While we are all uniquely different, we all share one thing in common — our blood needs to be slightly alkaline to stay healthy. But what does that mean and how do we do it?
For anyone looking to enjoy better health, the following information is critical to know. The difference between life and death hangs on the body’s ability to manage our pH levels.
To help us measure the states of acidic to alkaline we use numbers ranging from zero to fourteen. The lower the number, the more acidic, the higher the number, the more alkaline. For example, battery acid would be around 0 and household ammonia around 12. The number 7 is represented as neutral — neither acidic nor alkaline. But the margin for error in the human body is remarkably small.
The body strives to keep our blood pH around 7.35 to 7.45 (slightly alkaline). Generally, the body does an excellent job of keeping things tightly regulated. But even the slightest difference can dramatically impact our health.
Once blood has excessive acidity it goes by the name of acidosis. Acidosis can quickly lead to serious health conditions and even death. The American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) categorizes acidosis as lower than 7.35. If you stop and think about it, that’s really not that far away from 7.45.
Obviously, we don’t want to be too acidic, nor do we want to be too alkaline. Here’s why.
When the pH of the blood becomes too alkaline it is referred to as alkalosis. Alkalosis occurs above 7.45, again bringing with it a whole host of health problems. We aren’t even two minutes into this post and already we know that blood pH has a narrow range of 7.35 to 7.45 and stepping outside of those parameters brings BIG trouble. Try to remember these sets of numbers, before this story ends I’ll ask you about them. It’s actually quite common for most people to get the answer wrong.
So by now, you may be thinking, if this whole pH thing is so important, what the heck keeps it in balance? That’s a really great question and I like the way you are starting to think. It’s sometimes said that knowledge is having all the right answers, but intelligence is asking the right questions.
The pH of the body is kept within this range in part by the kidneys and lungs. When the body becomes too acidic, the kidneys help restore balance by using common electrolytes — sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, plus chloride, phosphates, and sulfates to buffer acidity. This buffering system is what keeps you alive.
Here’s the rub. If the body remains in an acidic state for any length of time, minerals used to buffer that acidity becomes depleted. The body doesn’t want you to die from an excess of acidity. It will do whatever it takes to stop the blood pH from slipping below 7.35.
Can you see the problem?
When the body runs short of available minerals, it’s forced to take drastic action. It does this by stealing minerals from the bones, cells, organs, and tissues. This isn’t an ideal situation and should be thought of as the body pulling the emergency brake to keep you alive.
Minerals are critical to our health. Not only to buffer acidity but also to keep the cells functioning optimally. Cells devoid of minerals cannot dispose of waste or oxygenate. From head to toe, our bodies are made up of cells. Do you see the importance of this yet?
A lack of minerals will hinder the absorption of vitamins and allow toxins and pathogens to accumulate in the body. Ultimately this will lead to a suppressed immune system. All of this stems from a body striving to keep itself from becoming too acidic. I know what you are thinking because I’ve had the same thought. What would make the body too acidic, am I right?
There are several factors and one of these is stress. But as we all know too well, stress is an omnipresent part of life that we can’t always get away from. The best we can do is manage it. At times, that’s easier said than done.
We all get stressed but the good news is we can adopt strategies for reducing stress. If you find yourself doing a job you hate to surround yourself with more things, then it might be worth re-evaluating what’s really important to you. More stuff, or more health? When stress gets to the point where it’s making you ill, then you have the right to choose another path. Sometimes owning less stuff can lead to more health.
DEAD AS A DOORNAIL
I once made this same point to an elderly Scotsman who happened to be a retired accountant. As I watched him work himself into the ground I joked with him there are no pockets in a shroud. I did my best to assure him that he couldn’t take any of his money with him. He looked me squarely in the eye and said, “Son, if I can’t take it with me then I’m not going.” Either way, he’s dead now so I guess I was right and he was wrong.
As in this case, stress can be self-inflicted, but it can also come from the people with whom we surround ourselves. Maybe you have a toxic friend in your life that’s adding to your stress — some people are just wired that way. You can’t change them, but you can change your exposure to them. And I suspect deep down you already know this.
