rEMEMBER pH strips? They were handed out in grade school science class. Seeing the colors change was fun--if not as diverting as building a potato clock--but it was tough to comprehend how a funky little acronym could be such a vital key to good health.
"Paying attention to acid-alkaline balance is one of the most crucial ways you can affect your health status," says Susan Lark, M.D., co-author of The Chemistry of Success: Six Secrets of Peak Performance. "It impacts immunity, digestion, bone strength, symptoms of joint disease, hormones, and the function of essential internal organs." What's more, a spoonful of alkalinity can also lessen the severity of colds, sore throats, and other winter woes.
The balance of acidity and alkalinity in your body allows essential chemical reactions to take place in cells and tissues. Not all parts of the body are equal, pH-wise: For example, the stomach, with its fluctuating digestive juices, is more acid than the brain or blood, which are slightly alkaline (at about 7.1 and 7.4, respectively). The balances are maintained via various proteins, minerals, and kidney and lung functions. In addition, everything you eat or drink affects pH balance, for good or for ill. Even breathing regulates pH: Inhaling brings alkaline oxygen into the system, and exhaling removes acidic carbon dioxide.
To function properly, cells need to be slightly alkaline; most Americans, however, suffer from an abundance of acidity. Stress, medications, illness, and highly strenuous exercise promote acid production; so do many of the foods favored in the typical Western diet. Fatty, high-protein fast foods like cheeseburgers and french fries trigger the stomach to secrete extra amounts of acidic digestive juices. Refined flour and sugar (in this instance, the bun and ketchup) reduce to acid compounds once they're metabolized. And that extra-large cola is extremely acidic. Considering that too much acidity is associated with many degenerative diseases, from colitis to rheumatoid arthritis, this "value meal" isn't such a bargain after all.
AGE IS ALSO a contributing factor. 'Acid-alkaline balance is relatively easy to maintain when we're young and our regulating mechanisms are in good working order," explains Lark. "But with each passing decade, starting in our 40s or even earlier, the efficiency of our buffering systems begins to decline." According to Lark, only 6 percent to 8 percent of the population produce naturally high alkaline levels well into old age; these people have excellent digestive function and lung capacity, and are more likely to be energized and healthy as the years go by.
To find out whether your system tends to be acid or alkaline, answer Lark's questionnaire (below) or self-test your saliva or urine using pH test paper. If you're troubled by over-acidity, rebalance your diet to include more alkaline foods.
"What a person eats can have a huge impact on pH," says Lark. Limit your intake of animal products, refined flours, and sugars, and put more alkaline vegetables on the menu. (See the "pH Power Foods Guide" on page 42.)
Conversely, if you are overly alkaline, focus on acidic foods. To stay your healthiest, choose whole foods in this group, rather than nutrient-poor white flour and sugar. You can fine-tune your grocery list further by knowing which items within each food category are relatively more acidic or alkaline.
As macrobiotic instructor and chef Cynthia Briscoe advises, "The acid-forming foods are not just refined carbohydrates like white flour and sugar, but dishes that give you concentrated amounts of protein and fat." She suggests reducing animal protein and increasing vegetable content by changing the format of a given meal. For example, instead of a grilled steak for dinner, prepare a salad topped with a few slices of the meat. (See "10 Ways to Alkalize" on page 38 for more ideas.)
You'll know when your natural balance has been restored because you'll start feeling better. Briscoe recalls a student who after three days of classes and eating balanced meals, told her, "I woke up today with a happy little feeling in the middle of my stomach that I hadn't felt for years!" Start thinking in terms of the acid-alkaline balance at mealtime, and see if that happy feeling is yours as well.
what is pH?
A measure of acidity and alkalinity.
From the French pouvoir hydrogene, pH describes hydrogen ion activity. A pH of 1 is the most acidic, 7 is neutral, and 14 is the most alkaline. Everything you eat or drink affects your pH balance.
QUICK-FIX HOME REMEDY
If you develop a sore throat or come down with a cold--two conditions that are exacerbated by acidity--try this alkalizing at-home treatment from Susan M. Lark, M.D.: Create a mixture of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and potassium bicarbonate in a ratio from 4:1 to 8:1, depending on your tolerance for potassium. (Use baking soda alone if the sodium-potassium mixture causes intestinal discomfort.) In the acute phase of your illness, take 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of the mixture every one to two hours, and then decrease to three to four times per day for at least two days or until your condition is resolved. If you are also taking ascorbic acid (vitamin C), make sure it's in a buffered formulation.
A NOTE OF CAUTION: In the unlikely event that you over-alkalize, you may experience tingling in the extremities, insomnia, and muscle spasms. Discontinue the bicarbonate and take the juice of half a lemon in water or 1 or 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar to neutralize the alkalinity. Most likely you can restart the alkalizing treatment the next day at a lower dosage and less frequently; check with your doctor.
10 Ways to Alkalize
If you need to, minimize acid-promoting foods by revamping menus and tweaking dishes.
1 For breakfast, instead of orange juice, coffee, and a bagel for breakfast, have a slice of melon, herbal tea or a grain-based coffee substitute, and whole-grain toast.
