise that thrifty consumers seek alternative methods. Referring back to the Healthykitchen101 article, the author suggests various recipes for homemade alkaline water by adding baking soda, lemon juice, or PH drops. Without substantial evidence that confirms the therapeutic benefits of alkaline water, consumers should err on the side of caution when playing chemist in the kitchen. Especially, with highly caustic sodium hydroxide (lye) common in PH drops.
What should we be drinking?
We owe substantial gratitude to the organizations that reel in companies making overzealous theoretical health declarations. Moreover, those regulating bodies continue to hold companies accountable for outright deceptive claims. We also remain indebted to the scientific
process which, –even without governing officials– arms the average individual with the ability to make informed choices. Though the benefits of mineralized water enriched with potassium, calcium, and magnesium remain largely undisputed, research asserts that drinking –and paying for– alkaline water is, well, wasteful. Environmental officials suggest getting to know your tap water and making desired purification adjustments based on your needs. EWG.org is a fantastic resource to start at. In conclusion, though there is some compelling research to support the benefits of HrEr water, consumers shouldn’t rule out the benefits of drinking water as is. The 65% of you that is just water will thank you regardless, and so will your bank account. Cha Ching!
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III, J. L. L. (2021, October 18). Acid-base regulation – endocrine and metabolic disorders. Merck Manuals Professional Edition. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from https:// www.merckmanuals.com/professional/endocrine-and-metabolic-disorders/acid-base regulation-and-disorders/acid-base-regulation?query=Overview+of+Acid-Base+Balance. 5
Jackson, K., Dressler, N., Ben-Shushan, R. S., Meerson, A., LeBaron, T. W., & Tamir, S. (2018). Effects of alkaline-electrolyzed and hydrogen-rich water, in a high-fat-diet nonalcoholic fatty liver disease mouse model. World journal of gastroenterology, 24(45), 5095–5108. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v24.i45.5095 3
Mitchell, H. H., Hamilton, T. S., Steggerda, F. R., & Bean, H. W. (1945). The chemical composition of the adult human body and its bearing on the biochemistry of growth. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 158(3), 625–637. https://doi.org/10.1016/ s0021-9258(19)51339-4 1
Ostojic S. M. (2016). Should hydrogen therapy be included in a musculoskeletal medicine routine?. F1000Research, 5, 2659. https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.9758.1 4
Ostojic, S. M., & Stojanovic, M. D. (2014). Hydrogen-rich water affected blood alkalinity in physically active men. Research in Sports Medicine, 22(1), 49–60. https://doi.org/ 10.1080/15438627.2013.852092
Tanaka, Y., Saihara, Y., Izumotani, K., & Nakamura, H. (2018). Daily ingestion of alkaline electrolyzed water containing hydrogen influences human health, including gastrointestinal symptoms. Medical Gas Research, 8(4), 160-166. https://doi.org/ 10.4103/2045-9912.248267 2