Given the importance of this topic, you may find it helpful to periodically check your pH. This is inexpensive to do and you can easily do this from home. For this test you will need to buy a set of pH testing strips, often sold in your local health food store. The kit comes with litmus paper that you will pee on. Simply match the sample test strip with the various color shades found on the box.
There is a right way to do this and a wrong way.
The wrong way is to pee on them as soon as you get them home. Rushing to do the test will always give you a false reading, so it’s a waste of both the litmus strips and your time.
The right way is to wait and pee on them first thing in the morning after you’ve had a minimum of six hours of sleep. This will give you an accurate reading.
For some, dealing with stress and drinking cheap coffee go hand in hand. Now we have two things contributing to our acidity, shall we go for three? How about irregular eating patterns, alcohol, smoking, or lack of exercise? All these things can be acid forming. If you are a coffee drinker, don’t panic, there is an easy way around this problem. Just keep reading my posts.
Diet can also play a part, although not in a way that most seem to understand. The good news is, the body will buffer out most acidic foods, but each time it does so it depletes vital minerals. Great if you have an abundance of minerals at your disposal, not so great if you have a bad diet that’s mineral deficient. Are we there yet?
If you were paying close attention, you will have noticed that I said the kidneys and lungs help keep pH balanced. Exercise is important because it gets the lungs working. If the idea of exercise makes you cringe, then I bring good news. This following tip doesn’t require you to join a gym or buy a new pair of running shoes. Check this out.
Cells like don’t like to be stagnant but they do react well to movement
This is an exercise that isn’t dependent on the weather and you can even do it while watching your favorite television show. To do this you will need a small inexpensive yoga-type trampoline. All you have to do is bounce and then stop. Your cells don’t care, they just like to move. The idea here is to encourage you to do whatever feels comfortable.
Cells react well to movement. Imagine a balloon half filled with water. Now in your mind’s eye walk with that balloon held out in front of you. As you move, so does the water in the balloon. Now jump up and down with the balloon, this is how the energy in your cells reacts to movement. But wait there’s more!
You can pick up a mini trampoline for under 50 bucks, you could even scout around online for a used one. Using a trampoline at home means you don’t have to worry about people pointing at you in the gym. Using a trampoline means less jogging which cuts down on that harsh repetitive impact to the knees. And better still, you don’t have to worry about stray dogs trying to bite you as you run along the street. It’s a win/win.
If gentle bouncing isn’t your thang, then take a walk in any direction for 30 seconds and come right back again. Excellent, you have just exercised for a whole minute, what say tomorrow we shoot for 2 minutes?
The point is this, committing to an intense exercise program can be enough to talk some people out of doing it. Better to do a little at a time rather than none at all. It’s easy to find reasons to stay on the couch.
If you really are a couch potato, then this next tip is just for you. Whenever you go to the store make a habit of parking your car in the far corner of the parking lot. Yup, I’m talking about the corner farthest away from the store. Why?
For some folks, this might be the only walk they get. I’m not here to judge, I’m here to help. If that’s all you can do for the day then it’s important to do the best you can, not the least you can.
Walking even a short distance will get the lungs working. This, in turn, helps to contribute to the balancing of pH. If you are disabled by illness, then try to move whatever you can to get your blood pumping.
Unfortunately, the standard American diet (SAD — aptly enough) is tilted toward acidity. Fast food, fried food, soda, and sugar are all acid-forming. These foods are the exact opposite of what we need to eat to be healthy.
Take a look at the list below and see which of these things you consume on a regular basis. And this is by no means a complete list, but you can use it as a rule of thumb.
● meats are acidic
● vegetables are alkaline
● cola is acidic
● water is alkaline
● processed foods are acidic
● whole foods are alkaline
● cheese is acidic
● goat’s milk is alkaline
● lemons are acidic outside the body
● lemons become alkalizing inside the body
Some rules tend to have exceptions, and today the exception is lemons. When a lemon is sitting on your kitchen counter, it is acidic (pH below 7). But once you eat that lemon and it is fully metabolized and becomes alkalizing (pH above 7)
Rather than inundate you with a long list of foods that are highly acidic, try to keep in mind we are simply looking to keep our body in balance.
