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pH Balance and Your Health (Part 1)

Acid-alkaline balance, also known as balanced pH, is one of the most vital factors necessary for achieving and maintaining good health. Too often, however, Health Experts ignore acid-alkaline balance. This is a mistake, one that can potentially lead to serious health problems for their patients. Is your body in balance; are you too acidic; or are you too alkaline? Let's begin by learning more about what pH and acid-alkaline balance really mean.

What Is pH?

pH refers to the relative concentration of hydrogen ions in a solution, such as blood, urine, and saliva. The term itself was first defined in 1909 by a Danish biochemist named Soren Peter Lauritz Sorenson. Since that time it has been used to measure the acidic, alkaline, or neutral properties of various solutions and compounds. In terms of health, pH is a measurement of the acid-alkaline ratio of the body's fluids and tissues. When this ratio is balanced, good health results. When it is imbalanced-either too acidic or too alkaline-the body's internal environment is negatively impacted, setting the stage for disease to take hold.

pH is measured on a scale of 0 to 14. A pH of 7.0 is considered neutral, while values below 7 show a greater concentration of positively charged hydrogen ions compared to negatively charged ions. Conversely, a pH value greater than 7 indicates a higher concentration of negatively charged ions. A pH reading below 7 is an indication of acidity, and reading above 7 indicates an alkaline condition.

In order to thrive, your body's blood chemistry needs to be slightly alkaline. For a state of optimal health to exist, the pH of your blood should be 7.365. When your pH blood reading moves too far below or above this number and remains that way, the inevitable result is that you will become sick. Some people who are chronically ill have a blood pH that is overly alkaline. The majority of people suffering from chronic illness suffer from an unbalanced blood pH that is far too acidic. When this state of over-acidity becomes chronic, a number of serious threats to your health can arise. This occurs because the bloodstream fluids change to an environment that diminishes the body's internal oxygen supply and supports disease-producing microorganisms.

Not all parts of the body operate within the same pH range. This is becausethere are different levels of acidity and alkalinity in which your body's various organs, tissues, and fluids can function optimally. For these reactions to be performed as nature intended, a particular pH range is necessary. Small changes in pH levels can profoundly affect the body's overall function and energy levels.

Both saliva and urine have a wide range of pH values, yet health can still exist as long as these ranges are not exceeded or diminished. Blood pH, on the other hand, must be maintained within a much narrower range for health to also be maintained, and this is why many physicians maintain that the blood pH reading is the most important determinant of your body's acid-alkaline balance.

How Your Body Regulates pH

Because appropriate pH levels are so vital to maintaining proper body function, nature designed a number of related mechanisms that help regulate the acid-alkaline balance of the body's fluids, organs, and tissues. These mechanisms work in two ways: either by eliminating excess acid, or by neutralizing acid by drawing upon the body's mineral stores. Let's examine how each of these self-regulating processes work.

Eliminating Acids
Elimination of acids is chiefly accomplished by the kidneys and lungs, and to a lesser extent, through the skin. Your kidneys play a vital role in helping to regulate blood pH, by helping to eliminate what are known as fixed or solid acids, such as uric and sulfuric acids. When pH levels become too acidic, the kidneys excrete additional hydrogen ions into the urine, while retaining extra sodium. This process filters fixed acids out of the bloodstream, diluting them so that they can be eliminated in the urine. Phosphate (a form of the mineral phosphorus) is required for this to occur, and if enough reserves are not available, the body draws phosphorus directly from its bones.

In cases of extreme acidity, the kidneys excrete aluminum ions, which contain four types of hydrogen, into the urine. In cases where the body is too alkaline, this process is reversed, with the kidneys retaining more hydrogen and excreting extra sodium. But the kidneys are only able to eliminate a set amount of acids each day, no matter how hard they work to achieve this process. When the buildup of fixed acids exceeds the kidneys' maximum daily capacity for elimination, problems can occur. Signs that your body is too acidic include cloudy and/or rust-colored urine, and/or a noticeable urine odor. When acidic buildup is particularly high, a burning sensation can also accompany urination. It's important to note, however, that changes in urine color and odor can also be due to other factors, including various disease conditions.

