Alkaline water has gained rapid popularity in recent years among everyone from health enthusiasts to professional athletes, whether they’re following an alkaline diet or just trying to get more out of their hydration. In fact, NBA superstars like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James are some of the most well-known alkaline water aficionados, with reports claiming that certain pro players get more than half a dozen alkaline water bottle cases shipped to their home every single month. (1a)
It’s true that your body’s pH plays a big role in overall health, and the standard American diet is typically filled with refined sugars, hydrogenated oils, excess sodium, high-fructose corn syrup, chemical additives, pesticides, synthetic hormones and ultra-processed foods that can all contribute to low-grade acidosis, or an overproduction of acid in the blood, fostering an environment where disease can thrive.
Some claim that alkaline water — or high pH water — is the best water to drink when it comes to health, citing a long list of potential alkaline water benefits from enhanced weight loss to resistance against cancer. But does this popular beverage live up to the hype, or is it just another fad used to target health-conscious consumers? Let’s break down the debate and find the truth.
What Is Alkaline Water?
Alkaline water is a type of water with a higher pH than regular water and negative negative oxidation reduction potential (ORP), and the best type is naturally alkaline spring water. (1b) This is a measure of acidity — a low pH level indicates a more acidic substance while a higher pH is more alkaline. Too many hydrogen ions means less oxygen is available to the cells, resulting in higher acidity when pH drops. Fewer hydrogen ions mean more oxygen is available, leading to a more alkaline, or basic, state. There is no known disease that can survive in an alkaline state.
Because it has a higher pH level, alkaline ionized water is supposedly more beneficial than your basic tap water. It typically clocks in with a pH level around 8 or 9 while the pH of water is usually closer to 7.0 or less. It’s also said that alkaline water offers more key minerals the body needs to function properly, such as calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium.
On average, your pH levels should be approximately a 7.365 for the blood on a scale between 0–14, leaving the blood at a 60/40 alkaline-to-acid ratio.
Alkaline compounds buffer acids in the blood with four main alkaline minerals — calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium — which work together to keep the body healthy and running properly.
- Calcium strengthens our bones and supports a healthy circulatory system.
- Magnesium helps convert our food into energy and works to maintain muscle, nerves, heart and kidney function.
- Sodium controls blood pressure, balances fluids in the body and influences muscle movement.
- Potassium helps maintain muscle relaxation and contraction, which is extremely important around the heart, and also aids in digestion and fluid elimination.
The body works hard to naturally keep the blood tipping toward an alkaline state and will take from stored reserves whenever necessary to keep it balanced.
The Alkaline Water Debate
Unfortunately, research is limited on the potential alkaline water benefits. Not only that, but many sources blindly throw out unsubstantiated claims in an effort to sell products like expensive alkaline water filter systems rather than providing evidence-based health information to consumers.
That being said, those in favor of alkaline water over acidic water claim that it provides a range of health benefits. Namely, that it boosts the metabolism, slows bone loss, reverses aging and improves the absorption of nutrients by neutralizing acid in the blood that causes disease. They believe low-grade acidosis may not always be detected with testing, leaving your body to suffer the silent consequences.
The opposing side, on the other hand, agrees there might be benefits, but it is unclear whether the alkaline water benefits come from the high pH level of the water itself or the minerals it contains. Their warning to all? Be leery of health claims that may sound too good to be true, and keep in mind that all alkaline waters and alkaline water ionizer systems are not made equal. You want to get the best alkaline water and water ionizers you can.
It’s complex to alkalize the body and all of its organs, and there are difficulties around pH balance. If the root cause is unknown, opponents remind us, drinking alkaline water might not be the answer to your low pH levels. Plus, the human body wasn’t created to live in a constant alkaline state.
Remember that 60/40 ratio that was mentioned earlier? Consuming high alkaline water on a continual basis can disrupt your body’s delicate pH balance, becoming detrimental to your health.
Alkaline Water vs. Structured Water vs. Regular Water vs. Mineral Water
These days, there are plenty of options in the bottled water section of your local supermarket. Once limited to regular drinking water, there are now a wide assortment of water varieties available, ranging from alkaline water to structured water and mineral water.
Regular bottled water typically contains purified water, which is made of tap water that has been filtered through a process called reverse osmosis, which removes impurities and microorganisms. Trace amounts of minerals are found in this form of water, including calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium. Purified water generally has an acidic or neutral pH of 7.0 or below. (2)
Mineral water, on the other hand, comes from a mineral spring and typically contains a variety of minerals like salts and sulfur compounds. It’s available in both still and sparkling varieties, classified based on whether or not it contains added carbon dioxide gases. Like alkaline water, it can help supply important minerals to the diet that may be beneficial for health. (3)
Meanwhile, structured water is a type of water that hasn’t been filtered or processed, making it virtually identical to the water that’s found in nature. It’s believed to hold a higher amount of energy and is said to be “optimally charged,” helping our cells to function more efficiently. Much like alkaline water, it’s said to have an optimal pH and is claimed to benefit everything from energy levels to digestion and mood. Just like alkaline water, however, research is still limited on how much of an effect structured water may have on health.
- Improves Circulation
- Reduces Acid Reflux Symptoms
- Increases Hydration
- Regulates Blood Sugar
- May Promote Bone Health
1. Improves Circulation
Some research suggests that alkaline water may improve circulation, allowing blood to flow more easily through your body to deliver oxygen and important nutrients to your tissues. It’s believed to work by reducing the viscosity, or the thickness of the blood, helping it move through the bloodstream more efficiently.