If at any point this all gets to be too much, try to remember this simple rule of thumb. At every meal cover at least half your plate with dark leafy vegetables. Doing this one thing will help keep those excessive portion sizes under control. Greens also help detoxify, and they help alkalize. Good fats are pretty important too and I’ll cover this in more detail in another post.
Now, let’s see who’s been paying attention. If I asked you for the pH of the body I’m sure most would quickly recall the numbers 7.35 and 7.45, and you would be wrong. The pH of the blood is 7.35 and 7.45 but the body also has a stomach, and boy is the stomach highly acidic — with good reason.
On the pH scale, the acid in the stomach is quite low, somewhere between 1 and 3 which can easily dissolve metal! I know what you’re thinking because I thought it too: if the acid in my stomach can dissolve metal, why doesn’t it eat right through the lining of my stomach?
That’s another great question and the short answer is that the stomach has a mucous membrane. It’s a wall of cells that are constantly replaced; as one layer burns through, another steps in to replace it.
Good digestion starts in the mouth. The more times you chew your food the less work your stomach has to do. Think of it this way, the better you chew, the better you poo. Once swallowed, food travels down a long tube called the esophagus. At the end of that tube is a small muscular valve that opens up just enough to allow the food to drop into a bath of stomach acid — splash!
This stomach acid (also known as hydrochloric acid, or HCL) needs to be strong enough to turn whatever we just ate into a liquid mush, this helps with absorption.
The stomach has been working this way since the beginning of time and you kinda have to marvel at the design. Once the food has been turned into a liquid mush it is ready to move onto the next stage.
But wait, there’s a problem. Can you see it?
Food drops down the shoot into a bath of acid — — splosh! Food turns into liquid mush; then mush oozes out a little at a time into the small intestine, so far so good, right?. Meh, not so fast…
The whole process of digestion hinges on this pivotal stage. But what if the stomach acid has become weak through illness, neglect, abuse, or simply through time?
If the acid isn’t strong enough, a whole chain reaction of negative events can begin to unfold. Not least, valuable nutrients will struggle to be fully absorbed. Obviously, we need these nutrients to power and rebuild our cells.
HEARTBURN — A BILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY
Bloating, belching, flatulence, indigestion, diarrhea, and constipation are all clues that something isn’t quite right with the stomach. In certain circumstances, a person with weak stomach acid may also suffer from heartburn. Wait a second, did you catch that?
But isn’t heartburn treated by the million-dollar antacid industry? If only it were that simple.
If this is you, my question is this: how have years of taking antacids been working for you? Has it fixed the problem or does it just keep coming back, again and again, and again?
Obviously stomach acid is strong for a reason. Some believe that antacids only add to the problem by making already low stomach acid even lower. The stomach then strives to balance itself out, but it cannot correct the problem with a belly full of alkaline pills. Now you are caught in a constant dance with yourself. Sometimes, we need to get out of the way and let the body do the job it was designed to do.
Obviously, if you are taking a prescription antacid that is something you need to work out with your doctor to ensure this approach is right for you. While you are there, it might be worth getting tested for H-pylori which is a type of bacteria ALSO known to reduce stomach acid … just sayin’.
SHIT ROLLS DOWNHILL
Its thought that a lack of stomach acid allows the valve at the end of the esophagus to open back up. This valve, also known as the lower esophageal sphincter (or LES), is a muscle that contracts much the same way the anus does. It’s job is to form an important seal to keep the acid from slipping back up into the esophagus where it can cause damage and heartburn.
Some schools of thought suggest that the LES valve has some degree of sensitivity to the acid in the stomach. When the stomach acid is too low it may be fooled into opening back up. Hence, all those antacids aren’t really helping the problem and it may be worth trying a different approach.
For now, the problem is much bigger than heartburn. Weak stomach acid has a domino effect throughout the remaining stages of digestion. The liquid mush we mentioned earlier becomes a semifluid mass of partly digested food. The fancy name for it is chyme or chymus. It’s then expelled by the stomach into the duodenum.
Without wanting to confuse you with lots of fancy names let’s just work with the primary rule of physics and say that all shit rolls downhill. And in this case, the liquid mush passes a whole bunch of important sensory checkpoints on the way down. These checkpoints scrutinize the quality of the mush (AKA chyme), but for now, we’ll just call it liquid mush.
