Does low vegetable consumption contribute to poor health? Yes, but maybe not in the way you might think. Besides messing with your microbiome, if you don’t eat your veggies, you may be causing your body to be too acidic.
Why does being too acidic matter?
Each system in the body needs the proper pH in which to work—whether that’s acidic, neutral, or basic. For example, the stomach requires an acidic environment, while the small intestine needs an alkaline one. Our blood is so sensitive to shifts in pH levels, that it requires our respiratory system and kidneys to work in concert to maintain a strict level between 7.35 and 7.45.
Why do we need to worry about this? During normal metabolic and biochemical functions, our bodies generate acidic waste products that must be neutralized and removed (This may be why we are usually more acidic in the morning after all those nocturnal activities). But if our lifestyle choices lead us to become overly acidic, systems can’t work and normal function is compromised. This sets the stage for developing chronic and degenerative disease.
Why are we so acidic?
Besides naturally occuring metabolic byproducts, according to Dr. Dan, MD, “Our food, water, and air are loaded with acid-forming substances like chlorine and chemical preservatives. Poor food choices, acidic ingredients, and low mineral content of food all contribute to a condition of acid overload.”
Other causes include…
- Loss of lean body mass (sarcopenia) which means we can’t buffer acids by using our muscles
- Immune system imbalance
- Deficiency of key nutrients such as vitamin D, zinc, selenium, magnesium, and potassium
- Consumption of high amounts of fat and protein with low vegetable intake (this is why keto diets require extra mineral consumption)
- High sugar intake
- Accumulation of lactic acid from alcohol, excessive exercise, inflammation, liver issues, medications like aspirin, lack of oxygen from anemia or other conditions, dehydration, etc.
- Compromised mitochondria that lead to production of more acids and less energy
- Gut dysfunction which lowers the ratio of good/bad bacteria leading to fermentation
- Aging, etc.
How does being too acidic affect our health?
We require minerals to counteract acidity. If the body is unable to naturally buffer excess acids, we take calcium and magnesium from our bones to neutralize them. Muscles might also be broken down to supply ammonia to normalize acidity. Once the process is complete, precious minerals from our now-compromised bone and broken-down muscles are lost in the urine.
If acidity is ongoing, the body may also try to buffer acids by releasing chloride molecules from our cells. Chloride usually attaches to minerals such as calcium or magnesium which counters acidity by forming salts. These salts can then get deposited in our tissues. Add to the mix salts formed by other naturally forming acids (i.e., uric acid) and you might wind up with stiffness and pain.
Acidity may also compromise oxygen delivery. Why? According to Dr. Dan, if you are acidic, oxygen doesn’t attach to the red blood cells correctly. He uses this analogy to help make this concept easier to understand. Imagine if you will, a red blood cell as a bus and oxygen, a potential passenger. With high acidity or acidosis, the passenger (oxygen) hears rumors of robbers on the bus (red blood cells) and decides not to get on. And without oxygen aboard, we are not able to make our energy effectively.
Low pH (i.e., acidic) levels lead to inflammation which can overload the body’s immune and detoxification processes. This allows viruses and bacteria to thrive and create toxic byproducts. Keeping our pH slightly alkaline may reduce the risk and lessen the severity of infections as well as lower the load on our liver.
Finally, if acidic conditions are persistent, Dr. Jeffrey Moss believes the body’s mineral reserves can run dangerously low leading to diseases such as stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, arthritis, and other degenerative disorders.
Can we adjust our diet to counteract acidity?
Most foods have both acid and alkaline minerals in them—foods with greater concentrations of acidic minerals are considered “acidic” and foods with greater concentrations of alkaline minerals are considered “alkaline.” That being said, foods high in calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and sodium are considered alkaline-forming foods. Foods rich in chloride, phosphate and sulfate are acid-forming.
Ideally, we would like about 1:3 ratio of acid to alkaline foods in our diet, but this can get confusing. Turns out it is not the acidity of the foods themselves we are really concerned with, but ]instead the response they create within the body. For example, lemons are classified as acidic, but they are actually an alkaline-forming food. How? During the normal process of digestion, the acid is turned into nonacidic carbon dioxide and water.
Acid-forming foods include dairy, grains, meats, and sugar as they are mainly metabolized into sulfuric acid. By including a large amount of alkaline foods such as fruits and vegetables in your diet, acid-forming foods can instead be metabolized into alkaline potassium bicarbonate.
Can you take supplements to counteract acidity?
Studies have shown that supplementation with magnesium (facilitated with choline citrate, according to Dr. Jaffe, MD), and/or potassium bicarbonate or citrate, can counteract an acid-forming diet and help reverse the process of osteoporosis.
Its not just the mineral but the form used. In a study published in 2006 Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, 161 postmenopausal women with low bone mass were split into 2 groups. For one year, the test group was given 1,080 mg of potassium citrate (slightly alkaline) daily. The control group was given 2,250 mg of potassium chloride (not alkaline) daily. At the end of the study, the group taking potassium citrate had a nearly 2% increase in bone at the lower spine and the hip, while the control group given potassium chloride lost 1%.
Can you get too alkaline?
Yes, if you are too alkaline, you could be limiting some metabolic activities such as digestion— which requires HCL to initiate the digestive process and breakdown and sterilize our food,
Additionally, when we become too alkaline, tissues are unable to release the oxygen when it is needed–so we end up tired, out of breath, brain-challenged, etc. Going back to our bus analogy, if the body is too alkaline as it is during alkalosis, the passenger (oxygen) gets on the bus (red blood cell), but since the outside weather is hot and muggy and the bus is air-conditioned, the oxygen decides to stay on the bus and just rides around and around making it unavailable for use.
The best way to tell is to test. According to Dr. Russell Jaffe, MD, if your pH is greater than 7.5 in your first morning urine, you might be breaking down your muscles to meet your metabolic needs while simultaneously losing ammonia in the urine.
Can you experience detox reactions while you adjust pH?
You might want to take dietary changes and supplementation slowly. According to Dr. Dan,
“If your liver or kidneys are weak and unable to detoxify the poisons mobilized by the new alkaline pH, a rash may form on your skin in 1 to 3 days. The poisons are trying to come out, but the only way left is to come out the skin and the toxins cause a rash to form.
To aid toxin removal by way of the skin, use a natural bristle brush and brush the skin from the extremities toward the heart just before getting into a hot bath with 2 cups of Epson salts in the water. Soak for 30 minutes, rewarming the water as needed. Shower afterward to rinse off the toxins. This soak pulls out quite a few toxins from the body and decreases the risk of developing a rash.
During this period of time that you are trying to increase your pH, it is imperative to be consuming 6 to 8 glasses of filtered water per day. And remember, it will take 32 glasses of highly alkaline water with a pH of 9 or more to undo the damage done by one glass of cola (pH of 2.5).”
He also recommends the use of organic castor oil packs if that is your preference. With any detox reaction, you can always use activated charcoal capsules or lots of vitamin C or Alka-Seltzer® Gold to help minimize the response.
How can I test for acidity?
You can test your first morning urinary. First-morning pH values to be between 6.5 and 7.5.
To get a feel for your acidity level, you can look at your standard blood test for CO2 and anion gap levels. We also look at the calcium-to-phosphorous ratio. A normal ratio is 2.5:1.