In nutrition circles, there is an ongoing debate about the importance of pH in the body. In normal human physiology there are variations in acidity or alkalinity in different areas, from the strong acidity of stomach acid to an equally strong alkalinity in the small intestine where bicarbonate is released. Your blood stays at an almost constant pH of 7.365, slightly basic, while a healthy large intestine should be slightly acidic. These normal variations aside, the only areas where pH tends to vary from individual to individual is in the urine and saliva.
In part due to this disparity in salivary and urine pH (vacillating between acid and alkaline) the nutritional theory of eating foods that induce a certain pH has sprung up and gained quite a following in the field of holistic medicine. The basic theory (no pun intended) posits that what you eat alters the pH of your body and that food and drink that produces a net acid effect are harmful while those that produce and maintain a net alkaline effect are beneficial and prevent disease. Adherents of this theory monitor their dietary efforts by using pH test strips to ensure that their urine is a weak base – just above 7.0 (which is neutral) on the pH scale.
In general, grains and meats metabolize into acidifying compounds while the leftover mineral salts from fruits and vegetables are alkalizing. Put metaphorically, the fires of your metabolism burn the foods you eat into ash; this residual ash is either alkaline, acidic, or neutral. These metabolic end-products then get processed by your kidneys resulting in a urine that tests either acidic or basic depending on the net resultant pH of that meal. Although it is accepted that foods you eat do affect the pH of your urine, I have always been hesitant to adopt the assumption that consuming foods that create a net alkaline effect is categorically beneficial.
Within the field of medical anthropology, we know that different indigenous peoples would have a more acidic or alkaline diet depending on their environment and the foods they had access to. In the work of Dr. Weston A. Price, one can clearly see robust health in indigenous people eating either acid-forming or alkaline-forming foods. More to the point, there was little choice for what these people could subsist on. Either they ate what was available to them, whether acid-forming or alkaline-forming, or they would perish. If robust health was observed throughout these peoples, we can conclude that the body has adapted numerous evolutionary safeguards to ensure that blood pH will not deviate much. In essence, it is not only possible but a matter of survival that we can eat either a net acid-forming or alkaline-forming diet and live a long, healthy and happy life.
Because humans are adapted to either pH climate, we can not assume that one state is always better for all people, all the time. A more reasonable approach is to consider urine pH as a marker of what you should already know about your body; that is, to eat the foods that make you feel good. Most people (but certainly not all) feel best when plant foods compose a large portion of their diet. This would create an alkaline urine in those individuals and testing this would provide feedback that they are getting a sufficient amount of alkalizing minerals, particularly potassium and magnesium. Alkaline ash minerals support the function of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Others’ metabolisms might benefit from a diet rich in animal protein and fat and do perfectly well consuming properly prepared grains, thus producing a net acidic urine. These individuals still require a fair amount of alkalizing minerals but also do well with a higher amount of the nutrients found in acid-forming foods, such as phosphorus, which support the function of the sympathetic nervous system.
As one example of this, nutrition researcher Royal Lee correlated states of over-acidity and over-alkalinity with a number of health concerns including variations of mental illness. He described those with a tendency to be over-acid as being prone to nervous irritability, dry mouth, and sensitivity to light and closed spaces. The over-alkaline person is described as being more susceptible to muscle and joint stiffness (particularly in the morning), indigestion, and poor circulation including cold hands and feet. An over-alkaline state is also correlated with allergies and asthma.
This manner of dichotomy comes as no surprise to anyone trained in traditional Chinese medicine where the basics of nature are divided into the philosophical concepts of yin and yang. These opposites states of being can also be used to describe an individual’s constitution. Where one person runs cold with poor circulation (yin) another will be very warm and prone to irritability (yang). The treatment principle is to assess one’s constitution and provide foods and remedies that offer the counterbalance. This would ultimately translate into selecting foods that would be more acid for the yin type and more alkaline for a yang type. To those who are more in touch with their body’s needs, this is a very common sense approach.
Being mindful of one’s constitution, it would be wise to avoid the allure of urine pH to guide your dietary choices. Instead, starting with whole, unprocessed foods and selecting foods that provide you with the most vitality is, and perhaps always will be, the best strategy. If you’ve done your due diligence in this regard, you won’t need a urine pH test to confirm what you now already know. After all, if our ancestors needed to be cognizant of the net pH effect of their metabolism in order to live healthfully, we might have died out as a species a long time ago.