2 At lunch, opt for bean or vegetable soup rather than tomato soup.
3 Add crunch and color to your salads with celery and sweet red peppers rather than tart cucumber and tomatoes. And instead of an acidic vinaigrette, prepare a dressing using tahini and soy sauce: In a medium bowl, combine 1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste), 1/4 cup water, and tablespoons soy sauce, beating together with a fork. Stir in I tablespoon finely chopped parsley, and season to taste with freshly ground black pepper.
4 If you feel like a burger, stick to soy meats.
5 Choose fish--it's more alkalizing than red meat.
6 Iced ginger tea has the pleasing bite of a cola drink without the high acidity.
7 For a calcium fix, choose a small wedge of cheese (typically 5.0 to 6.1 pH) over yogurt (3.8 to 4.2). Yogurt with sugar-sweetened fruit may be even more acidic; once sugar is metabolized, it ends up as acid in your system.
8 To make a less acidic fruit salad, use guava, papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, pear, banana, figs, and dates.
9 Raise a glass filled with a favorite beer instead of a tart wine to make a toast.
10 Avoid acidity triggers. Food sensitivities can bring about symptoms of over-acidity. Some common culprits include wheat, dairy, nuts, and seafood.
ARE YOU UNBALANCED?
To find out whether your system is generally alkaline or overly acid, you can have some fun running informal tests at home. One option is to use pHydrion litmus paper (available at healthtreasures.com), which turns color when it comes in contact with saliva. For greatest accuracy, take the test immediately upon awakening. Tear off an inch of the paper and place it on your tongue for about 10 seconds, then check the results against the enclosed color chart. According to nutritionist Nancy Appleton, Ph.D., a reading between 6.6 and 7.0 indicates acid-alkaline balance while a reading below 6.6 indicates over-acidity and a need to eat more alkalizing foods. (Appleton offers her own testing kit at nancyappleton.com.) Another option is plastic pH strips, which can be easier to read because the chemical reagent is affixed to the strips and tends not to bleed; find them at ph-ion.com.
When testing pH, keep in mind that readings can be affected by factors such as stress or any foods or liquids you've consumed. To offset these influences, test yourself several times over a week or two.
Because there are so many variables, Susan Lark, M.D., prefers to rely on personal health histories to identify over-acidity. The following yes/no questionnaire is condensed from Lark's book, The Chemistry of Success.
1. After consuming fried foods, red meat, fast food, colas, or desserts, I don't feel my best.
2. I eat refined foods like white flour and sugar regularly.
3. I regularly take aspirin, antibiotics, or unbuffered vitamin C.
4. Vigorous exercise often leaves me feeling exhausted.
5. After an hour of work at my desk, I'm mentally and physically tired.
6. My muscles often feel stiff and sore.
7. I have a history of osteoporosis, arthritis, or gout.
8. I've already had my 50th birthday.
9. I frequently catch a cold or the flu.
10. I am especially susceptible to sore throats, canker sores, or food allergies.
If you answer yes to five or more questions, you are quite likely to be overly acid. Even one yes could be an indicator, e.g., if you frequently catch a cold or the flu. (On the other hand, a true alkaline type could eat refined foods without suffering an acid backlash.)
WHAT THE STUDIES SAY
Increasing pH lowers the risk of urinary tract infections and reduces symptoms of cystitis, according to a study published in The Journal of International Medical Research. In bladder infections, burning sensations occur when bacteria-laden acid comes in contact with the sensitive tissue. Highly acidic cranberry juice is commonly used as a remedy because it helps prevent the bacteria from clinging to the bladder walls. But study participants found symptom relief and some clearing of infection by taking 4 grams of sodium citrate, an alkalizing agent, in a glass of water three times a day for two days. To fight UTIs at home, Lark recommends taking 5 to 10 grams of buffered vitamin C per day in divided doses--and avoiding acidic foods--until the condition resolves.
Raising pH increases the immune system's ability to kill bacteria, concludes a study conducted at The Royal Free Hospital and School of Medicine in London. Viruses and bacteria that cause bronchitis and colds thrive in an acidic environment. To fight a respiratory infection and dampen symptoms such as a runny nose and sore throat, Lark suggests taking an alkalizing mixture of sodium bicarbonate and potassium bicarbonate. (See "Quick-Fix Home Remedy," page 38, for the recipe.)
Alkalines protect you against osteoporosis. When the body becomes overly acid, it releases buffering minerals into the bloodstream, such as calcium taken from bones, in a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers gave post-menopausal women alkalizing potassium bicarbonate and found that the subjects' mineral loss from bone declined and that the rate of bone formation increased.
Adopting a more alkaline vegetarian diet can improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, according to studies cited in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, and it may help treat gout and Crohn's disease. Also, alkalizing lowers the risk of kidney stones by making uric acid more soluble.
pH POWER FOODS GUIDE
Once you know which foods tend to be acidic or alkaline, you can make smarter choices whether you're dining in or out.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Weider Publications
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