The alkaline diet: What you need to know
Can you really change the pH level of your blood? Following an alkaline diet may help you lose weight and reduce your cancer risk, but not for the reasons you think.
The alkaline diet is one of many trendy diets that claims to improve your health, help you lose weight and even fight cancer. But is all of that true? To learn more about this diet we spoke to Maria Petzel, an MD Anderson senior clinical dietitian. Here’s what she had to say.
What is the alkaline diet?
The alkaline diet is based on a theory that some foods cause your body to produce acid, which is harmful.
The hope is that by eating certain foods or drinking certain kinds of beverages, you can change the body’s acid level, also called its pH levels. The pH scale measures how acidic or basic something is, on a scale of 0-14. Something that is alkaline is on the basic end of the scale, or greater than 7.
There is a school of thought that changing the body’s pH level can improve your health and help you lose weight.
What is the link between the alkaline diet and cancer?
Some studies have shown that cancer cells thrive in highly acidic environments – in other words, environments with a low pH. Proponents of the alkaline diet believe that if you eat a diet high in alkaline foods (high pH) and limit acidic foods, you can raise the body’s pH levels (make the body more alkaline) and make your body a poor environment for cancer.
However, the studies suggesting that an acidic environment help cancer cells grow studied cells in a dish. They do not represent the complex nature of how tumors behave in the human body.
More importantly, there’s no way the foods you consume can alter the pH levels of your blood. The pH of the body is a tightly regulated. If you change your diet you may see changes in the pH of your saliva or urine because these are waste products, but there’s no way you could ever eat enough alkaline food that it impacts your blood.
Is the alkaline diet harmful?
The alkaline diet basically reinforces good, old-fashioned healthy eating. The diet recommends eating more vegetables, fruits and drinking lots of water and cutting back on sugar, alcohol, meat and processed foods. All of these things will help improve your overall health, help you lose weight and even help lower your cancer risk – just not for the reasons proponents of the diet claim.
This diet can also help reduce inflammation. Inflammation is a natural response to injury and infection, but too much inflammation – also known as chronic inflammation - can cause DNA damage and lead to cancer. So eating foods that reduce inflammation can help reduce your cancer risk.
We’ve seen alkaline water at the store. What is that and how does it impact your health?
While we can’t comment on specific brands, most so-called alkaline waters are just bottled mineral waters that should neither help nor harm you. Just like food, this water could change the pH levels of your saliva or urine, but not your blood.
What should someone considering starting the alkaline diet know?
If you’re considering starting any diet, it’s important to talk your doctor first. You should know that the changes you make to your diet will not impact the pH levels of your blood, but they could have a positive effect on your overall health.
We recommend eating a plant-based diet full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans/lentils, and nuts and seeds and cutting back on meat, processed food and alcohol.