A mystery has been solved. I’ve wondered why I’ve been seeing so many gallons of water labeled “alkaline water” in the water section lately. I frequent the water section, because I buy bottled water (or, that is, I refill bottles I bring from home, from the reverse osmosis machine at Walmart) for one of my fish tanks, and I had to buy that one bottle of distilled water for the moona.
Turns out, alkalized food and water is the latest fad cure-all. I’ve been out of the loop.
This morning, I was aimlessly Googling various treatments for insomnia, to see what new things were rumbling on the horizon, and discovered alkaline diets. It would seem the latest theory of general dysfunction is “acid in the body.” Just about every “naturopathic,” and otherwise unregulated advice site connects insomnia with your body becoming acidic.
So, just as my internal skeptic is snorting “Yeah, right, hah,” I’m reminding it that renal tubular acidosis and lactic acidosis are real diseases, and symptoms of the latter can be induced in healthy people by overly strenuous exercise. In fact, while it wasn’t ever diagnosed, I think I probably put myself into lactic acidosis once in basic training, when I was determined to make the run in under time, a couple of days before the third PT test.
My calves started to hurt a couple of blocks before the stopping point, but I ignored the shooting pains. Muscle aches in basic training were common as the color green. Then they got worse. Alarmingly worse, but at that point, we were in sight of our gear, and I kept going. Each time one of my feet came down, the jolt sent a shock up my leg—until it stopped, and I felt nothing. I ran the last 100 feet or so on numb legs, and collapsed onto my gear. Literally collapsed. A couple of meters from my own gear, my knees buckled, and I crawled and tumbled to my own stuff. A drill sergeant talked us through cooling down and stretching, but I sat still with my legs out in front of me—I had to use my hands to stretch them out, because I couldn’t move them. I wanted them where I could see them, as I waited for feeling to return. They at least looked the same.
Feeling came back in waves of increasing pain radiating down and out from my thighs, and hurting so much in my toes, it felt like they were in vise grips, but finally I could move my legs. It was still dark out, and either none of the drill sergeants noticed me, or chose to ignore me. I was generally hard-working and cooperative, so the fact that I wasn’t doing the cool-down stretches would have signaled a problem, rather than laziness or insubordination. I was fully prepared to say I needed to go to on sick call, but also hoping, hoping, hoping, maybe even praying a little– I don’t remember– that they’d just ignore me until time to stand up and march, and by then, I’d be able to do so.
I did. I stood up on legs that were stiff and hard to operate, but they were working, and no longer painful. I got in the back of the formation, and marched. By the time we arrived at the barracks, my legs were back to normal. A shower and chow later, and it was nearly forgotten. It didn’t happen again, and my time on the run significantly improved afterwards. I didn’t merely slide in under the clock, with the minimal 60 points– I came in so fast, I scored 92 points (the highest score possible is 100, and I hit that by my first PT test in AIT). So I chalked it up to ordinary muscle pain, decided I’d worked through it, and was good to go.
I’d just turned 27, and had never heard of lactic acid, let alone the idea that it could build up in muscles during strenuous exercise. Years and the invention of the internet later, someone mentioned it during a training at work, so I went home and Googled it.
I have no way of knowing exactly what happened to me that morning in February, 1994; by the time I Googled “lactic acid build-up during exercise,” it was 2007. It’s certainly what could have happened.
I could even have been slightly dehydrated, because for all their nagging us about drinking water throughout the day, the DSs didn’t have us drink anything right after rising, before going out for PT. That would have been the best prevention for this, since hydrating is the best thing for exercise-induced acidosis– and it needn’t be “alkalized water.” Ordinary tap water will do. Having us wear our web gear in order to carry canteens on the run, or just bring them with us, so we could drink immediately before and after would have been good as well.
The idea that I’d somehow “worked my way through it” might not have been too far off either, since people do develop a higher and higher tolerance for lactic acid, and at some point, will divert blood to the liver for help in cleaning out excess acid. It shouldn’t need to be said that my “all at once” strategy was not the best, though, and tolerance should be built up little by little.
