There is certainly a lot of marketing hype about the benefits of alkaline water…. but is it true? Is alkaline water good for you? Is there any scientific evidence to support these claims? Does it even make sense that it would be? These are the important questions we will explore in this article.
The Basic Science Of Alkaline Water
Before you can understand if alkaline water is good for you or not, you first need to understand the basic science of alkaline water. What is alkaline water? What makes it alkaline? Is there more than one way to make alkaline water?
From a purely technical standpoint, alkaline water is water that tests ABOVE 7.0 on the pH scale from 0-14.
Any solution with a pH below 7.0 is considered acidic. Any solution with a pH above 7.0 is considered alkaline. If a solution has a pH of 7.0 exactly, it is said to be neutral.
Using Electrolysis for Ionization
From a health standpoint, the term “alkaline water” has come to mean much more than merely water with a pH above 7.0. In this context, let’s consider ordinary tap water for a moment, which almost every health expert would agree is not the healthiest water you can drink.
Tap water can vary tremendously in pH, depending on the municipality it comes from, the original source of the water, how it is treated, and how often it is treated.
In fact, you could take pH readings of tap water from your home faucet at different times of the day or on different days of the month and get wildly different readings, with some, if not most, of the readings in the alkaline range. This is because the pH of the tap water will vary depending on when it was last treated and if the treatment of the water has varied.
In nature, with the exception of rain before it hits the ground, water is usually alkaline because it contains natural “alkalizing” agents from the substrate, i.e. the rock and sediments over which it flows or stands.
These agents include dissolved minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, and silica plus other natural compounds, especially bicarbonate. These natural alkalizing agents continually “buffer” natural water and keep it on the alkaline side of the pH scale.
If natural water tests acidic, this is usually an indicator that the water has been contaminated with man-made substances.
Alkalizing agents exist in ion form when dissolved in water. This means they carry an electrical charge. So, for example, the water doesn’t just contain potassium, it carries potassium ions with a positive charge of plus one (+1).
If the natural alkalizing agents are removed from water through distillation or reverse osmosis, the water will become acidic. Sometimes, this type of processed water is further treated to add minerals and other alkalizing agents back in.
However, if you drink demineralized acidic water, it can be very harmful to your body as it can draw minerals out of your bones. It can also draw minerals out of certain tissues, such as your cardiovascular system, which depend on mineral ions to function properly.
Using Electrolysis for Ionization
Another way to make water register alkaline on the pH scale is to ionize it through electrolysis. This type of alkaline water is sometimes called ionized water or alkaline ionized water. It is also sometimes referred to as reduced water or electrolyzed reduced water, especially in scientific publications where the results of research are found.
It is important to note that ionized water may or may not contain healthy minerals. If water has been put through a reverse osmosis system, the minerals are removed in this process and thus the water becomes acidic.
In some cases, minerals will be added back in to bring it back to an alkaline state. In other cases, the resulting acidic water may be ionized through electrolysis to bring it back into an alkaline state. Some water systems do both.
What Does the Scientific Research Tell Us?
Before we discuss some of the research that has been done on alkaline water, we need to mention a couple caveats that you need to keep in mind as you ask the question, “Is alkaline water good for you?”
First, you need to always consider the funding source of the research study you are reading about. Much of the research that has been done in this area is funded by companies that sell equipment to “alkalize” tap water or they sell alkaline water. Obviously, this research could have an inherent bias. However, having said this, you can trust this research more when the research they fund is conducted by independent third parties such as academics that have a professional reputation at stake.
Second, you need to always be aware of exactly what kind of alkaline water researchers used in the study. Did they use alkaline water that is ionized but contains no minerals? Did they use alkaline water that contains a natural composition of minerals, minerals added back into treated water, or a combination of both?
Always be aware that there are different forms of what the health community now commonly refers to as “alkaline water.”
What Do The Studies on Alkaline Water Say?
A four week 2011 study conducted by Professor Dan Heil and a team of graduate students at Montana State University showed that a specific brand of alkaline water kept people better hydrated than ordinary bottled water containing no minerals.
Further, this study showed that both urine and blood samples were more alkaline in participants that drank the alkaline water. This was a double blind study, meaning neither the experimental group (those that drank the alkaline water) nor the control group (those that drank the bottled water) knew what type of water they were drinking.
The alkaline water in this study contained a natural balance of minerals from glacial runoff as well as some minerals added to the water during processing.
Maintaining a fully hydrated body and a body in a slightly alkaline state has been shown to improve one’s overall health.
Alkaline Water Containing Bicarbonate
Some research has shown that drinking alkaline water containing bicarbonate can help people who are prone to bone loss better than simply adding calcium to the diet or by adding calcium to ionized water. A 2009 study published in the journal, “Bone,” showed that drinking alkaline water containing bicarbonate helps a person’s bones absorb calcium, and thus, lowers bone loss (lowers resorption).
Studies published in 2004 in the Journal of Health Science by a team of Japanese scientists showed that non-mineralized alkaline ionized water (electrolyzed reduced water) was a powerful antioxidant on human serum cells in vitro (blood cells grown in a petri dish). Antioxidants remove free radicals from the body and are thought to be beneficial in preventing diseases such as cancer.
In a search of PubMed and other medical databases, a number of in vivo studies (studies on whole living organisms) from rats to humans have indicated that that alkaline water can have a positive effect on those suffering from a variety of digestive issues. Most of these studies use alkaline water that contains minerals.
A 2006 study published in Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology looked at the protective benefits of alkaline water on human lymphocytes (white blood cells) grown in culture. The alkaline water used was ionized water (electrolyzed reduced water). The protective effect included a resistance to oxidative damage to DNA, RNA, and proteins in the lymphocytes.
So… is alkaline water good for you? The available research seems to indicate that it does have positive benefits, especially if it contains minerals. However, you should always be sure to consider the source of funding for this type of research and factor that into how much you trust the results being reported.
Keep in mind too that the cleanest spring water on Earth is much more alkaline than ordinary tap water and full of minerals and bicarbonate. The next best source of alkaline water would be processed water that simulates as closely as possible pristine spring water.