Editorial: Alkaline Water: Hype, Hoax, or Healthy?

EditorialEditorial

Is alkaline water a healthy option or are the claims fraudulent?  

Essentia Water

Essentia Water

My grandmother would have laughed at the idea of spending $2-5 for a bottle of water.  To her, the idea of wasting money on a plastic bottle of water was a waste of hard earned cash.  In the United States, we have the luxury of plenty fo clean water so bottled water is not needed because nearly every tap is able to give as much clean water as you need to stay hydrated.  In the United States, the convenience of a bottle of water is just that a convenience.  So what about this water that is alkaline?  

So what is alkaline water?  Alkaline water is basically water that’s less acidic than regular tap water. This means it is rich in alkalizing compounds, including calcium, silica, potassium, magnesium, and bicarbonate.Regular tap and bottled water usually have a pH of around 5.5-7.2.  Alkaline water is water that has been treated to add minerals and elevated the pH to approximately 8-9.  This process is accomplished by either an electrical ionizer or bottled spring water that has a higher mineral content naturally.  

What started the alkaline water craze?  A book by Dr. Robert Young in 2017 highlighted alkaline water as being more healthy in a book entitled The pH Miracle.  He is not a medical doctor nor is he a research so I would have preferred to not use the title, Doctor, but out of respect for his degree from a degree mill, I will leave it.  His book was what started the inflated claims of health.  The claims are based on very limited research that is suspect at best.  Believers of alkaline water use sketchy research to back their belief that alkaline water can neutralize the acid in your bloodstream and stomach and help your body metabolize nutrients better thus leading to better health.

What are the claimed benefits?  

  1. Weight loss:  Believers claim alkaline water increases your metabolism, helps you feel full, boosts your energy, improves muscle function, and improves digestive health.  The problem with these claims is there is zero proof that alkaline water does this any better than regular tap water.  I found zero research to back up their claims.  
  2. Reflux Disease: Believers claim that higher pH neutralizes the acid in your stomach and deactivates stomach enzymes.  The problem is that you want these enzymes to digest your
    Water bottle in fitness

    Water bottle in fitness

    food and it would take a lot more water than you drink to deactivate the acid significantly.  If you reduce the acid, it might also slow digestion and increase reflux.  Two research studies look at this and found very little to back it up.  One found that a plant-based diet and alkaline water helped with reflex[1].  This study shows promise, but which helped reflex: the plants or water?   A second study looked at inactivation of stomach enzymes but it was done in test tubes and the body reacts differently[2].  

  3. Improved hydration: Believers claim that alkaline water reduces blood viscosity so there for it must be better absorbed and a better form to hydrate.  The problem is that viscosity is more complicated than just the amount of fluid.  The research is junk research and was funded by a manufacturer[3].  
  4. Others: Believers also claim it helps cancer, gut health, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and athletic performance.  There is no reputable research to back up these claims.  These are ridiculous claims but if you believe them, I have a bridge to sell you.  Any research I found was performed on mice or rats and was suspect.   

Any health risk of bottled water?  Maybe, kidney disease or stones might be a reason to avoid it for a very small minority of subjects. Just like with mineral water, some should avoid it.  Discuss alkaline water with your medical provider before you consider drinking it if you are a person with a history of kidney disease or stones.  

Taste better? I would say this depends on your taste.  I have tried several brands an the flavor varies significantly from brand to brand.  I like Essentia’s flavor and would recommend it as being a significant smoother tasting water with limited aftertaste.  If you like the flavor and it will allow you to drink more water, I can see a significant benefit, but outside of flavor, I see no benefit to alkaline water.  

The bottom line: I suspect that the outlandish claims of superior health from alkaline water are a lot of hype and boarding a hoax.  It is possible that alkaline water may provide some health benefits, but more and better research is needed.  If you like the taste, I suggest that you continue drinking it.  Outside of taste, there is insignificant evidence for me to suggest it over regular tap or bottled water so save your money.  

References

[1]
C. Zalvan, S. Hu, B. Greenberg, and J. Geliebter, “A Comparison of Alkaline Water and Mediterranean Diet vs Proton Pump Inhibition for Treatment of Laryngopharyngeal Reflux.,” JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg, vol. 143, no. 10, pp. 1023–1029, Oct. 2017. [PubMed]
[2]
J. Koufman and N. Johnston, “Potential benefits of pH 8.8 alkaline drinking water as an adjunct in the treatment of reflux disease.,” Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol, vol. 121, no. 7, pp. 431–4, Jul. 2012. [PubMed]
[3]
D. Heil, “Acid-base balance and hydration status following consumption of mineral-based alkaline bottled water,” J Int Soc Sports Nutr, vol. 7, p. 29, Sep. 2010. [PMC]
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About the Author

ChuckH
I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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