As you breathe, your lungs also help to regulate acid-alkaline balance. During the breathing process, carbon dioxide combines with water in the blood to form a type of acid called carbonic acid. Respiration helps remove carbonic acid from the bloodstream, thus decreasing acidity. Your rate of respiration varies depending on how acidic or alkaline your body is. In conditions of over-acidity, your respiratory rate will tend to become faster, as your body attempts to remove higher levels of carbonic acid to help bring acid-alkaline levels back into balance. Similarly, in conditions of excess alkalinity, respiration rates tend to slow down, as the body seeks to retain acids to reduce alkaline levels.

The sweat glands in your skin also help to eliminate acids. As we perspire, acids are flushed out of your body. On average, you eliminate nearly one quart of sweat every 24 hours, compared to about one and a half quarts of urine that is eliminated during the same period. In addition, smaller concentrations of acids are carried away by sweat than by urine. Body odor associated with perspiration is usually a strong indicator that your body is too acidic.

Neutralizing Acid Buildup
Neutralization of acids can occur during the digestive process and through cellular metabolism. When you eat a meal, as the foods you consume are digested, both the stomach and pancreas secrete substances that can affect acid-alkaline balance. As these secretions are absorbed into the bloodstream during digestion, they are then circulated throughout the rest of the body. The stomach secretes hydrochloric acid (HCL) to help the body breakdown food. This, in turn, causes the pancreas to secrete bicarbonate, a form of acid salt that neutralizes, or buffers, HCL after it performs its function. If HCL is not neutralized, it can interfere with the pancreatic enzymes that are also necessary for proper digestion.

Usually, these secretions create temporary corresponding changes in blood pH called acid and alkaline tides. But once the digestive process is complete, the blood pH soon returns to normal. However, poor diet as well as the other factors can interfere with this process causing these secretions to become unbalanced. When this happens, it can create havoc in the body.

The most common symptom of this imbalance is heartburn, due to over-acidity. Often we take heartburn medications, such as Tums, Rolaids, and Alka-Seltzer, for this problem, which offer temporary relief of these symptoms. They do not, however, address heartburn's underlying causes. Studies indicate that when these antacids are used on a regular basis, they can actually make the problem worse. They can disrupt the acid-alkaline balance, and interfere with your body's ability to properly absorb folic acid, vitamin B12, and many of the minerals essential for good health.

Ironically, the ads you see on TV for heartburn medications imply that heartburn is due to excess production of stomach acid (HCl). In actuality, this isn't true. Research published as early as the 1960s, in peer-reviewed medical journals such as Lancet, indicated that in most cases of abnormal HCl production, too little HCl is being produced, not too much. This is especially true as we get older. When HCl is lacking, certain foods, especially proteins, are only partially digested, which can lead to fermentation of undigested food particles in the stomach, resulting in mucus buildup in along the intestinal tract, which, if it persists, can interfere with your body's ability to absorb and metabolize nutrients. But lack of HCl production is not the only potential cause of over-acidity.

Too little bicarbonate production by the pancreas can also cause over-acidity. Diarrhea, which diminishes the body's bicarbonate supply, and vomiting, which can result in loss of stomach acid, can also cause problems. However, the most common underlying culprit is poor diet--often accompanied by eating too much or eating too fast (gulping down meals without allowing the food to be properly chewed and digested). In the vast majority of cases, when dietary habits improve, heartburn and digestive-related issues resolve themselves automatically.

Not only is the body blessed by nature with various methods of controlling normal blood pH levels, it also has similar inherent mechanisms designed to regulate the acid-alkaline balance within each individual cell. This is primarily accomplished in two ways. In the first method regulation is achieved by pumps within the cell membrane. It is through these pumps that hydrogen molecules enter and exit the cells. In order for this process to properly occur, phosphorus and magnesium are required. When they are not readily available, the body will pull them from bone and/or various organs. If forced to do so on a regular basis, our body will eventually move out of homeostasis, setting the stage for illness to occur. In the second method of cellular regulation, internal cellular pH levels are maintained by the cells themselves, which alter chemical reactions depending on how much or how little hydrogen needs to be produced.

In addition to these methods, when pH imbalances are prolonged, the body will seek to compensate for them by drawing out various minerals, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium, from bones and organs. It does so in order to neutralize the buildup of acids and then safely eliminate them. But if the body has to resort to such methods for long periods, it places itself under internal strain. Such stress of this nature can eventually create great damage to the body, causing premature aging, excessive weight gain, lack of energy, and impaired digestion and elimination, among a host of other conditions.

Next month, we'll take a deeper look at how pH imbalances causes these problems and can lead to chronic, degenerative disease.

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