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Will Alkaline Water Turn Me into an Extremely Well-Hydrated Superbeing?

One or two glasses before I become Captain America?

My wife was adamant that we pick up some water on the way to my cousin’s wedding in Lawrence, Kansas, so we pulled our rental car into the parking lot of the local co-op market. My wife entered the market, and I reclined in my chair, only to be startled a few moments later when she violently jerked open the door, fuming about having to pay $4 for a bottle of alkaline water — the only type of bottled water available there.

“You need to do an investigation of alkaline water!” she raged. “I want to know why this is so expensive!”

What kind of wife guy would I be if I didn’t honor her request?

Alkaline water? Never heard of it.

Conceptually, alkaline water is simply regular water with a high pH level. The pH level of a substance refers to its level of acidity on a 0 to 14 scale, with scores closer to zero indicating higher acidity, and scores closer to 14 identifying substances that are lower in acidity, and therefore higher in alkalinity. Something is technically “alkaline” when it has a pH higher than the scale’s midpoint of seven.

Is water ever naturally alkaline, or does someone have to make it?

Water can become more alkaline by picking up minerals, which is theoretically the concept being branded and promoted by companies like Powerade through their “Ion4” series, which offers mineral content in the form of four minerals. Of course, big nerds like me would use that branding as workout motivation, drink the Powerade Ion4 and pretend it turned them into a superbeing of pure ionic energy, like Wonder Man. (Don’t judge me.)

Minerals and superheroes aside, the majority of alkaline water purchased in stores has been made alkaline as a result of electrolysis brought about through ionization. Some people are so earnest about the ionization and alkalization of their water that they’re willing to lay down up to three grand in order to bag a top-of-the-line water-ionization unit.

Why do people care so much about their alkalinity?

Proponents of alkalinity say that alkalizing the body benefits it in several critical ways, including by limiting inflammation and inhibiting the growth of yeast and bad bacteria. Some would go so far as to say that diseases can’t survive in an alkaline environment, and suggest that eating the right combination of foods (almost always vegetables) will increase the alkalinity of the body, and render it completely impossible for people to ever get sick.

Does that actually work?

Simply put: No. 

A properly functioning human body maintains its pH level at an ever-so-slightly alkaline state of about 7.35. If the level of alkalinity ever drops below 7 and begins to lean in an acidic direction, your body accounts for this by exhaling a higher volume of carbon dioxide. When your body’s blood alkalinity level exceeds 7.7, it will retain more carbon dioxide and your kidneys will eliminate it later. This is referred to as maintenance of the acid-base balance.

So does alkaline water benefit me in any meaningful way?

Two of the most favorable tests in alkaline water’s “win” column are relatively inconclusive. One study of mice demonstrated that the mice who drank alkaline water had longer average life spans, but an analysis of the test subjects’ bodies showed no differences in any of their major internal organs. A Japanese study using human subjects was inconclusive with respect to material results, but more of the subjects receiving alkaline water reported “feeling better” and “sleeping better.” However, the same study showed that subjects’ receiving the placebo water enjoyed somewhat elevated reaction time when compared with their alkalized peers. Regardless, none of the results of the study were deemed statistically significant.

If your diet is so pristine that you’re now in the business of attempting to fine-tune the very essence of the water you drink, then by all means go for it. But if you’re regularly drinking soda, energy drinks, sports drinks or any number of other processed beverages on a regular basis (and I’m including myself in this; I’m not here to pass judgment), then don’t apply your dietary purity test to the pH level of your water. Just make sure you’re focusing on getting enough of it to begin with.