In theory, if the quality of the stomach acid is good, so is the quality of the liquid mush. If not, then it’s a case of too bad, so sad, because when it comes to shit there really is no going backward.
Once our liquid mush enters the small intestine, enzymes are eagerly waiting to break things down even more. This can present a problem if the hydrochloric acid in the stomach is strong enough to do its job properly.
HOLD ONTO YOUR HAT, THIS IS THE TRICKY BIT
The three main enzymes the body uses to aid in digestion are amylase, protease, and lipase, but many other specialized enzymes also help in the process. Cells that line the intestines also make enzymes called maltase, sucrase, and lactase, and each is able to convert a specific type of sugar into glucose. We need these enzymes to help us absorb our nutrients.
Do we need to know all these terms as a layperson? Probably not, but I know it disturbs some people when I use terms like liquid mush and shit.- I digress …
Two more enzymes by the names of renin and gelatinase then come into play. Renin acts on proteins in milk, converting them into smaller molecules called peptides. These are then fully digested by pepsin. I know, right? Who thinks like this?
Gelatinase digests gelatin and collagen — two large proteins in meat — into moderately-sized compounds whose digestion is then completed by pepsin, trypsin, and chymotrypsin, producing amino acids. Yada, yada, yada.
HERE’S THE CRITICAL BIT
If weak stomach acid allows partially undigested food to move through the digestive system, the whole delicate balance is disrupted. A domino effect occurs as the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas also pick up on the lack of acidity in the liquid mush and react accordingly. If weak acid in the stomach isn’t doing its job optimally, it’s a safe bet that neither is anything else.
Rather than trying to bolt the stable door after the horse has fled, it might be prudent to pay particular attention to increasing stomach acid. Strong stomach acid also plays an important role in protecting us from bacteria that may be on ingested food.
In some people, it’s thought that chemotherapy can reduce stomach acid. If this is you, you may notice a sudden increase in acid reflux and this becomes all the more relevant.
We need strong stomach acid to help us break down our foods, especially proteins. Strong stomach acid also helps kill off any harmful bacteria that may come in with food. Weak stomach acid can cause a whole host of health problems.
Before we get into this next part, let me once again stress that the following information should serve as a guide only. It cannot and should not be substituted for medical advice.
Okay, here’s one way I test to see if my stomach acid is running low.
1 First thing in the morning, mix 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in 4–6 ounces of room temp water.
2 Drink the baking soda on an empty stomach.
3 Time how long it takes before you belch.
4 If you have not belched within five minutes, stop timing.
In theory, if your stomach is producing adequate amounts of stomach acid you’ll likely belch within two to three minutes. Early and repeated belching may be due to excessive stomach acid (but don’t confuse these burps with small little burps from swallowing air while drinking the solution). Any belching after 3 minutes indicates a low acid level.
Because we are all uniquely different, timeframes may vary a little. This test is only a basic indicator and you might want to do more testing to determine the level of your stomach acid with your doctor. This test is a guide and not to be considered accurate enough to rule out low stomach acid. To rule out low stomach acid you will need to also try what’s called the Heidelberg test or Betaine HCL challenge test.
If stomach acid is found to be too low, there are lots of ways to increase it. One is to use a supplement called Betaine HCL, (which is best taken with protein).
Another is to take a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (ACV) 10 mins before each meal to help increase stomach acid. Simply mix the ACV in 8 oz. of room temp water and drink (for health, not taste).
If your doctor says it’s okay to do so, you can raise your stomach acid by mixing one freshly squeezed lemon, 4 oz. of water, approximately three knuckles of chopped raw ginger, and a half teaspoon of sea salt.
Leave this mixture to pickle for a few days and then take a teaspoon of the mixture before meals. It’s an acquired taste, but if your stomach acid is low your body may even begin to crave it. As with anything new, start with a small test dose and go slow.
If you take only one thing away from this, then let it be the value of your stomach acid. Putting our health back together is a process. And slowly, piece by piece, blog by blog, we are now bringing pieces of the puzzle into view.
What did we learn from this?
We need the body to be slightly alkaline but the stomach needs to be quite acidic to help digest food. Stomach acid is super important to good health.
Homework: Check out this book