Last month, we began our discussion of the relationship between acid-alkaline (pH) balance and your health. This month, let's examine how and why unhealthy pH levels in your body can cause disease.
Harmful Effects Of pH Imbalances
When pH levels become imbalanced for prolonged periods of time, your body's internal environment will become either too acidic or too alkaline. In the vast majority of cases, over-acidity or acidosis, is the problem. Many health practitioners who do address pH imbalance only focus on acidosis because of how prevalent it is today. But for some people, over-alkalinity, also known as alkalosis, is at the heart of their health problems.
Although conditions of alkalosis are far rarer than acidosis, they too can cause various health problems. According to Dr. Guyton, alkalosis is primarily caused by over-consumption of drugs that produce an alkalizing effect in the body, especially the anti-heartburn preparations discussed previously, as well as prescribed ulcer medications. Alkalosis can also occur as a result of chronic diarrhea or vomiting, both of which can result in the loss of HCL and other acids. When alkalosis sets in, your body is deprived of the acids that are necessary to maintain proper balance.
The major side-effect of alkalosis is over-excitability of the nervous system. According to Dr. Guyton, "This effect occurs both in the central nervous system and in the peripheral nerves [all nerves located outside of the central nervous system], but usually the peripheral nerves are affected before the central nervous system. The nerves become so excitable that they automatically and repetitively fire even when they are not stimulated by normal stimuli." This, in turn, can lead to a condition known as tetany. This disorder is characterized by muscle spasm and/or muscle cramps that can be quite painful. Interestingly, tetany can also be caused by hyperventilation, or "over-breathing." As you learned earlier in this chapter, breathing is one of the ways that your body rids itself of excess acids. When we hyperventilate, too many acids can be eliminated, leading both to tetany and a temporary state of alkalosis.
If the peripheral nerves continue to be affected by alkalosis, eventually the central nervous system can become affected as well. Although the likelihood of this happening is not great, when it does occurs the consequences can be serious. The most common symptom is extreme nervousness due to the over stimulation of the central nervous system itself. In extreme cases, convulsions can also occur. People who suffer from epilepsy can experience seizures if their bodies become too alkaline. Such people would do well to avoid alkaline drugs, or only use them under the strict supervision of their physician.
Acidosis - The Primary Culprit
The majority of pH imbalances, however, are related to acidosis, which is caused by an excess of acids in the body's internal environment. When acid buildup occurs to the point where the body is no longer able to successfully eliminate or neutralize these acids, a host of problems can occur, including illness and, potentially, even death. Other problems related to acidosis include accelerated aging, demineralization (loss of the body's mineral stores), fatigue, impaired enzyme activity, inflammation and organ damage, and the proliferation of harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, molds, yeasts (including Candida), and viruses. Some of the most common health problems caused by chronic acidosis include:
Accelerated or premature aging is all too common in our society. This condition can be due to a variety of factors, such as the accumulation of environmental toxins in the body, stress, and nutritional deficiencies. These factors can also affect pH levels, making your body more susceptible to disease. When your body's cells are continually exposed to an overly acidic environment, their cell structure can become altered, meaning that the cells walls lose their integrity. When viewed under a microscope, such cells, instead of being round and having noticeably strong walls, look bent and misshapen, with cell walls that are thin and weak. In addition, their ability to function properly can be diminished, as can their ability to effectively communicate with other cells. Over time, this state of deterioration causes the cells to make "mistakes" as they seek to repair and regenerate themselves by manufacturing the proteins that are essential to this process.
Heat shock protein, in particular, can play a vital role in this process. Heat shock protein is a substance required by your body to facilitate cellular repair. It does so by aiding in the disposal of old or damaged proteins, while helping to build and transport new proteins. Acidosis impairs your body's ability to produce this substance. When less heat shock protein is produced as a result of over-acidity, this repair process can be seriously hampered. Such mistakes can trigger premature cell death as a result of the wrong proteins being manufactured, or because the right proteins are not being manufactured in their proper quantity. When this happens, shortages of substances such as collagen and elastin, both of which are essential for healthy, wrinkle-free skin, can arise, as well as impairment of your body's internal organ systems. All of which sets the stage for accelerated aging to occur, as well.