So, lactic acid build-up in muscles of healthy people is a real thing; pH imbalance in the blood of people with kidney disease is also a real thing.
But the theory I have stumbled across, that is pervasive right now, and the latest “responsible for all ills” is an overly acidic “body.” “Body”? what does that mean? There are a lot of fluids in the body, each one with its individual pH level, and they are not all the same. Some of them, like urine, naturally vary in pH, because they get rid of waste, so if waste happens to consist of things that are acidic or basic, your urine will reflect this. Otherwise, urine naturally is slightly acidic as a bactericide.
Blood has a tightly controlled pH of right around 7.4. Much variation from that is a huge problem, but your body maintains that tight control. Saliva will be slightly acidic, because it needs to dissolve food you put into your mouth. Stomach acid is highly acidic, to churn up whatever you eat, then your intestines neutralize the acid by being highly alkaline. Both your stomach and intestines have thick mucous layers to protect the tissue from the corrosive secretions.
The stomach, in fact, is so acidic, that eating lots of alkaline supplements, or drinking alkaline water, is pretty useless, because as soon as it hits your stomach acid, it is neutralized.
To double-check my memory from high school and college biology, I went to the website, Quackwatch, and searched for “alkaline diet.” I also went to the Journal of the American Medical Association, to see what the ultimate authority on matters of health in the US had to say. There wasn’t much, and nothing really on point. But as Cicero said, “the exception proves the rule is valid in all other situations.” If JAMA is not ignoring alkaline diets altogether, but is ignoring the idea of some kind of global acidosis as a cause of all ills, or what Quackwatch unabashedly calls quackery, then quackery it likely is.
Just for fun, I got some pH test strips from my aquarium supply, and checked various bodily fluids of mine. Urine was about a 6. Spit was 6.5. Blood was trickier—I used my glucose testing kit to get a drop of blood onto the litmus test strip, and of course, it was red. I had to look carefully with a magnifier around the edges, where serum but not red cells had soaked into the strip. Yes, it looked pretty much in between the 7 & the 8 colors, which was right where it should be. Of course, the really relevant fluids, like cerebrospinal fluid, were out of my hands, but I did check a couple of other fluids. Sweat, which has a wide range of normal, was in range, and close to neutral. Other fluids were normal.
The thing about bodily fluids being acidic, is that every single one of them either operates at a very narrow pH (like blood), and there are systems in place to keep it there (the kidneys), or the fluid is supposed to be getting rid of waste (urine), and the pH should vary, because it is carrying out excess acidic or alkali material that has been cleared by the systems keeping those tightly controlled fluids tightly controlled.
I never did discover by what mechanism acidosis was supposed to keep me awake, anyway. Most sources I found said it causes drowsiness, fatigue, and confusion. I chase drowsiness and fatigue.
However, I did find this: it is possible the modern US diet is overtaxing the control systems. High protein diets, which most US diets are, are hard on the kidneys, because protein is amino acids, which are, well, acids. When you eat way more protein than you need, your kidneys are in overdrive, clearing it all from your bloodstream. And US diets tend to have almost 100% more protein than they need. An adult man needs at the outmost, about 60g, and a woman needs about 50g, but each gets about 100g. Even vegetarians tend to get too much– about 75g per day.
You can’t neutralize amino acids by consuming alkaline water when you eat protein. Chemical reactions are taking place at a different level than the one reached by alkaline water and protein that has not been broken down (and remember, once alkaline water hits your stomach, it’s neutralized). You need the “laboratory” of your kidneys, which get rid of the excess protein in your urine by taking the amino acids after the intestines have broken down the protein, and converting them to organic acids. BTW, your kidneys will pull calcium from your bones to process this chemical reaction, so if you want to eat excess protein, get lots of calcium as well.
But better just not to eat the excess protein in the first place.
And, apparently your kidneys like it when you eat fresh fruit and raw vegetables.
That’s already a pretty good description of my diet. No meat. Fresh fruit, raw vegetables, lots of yogurt, some cheese. A little bit of bread and peanut butter. Occasional eggs, or legumes and rice.
So, that’s a wash. Acidosis is not keeping me awake.
*Sigh* I guess that would have been too easy.