This was demonstrated in a 2016 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition that gave 100 healthy adults either regular water or alkaline water to rehydrate after a strenuous workout. Interestingly, those who drank alkaline water experienced a 6.3 percent decrease in blood thickness compared to just a 3.36 percent drop in viscosity in those who drank regular water. (4)
2. Reduces Acid Reflux Symptoms
Acid reflux, also known as GERD, is a condition in which acid moves back up through the esophagus, causing acid reflux symptoms like belching, bloating and nausea. Pepsin, the enzyme responsible for breaking down proteins, plays a key role in acid reflux and can trigger symptoms.
Alkaline water may have a beneficial effect on neutralizing pepsin to reduce symptoms. One in vitro study out of the Voice Institute of New York demonstrated that drinking alkaline water with a pH of 8.8 helped deactivate pepsin, potentially providing therapeutic benefits for those suffering from acid reflux. (5)
However, it’s important to keep in mind that blocking pepsin acts as a temporary bandage to the real underlying problem, similar to the effect of antacids. While alkaline water may help provide relief from symptoms, it may not actually treat the root of the acid reflux itself.
3. Increases Hydration
Staying well-hydrated is crucial to overall health and wellness. Getting enough water regulates your body temperature, helps transport nutrients and aids in waste removal.
Alkaline water is believed to enhance hydration even more than standard drinking water. A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine showed that drinking alkaline water for two weeks not only increased alkalinity in the blood and urine, but also improved hydration status to a greater degree than those drinking regular water. (6)
4. Regulates Blood Sugar
Sustaining high levels of blood sugar can take a big toll on your health, with side effects ranging from increased thirst, headaches and fatigue to more serious, long-term consequences like impaired vision and nerve damage.
Although research is limited, some preliminary research has found that alkaline water may help balance blood sugar to maintain normal blood sugar levels and promote better health. One six-month study in China showed that drinking alkaline water significantly reduced blood sugar levels to normal range in participants. (7) An animal model conducted at Dongduk Women’s University’s Department of Obesity Management at the Graduate School of Obesity Science and published in Life Sciences also found that alkaline water had anti-diabetic effects, reporting that it reduced blood sugar and improved glucose tolerance in mice. (8)
5. May Promote Bone Health
A highly acidic diet has been shown to increase bone loss by upping the excretion of calcium through the urine. An alkaline diet, on the other hand, can prevent bone resorption to help preserve bone health. (9)
Some studies suggest that alkaline water may help keep bones strong by influencing certain hormones that affect bone metabolism. One study out of the Centre of Bone Diseases at Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland composed of 30 women, for instance, showed that drinking alkaline water decreased levels of parathyroid hormone, which causes bones to release calcium into the blood. Not only that, but it also lowered levels of a biomarker used to measure the rate of bone turnover as well. (10)
Although some promising studies have found positive effects of alkaline water on health, many of these are small studies with significant limitations that can make it hard to definitively determine how much benefit alkaline water may really bestow.
As with all things in life, balance is key when it comes to alkaline water. While it may come with some alkaline water benefits, following a healthy, nutrient-rich diet filled with lots of whole foods and fresh fruits and veggies is still the best way to maintain a proper pH balance and keep you healthy. In the end, alkaline water cannot replace the array of essential nutrients that your body needs from food.
Also, an overabundance of alkaline water and foods over long periods of time can not only cause alkalosis, throwing your body off-balance and leading to serious health problems, but also inhibit production of pepsin, compromising the stomach’s ability to break down food and proteins.
Adding more fresh fruits and veggies like apples, lemons, limes, leafy greens and carrots into your diet is a simple way to keep your pH in check while also promoting better overall health.
If you still want to include alkaline water in moderation in your diet, that’s totally fine. But before you start searching for the best alkaline water brands or go splurge on a pricy alkaline water machine, keep in mind that you can also try making it at home. There are plenty of directions available for how to make alkaline water, which typically include adding ingredients like baking soda or lemon to your water.
As always, though, be sure to pair your alkaline water with a well-balanced diet and a healthy and active lifestyle to reap the most rewards when it comes to your health.
Risks and Side Effects
Going overboard on the alkaline water may throw off your body’s delicate pH balance, leading to serious health problems like alkalosis. This can cause alkaline water side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, tremors and confusion.
Drinking alkaline water regularly can also deactivate the activity of pepsin, impairing your ability to break down proteins efficiently. It may also interfere with the natural acidity of stomach acid, which is responsible for killing off bacteria and pathogens to keep your body healthy.
If you do decide to drink alkaline water, keep your intake in moderation and be sure to couple it with a healthy, well-rounded diet and regular physical activity to keep your body in tip-top condition. As always, if you have any concerns, be sure to consult with your doctor or a trusted health professional.
- Alkaline water is said to have a higher pH than regular water and contains minerals like calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium.
- What is the pH of water? The pH level of water is usually around 7.0, making it neutral. Alkaline water, on the other hand, usually has a pH of around 8 or 9.
- Some of the alkaline water benefits include increased hydration, reduced acid reflux symptoms, better blood sugar control, improved bone health and enhanced circulation.
- Claims about alkaline water and cancer, anti-aging properties or weight loss have not been well-studied and are not yet supported by science, and the Cleveland Clinic even questions its benefits overall. (11)
- It is safe when consumed in moderation but should be paired with a nutritious diet and active lifestyle to get the most benefits in terms of health.