Acidosis can also impair proper brain function, which is also associated with aging. An overly acidic internal environment inhibits neuron function. Neurons are nerve cells that help initiate and conduct impulses from the brain. When neurons are unable to function properly, symptoms such as "brain fog," forgetfulness, and impaired mental acuity are more apt to occur.
Your body draws upon its alkaline mineral stores in order to buffer or neutralize excess acids. While occasional withdrawal of these minerals is not likely to pose a problem, during chronic acidosis, the loss of such minerals, which include calcium, potassium, and magnesium, can pose serious health risks. Since these minerals are stored in all body tissues, their loss can potentially affect any of your body's organs. But it is your bones and teeth that are most especially affected by demineralization.
Dr. Susan Brown, a world-renowned expert in osteoporosis, points out that this condition is virtually nonexistent in cultures around the world that traditionally eat whole foods that help foster a balanced pH. In her book, Better Bones, Better Body, she states, "In our society, we consume a very imbalanced diet high in acid-forming foods. This imbalanced diet pushes us towards an acid state...[E]xcessive and prolonged acidity can drain bone of calcium reserves and lead to bone thinning." As this thinning process occurs, our bones lose their flexibility increasing our risk for developing osteoporosis. We become far more susceptible to age-related fractures such as in the hip fractures. Rheumatism caused by inflamed joints can also develop, as can degeneration of spinal disks, potentially leading to conditions such as chronic back pain and sciatica.
Demineralization can also lead to tooth problems, since loss of calcium makes teeth more brittle and more susceptible to chipping. Your teeth may also start to experience sensitivity to hot and cold foods, and be more prone to develop cavities. Tooth decay and cavities, so prevalent in children today, are almost always caused primarily by a steady diet of acid-forming foods, such as the sugared cereals, sodas, and fast-food meals. Other common results of demineralization include dry and cracking skin, brittle and thinning hair, fingernails that crack or split easily, and bleeding and oversensitive gums.
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms among my clients whose bodies start to become overly acidic. As over-acidity grows worse, so, too, does fatigue. The reason for this is simple and straightforward: Acidosis creates an internal environment in the body that is not conducive to optimal energy production. In an overly acidic environment, your body's blood supply of oxygen diminishes making oxygen less available to the cells, tissues, and organs.
Lack of oxygen interferes with your body's ability to carry out function like cell repair. It also impairs the ability of the mitochondria (your cell's internal "energy factories") to function. When the mitochondria are not well protected and properly fed-both consequences of acidosis and diminished oxygen supply-their ability to communicate with each other breaks down. This, in turns, compromises the mitochondria's energy production, leading to fatigue.
In an anaerobic (low oxygen) environment, toxins and harmful microorganisms are also better able to flourish and proliferate. As they do so, they interfere with our body's ability to absorb and utilize nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. This malabsorption of nutrients makes it much more difficult for your body to manufacture the enzymes, hormones, and numerous other biochemicals it requires for energy production, proper organ activity, and cellular repair. Blood sugar levels can also be affected, further affecting fatigue and impairing physical endurance. Microorganisms such as yeasts and fungus can also disturb electrolyte balance.
Electrolytes act as conductors of electricity throughout your body and play a vital role in cellular activity. When they become imbalanced, the normal flow of energy in your body is reduced. If all of these factors are left unchecked, the result is chronic fatigue. This explains why people who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) invariably also suffer from acidosis. In my experience, it is the acidosis that came first. By understand it, treating it, and resolving it, you can also free yourself from fatigue and regain your energy.
Impaired Enzyme Activity
According to Edward Howell, M.D., author of Enzyme Nutrition, and the person responsible for pioneering the use of enzyme therapy in the United States, "Enzymes are substances that make life possible. No mineral, vitamin, or hormone can do any work without enzymes. They are the manual workers that build the body from proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. The body may have the raw building materials, but without the workers it cannot begin."
Thousands of different types of enzymes are manufactured by the body. Each one of them acts as a specific biological catalyst that is necessary for stimulating a particular biochemical reaction. Enzymes are necessary for every single process that the body performsincluding breathing, digestion, immune function, reproduction, proper organ function as well as speech, thought, and movement. But enzymes can only perform their multitude of tasks correctly within specific pH levels.
If these pH levels become imbalanced, as they do with acidosis, enzyme function becomes disrupted. In some instances, enzyme activity can cease altogether as a result of unhealthy pH levels. When this happens, illness occurs. Initially, the illness will usually be mild in nature, but it can quickly become more severe if nothing is done to restore the body's proper acid-alkaline balance. If this process is left unchecked, an illness can become life-threatening. If enzyme function is completely shut down due to unhealthy pH levels, eventually death will ensue.
Many holistic physicians recommend supplementing with digestive and metabolic enzymes in order to safeguard against such health-sapping effects. For some people, this can be absolutely vital for restoring their health. Overall, however, enzyme supplementation will not achieve lasting positive results so long as your body remains in a state of chronic acidosis. Since it is the over-acidity that is the underlying cause of enzyme malfunction, it makes far better sense to restore the internal environment to its proper acid-alkaline balance in order to keep this problem from recurring.
Inflammation and Organ Damage
The excess acids that build up in the body due to an overly acidic pH are corrosive and can be damaging to the tissues and organs with which they come into contact. If not neutralized or eliminated, they can cause lesions and hardening of organ tissues, as well as potentially inflammation. The kidneys and skin, both organs through which acids are eliminated, can be particularly affected when the amount of acid is greater than they are designed by nature to get rid of. When the skin is affected, conditions such as hives, eczema, blotching, and itching can occur as a direct result of acidic sweat passing through the sweat glands. When excess acid buildup occurs in the kidneys, urination can become painful and the urinary tract can become inflamed, causing a painful, burning sensation during urination. Infection can also occur, leading to conditions such as cystitis, a type of bladder inflammation that is often accompanied by urinary tract infection.
Inflammation caused by acid buildup can occur anywhere in the body, leading to illnesses ending with "-itis," a suffix used to indicate an inflammatory condition. Inflammation of the joints can cause arthritis, for example, while inflammation of the nerves can lead to neuritis, inflammation in the lungs can cause bronchitis. Inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract can result in colitis or enteritis. Another sign of inflammation in the body is burning pains in various other organs.
Tissues affected by acid buildup can not only be damaged, they can also become more susceptible to infection, due to lesions that allow invading microorganisms to more easily penetrate cells and tissues. Once such penetration occurs, these same microorganisms also have an easier time growing in numbers within the affected area.
Compounding this problem is the fact that acid buildup also impairs immune function. In a state of acidosis, production of white blood cells is diminished, and the white blood cells that are manufactured are of reduced strength. Since white blood cells play a vital role in your body's ability to target and destroy invading microbes, their diminished numbers and capacity resulting from excess acids in the body makes it easier for disease to take hold.
Proliferation of Harmful Microorganisms
When the pH of the blood remains consistently below 7.365, the bloodstream becomes a breeding ground for harmful microorganisms, much like a stagnant swamp. This happens because acidosis reduces the available oxygen supply in the bloodstream, and microorganisms thrive in the absence of optimum oxygen levels. In 1931, German researcher Dr. Otto Warburg was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery that cancer cells cannot exist in an oxygen-rich environment.
When the oxygen supply in the bloodstream is diminished, various cells within the body revert to what Warburg termed a "primitive" state, no longer deriving energy from oxygen, but from the fermentation of sugar in the form of glucose. This creates large amounts of lactic acid, a waste product of this fermentation. And it is this lactic acid that further diminishes available oxygen levels which disrupts the acid-alkaline balance. What's important to realize here is that it was the lack of oxygen that set this process in motion in the first place, and the lack of oxygen was caused by unhealthy acids level in the bloodstream. By maintaining a balanced pH, all of this can be avoided.
The same anaerobic condition that causes cells to devolve and potentially turn cancerous, is also ideal for the proliferation of bacteria, fungi, molds, yeasts (including Candida), and viruses. These microorganisms also subsist by fermenting glucose, which under healthy conditions is used by your body to supply energy. In addition, they divert fats and proteins normally used by your body for regeneration and other functions, using them for their own reproduction. In this way, the microorganisms are able to spread throughout the body, targeting weak areas and breaking down tissue and interfering with the bodily processes that are essential for good health. Now that you understand why these and other health problems are so closely related to your body's pH levels, you can also see why maintaining a balanced pH is so important to your health. Next month, you'll learn how you can monitor your body's pH and discover how you can easily and effectively achieve and maintain healthy acid-alkaline balance by making some simple changes to how you eat.