Saturday, 10 November 2012

The Lowdown on Low-Acid

Over the past few months, I have received nothing but information overload on low-acid diets and how they protect against and even treat disease states. Whilst I fully understand the reasoning behind the theory (ie. that reducing the levels of acididty in the body can be enormously beneficial to health and well-being, not to mention alleviating the disease state), it is virtually impossible to find any proper scientific study to support this theory. In short, what this regime proposes is that certain foods lowers the pH of the body making it acidic (in effect the blood and quite possibly the cells) and that switching to a diet that does not promote this will be significantly beneficial not only in healthy individuals but particularly in those who have an illness. To define this more clearly, one needs to address the term 'healthy'. It is fair to say that most individuals operate in a state of 'ill-health' as opposed to being at optimum level. In so-called healthy individuals, the body has a number of mechanisms and somewhat elaborate strategies to combat the fluctuations of blood pH with a sophisticated and effective buffering system that maintains blood at a steady and tightly controlled pH of around 7.35-7.45. So in its normal state, this is slightly alkaline and even my most weakest student of physiology will be able to give chapter and verse about the acid-base balance that exists in healthy individuals. However, it is not to say that low acid diets do not have merit. This is especially true of those who have a serious illness and a profound disease state such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and many others.

The body exists in a perpetual state of flux, that is to say that our daily interactions with the environment (including our diet and lifestyle) means that the body cannot remain static and cellular changes occur every second of the day (and even in sleep, there is activity). These activities are carried out by a number of mechanisms (too many to mention here) that keeps our internal environment at its optimal state (including pH - a measure of acidity or alkalinity based on the extent of hydrogen ions that are present in tissues and the blood). However, modern lifestyles have presented unique challenges to human physiology far removed from its original design and purpose.It has to process foods that it does not recognise, it has to detoxify medicinal drugs and other compounds from our lifestyle choices such as nicotine, tobacco and alcohol, it has to maintain hormone levels and gut flora at optimal levels despite triggers that stimulate huge variances and being eroded (respectively) through unnatural levels of stress, often prolonged bouts of stress, in fact, everything about our modern lifestyles encourages an acidic state.... I could go on. Accummulation of acidity over the years could, in part account for the denegerative state later on in life but again, there is very little scientific evidence to substantiate this. What is clear however, is that it is not surprising that the human body is put through its paces on a daily basis and illness is as a consequence of this pressure. Restoring balance is nothing new to medicine or treatment strategy. The reason the body fails is due very much to the loss of balance or equilibrium. In disease states, normal function (physiology) is lost therefore restoring this balance is paramount for the recovery process. This is certainly not a surprise nor indeed a new concept in the treatment and management of disease. However, one needs to examine the details and I for one am not going to dismiss the potential benefits that certain diets can offer especially if conventional approaches have reached their limit.

Low acid diets are a particular favourite of those who advocate natural approaches to cancer. Why cancer? Well cancer thrives in high acidity and low oxygen environments, not to mention the fact it is one of the biggest killers of the 21st century with little prospect of a cure on the horizon. Moreover, acidic conditions also impact detrimentally on immune function leading to all sorts of susceptibilities, complications and manifestations leading to illness and disease. So what are the strategies to combatting the acidic conditions in the body and to ensure a pathway to recovery and well-being?
Acid-Alkaline Food Chart
In addition to the usual suspects (ie. lifestyle, diet, stress-management), the following foods are examples of what should be eaten. It is important to say that no food in its natural state is 'bad' unless it is unrecognisable as food, loaded with toxins or simply dangerously unsafe for human consumption. Equally, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that low acid foods will combat cancer. However, the only piece of evidence to date has been  a study conducted in 2009 showing that oral consumption of bicarbonate (an alkaline substance that will reduce acidity) inhibits the spread of breast cancer tumours in mice. Encouragingly however, another study conducted in 2011 showed that a low acid diet may be useful in treating laryngopharangeal reflux but more research is needed to firmly establish the role that acid plays in the disease state. A more detailed list of suggested foods is also shown here.

List of alkaline-producing and acid-producing foods.
Remember, before embarking on any kind of strict diet especially the above, it is best to seek the advice of a specialist as many of these so-called 'acid-promoting foods are incredibly nutritious and vital for health and well-being. For more information about the benefits of low acid diets, the physiological mechanisms of acid-base balance go to: