Alkaline Water – What’s all the fuss?

I recently had a client ask me about alkaline water and whether it was better than drinking plain water. I thought others might be curious as well so let’s take a look to see if there are any health benefits to drinking alkaline water.

I was first introduced to alkaline water a few years ago when I participated in a mindful “triathlon” (5k walk/run, then yoga and group meditation). They had vendors as part of the event and one of them was giving away free samples of alkaline water. I took a couple samples home and tried them shortly after. Personally, I did not like the taste of the alkaline water – I recall it being slightly bitter or metallic compared to the filtered water from our refrigerator. I also did not notice any difference in how I felt, although admittedly, I only had one or two glasses – probably not enough to make a true comparison.

What is the difference?

Let’s start by looking at the difference between regular water and alkaline water. You may recall from your high school science days that water is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen. Water’s pH level determines how acidic or basic (alkaline) it is and ranges from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is considered neutral, or balanced, between acidic and alkaline. If water has a pH below 7, it’s “acidic.” If it’s higher than 7, it’s “alkaline.”

The pH of tap water is typically close to neutral but may fall anywhere between 6.5 and 8.5 depending on where you live. Bottled alkaline water has a pH level above 7, usually closer to 8 or 9. Alkaline compounds are salts and metals that, when added to water, make it more basic. Some alkaline waters are from springs or artesian wells and are naturally alkaline because of dissolved minerals. Others are made with an ionizing process, and water ionizing machines are also marketed for home use.

What are the health claims around alkaline water?

Manufacturers and other proponents of alkaline water have made several claims about the health benefits of their product. For example, alkaline water enthusiasts contend that its increased hydrogen provides greater hydration than regular water, especially after a hard workout. Others tout its ability to supposedly reduce acid in the bloodstream, which they allege can improve metabolism and digestion as well as reduce bone loss and slow the aging process. Some have gone so far as to say that it can prevent or even treat cancer by starving cancer cells.

So, what is the truth behind these claims? Unfortunately, there is little evidence from the research to support them. First, much of the research on alkaline water has been animal-based, meaning the possible effects on humans are not yet supported by science. Several small studies – which were funded by companies that sell alkaline water – suggest that it could improve hydration in athletes, but any potential benefits were modest. Most nutrition experts agree that an easier way to improve hydration is just to drink more regular water. Finally, a 2016 review of research studies found no evidence that alkaline water could treat or prevent cancer.

Is there any harm in drinking alkaline water?

For the most part, the answer is no. Unless you have a kidney disease, alkaline water doesn’t pose any serious health risks. (Note: If you have chronic kidney disease or are taking a medication that affects your kidney function, elements in alkaline water could possibly have negative side effects on the kidneys. Please discuss with your doctor before consuming.) Experts say the high pH in alkaline water could make your skin dry and itchy or cause an upset stomach, but that’s about it.

The bottom line

At the present time, there isn’t enough scientific proof to say alkaline water is better than drinking regular bottled water or tap water. Most of the experts agree that alkaline water is just the latest trend that people think is going to make them healthier, feel better, or have more energy. However, most of us can reap those benefits by just drinking enough regular water. Thus, it’s up to you to decide if you want to spend the money on a product that may or may not provide any additional health benefits.

Hitting the reset button

Those of you who know me are familiar with the level of discipline I typically exhibit when it comes to taking care of myself. Healthy living was important to me even before I became a health coach. My lifelong passion for health and wellness grew out of my personal struggle with weight as an adolescent. So, I take pride in the fact that I work hard on a daily basis to eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep and meditate.

Every now and then, something happens to throw my healthy habits off kilter. When that happens, I usually feel the not-so-pleasant side effects quite quickly and that is enough to get me back on track. I call it “hitting the reset button.” Even the true die hards need a break from the disciplined life now and then, but the key is to return to those healthy habits as soon as possible.

The thing that threw me off track recently was my annual girls’ weekend in Washington, DC with two of my best friends. As much as I love spending quality time with these two lovely ladies (shout out to Tracy and Eva!), I know that it means staying up late to talk about work, family, faith, politics, and whatever current events are making the headlines. Late nights translate into sleeping in, which leads to a shift in my normal eating schedule – not to mention the highly anticipated indulgence in the finest foods and adult beverages DC can offer (the latter being a rare splurge for me). The blistery wind and cold temperatures also curtailed my desire to join Eva and her canine companion, Bingo, on their morning walks; hence, my main activity consisted of sitting on the couch in my jammies.

To my credit, I did stay true to my morning meditation routine (a non-negotiable for me), but that wasn’t really enough to counteract the other excesses while I was away. I didn’t regret any of it as I had a blast as I always do. However, I knew when I got back home that there were three things I needed to make a priority to help return to baseline:

Sleep: First and foremost, I needed to get back into my normal sleep pattern. I knew that adequate sleep would be critical to resuming my other healthy habits, particularly exercise, as I work out early in the morning. This meant going to bed a little earlier than usual the night I returned home, so I could wake up at my normal time the next day. It wasn’t really hard to do as I was exhausted. I slept well that night and my morning coffee helped me make it through the following day. I then went to bed normal time that night and was back on my usual schedule within a day or two.

Water: I am not sure why I did not drink more water while I was gone as it was readily available, both at Eva’s home as well as the places we visited when we were brave enough to venture out into the cold. I knew I was somewhat dehydrated as my skin became dry and I started to get a headache, which is common for me when I don’t drink enough water. I started to rehydrate on our drive home to North Carolina and chose to drink only water for the next 24 hours (except for my one cup of morning coffee). I was back to my usual water intake within a day or two and felt well-hydrated again.

Exercise: Since I still don’t really love to exercise, part of me was relishing the down time while I was away. However, I also know that my body needs to move in order for things to stay – ahem –  regular. Thus, four days off was plenty and I needed to get back on the horse. Fortunately, my new treadmill was scheduled for delivery the day after I returned (my 14-year-old treadmill had recently called it quits, thus also contributing to my decreased activity). I have to admit that I was actually excited to get back into my morning walk routine. I didn’t realize how much I missed it and I forgot how good it feels to start my day off with a little bit of gentle movement. I also taught my regular Nia class mid-week and it felt awesome to dance again.

I am happy to say that I am already feeling back to normal in less than a week’s time. I credit my speedy “recovery” to my solid health habits. In the past, it would normally take longer to get back in the groove, especially when it came to exercise. Taking a few days off would often turn into a much longer hiatus. Fortunately, I have learned from past experience that I feel better when I choose to live a healthy lifestyle. It’s not easy being so disciplined all the time, but these occasional blips – when I stray from the path and have to get back on course – remind me that it is worth it.