pH, which stands for the potential of Hydronium ions, is a measure of acid/alkaline balance. pH is one of several critical measures of health in the body that is commonly overlooked, and poorly managed by most practitioners. The slightest change in pH cause major alterations in the rates of cellular chemical reactions, or determines if a life-giving chemical reaction occurs at all! These reactions are needed to sustain life supporting processes in the body in order to maintain good health and a healthy metabolism that helps with everything from efficiently burning calories and health of your skin to the effectiveness of your immune system. pH is never static, but always fluctuates throughout the day based on our diet, activity level, stress levels and overall nutrient status.
All body reactions require proper pH because it is needed to create the proper environment in order to favor particular chemical reactions, especially for our metabolic enzymes which run all of our body’s processes. Our digestive enzymes also require a specific pH in which to activate. Our body produces acid just by existing, and we must provide the right nutrients to regulate acid/base balance in the body. This means that if we do nothing but exist (don’t eat, don’t move, don’t drink fluids) acidic waste products build up in our tissues and our body eventually breaks down in time. In a healthy person, acid production is handled appropriately and much is safely eliminated through our urine and/or managed through “buffer systems”. Healthy blood pH is around 7.35- 7.45, or slightly alkaline. Healthy blood pH allows for the transport of nutrients, hormones and oxygen to our cells and tissues. Healthy blood pH allows our immune system to operate optimally. Improper pH balance in the blood is always present during any unhealthy condition. Less alkaline (acidic) blood means a low oxygen environment which is needed for harmful organisms such as parasitic bacteria, fungal forms, and viruses to move about more freely and take hold inside your body. In addition to poor oxygenation, less alkaline blood has difficulty circulating in our blood vessels, cannot eliminate waste, and poorly disseminates nutrients and hormones throughout the body.
Parts of our body require an acidic pH in order to properly run, so it’s really about having the right pH in the right place, at the right time. For example, our stomach produces hydrochloric acid needed to activate protease (protein digesting) enzymes which digest protein. Hydrochloric acid is also used to ionize our minerals; without acid to breakdown proteins or ionize minerals we cannot use these nutrients to repair and rebuild our cells, which can accumulate and congest otherwise healthy tissues. Any type of exertion in any way generates lactic acid from out muscles when we utilize ATP—a molecule which provides the cellular transfer of energy. Any injury, trauma, or chemical insult to our body increases our production of acid at that injury site through increased cellular oxidation. Oxidation yields many acidic byproducts through normal, and abnormal, cellular respiration. We consume healthy citric acid and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) in fruits and vegetables, and acetic acid in fermented foods. So how do we maintain a healthy and slightly alkaline pH in our blood with all this acid? The answer is by providing alkalizing nutrients such as enzymes, minerals and a few amino acids in our diet, and buffer systems. This discussion will focus on buffer systems.
Buffer systems play a large role in our body’s ability to correct pH imbalance by neutralizing harmful acids, especially acid in the wrong place. When proper acid/base balance is disrupted, a buffer system is something that restores the correct pH. Buffer systems help maintain a healthy blood pH—needed to perform a myriad of tasks. Some of these tasks include transportation of oxygen, nutrients and hormones. The body has 3 main buffer systems used to protect the blood from over accumulation of acid, these systems are: 1) The Bicarbonate Buffer System 2) The Phosphate Buffer System and 3) The Protein Buffer System.
The Bicarbonate Buffer system is the primary buffer system, and the fastest buffer system. This buffer system is also considered the most powerful and operates like “first gear” in your car or truck. It is capable of neutralizing 300 times more acid than water alone. For example, if you were to take a trip cross country from New York to Los Angeles, it would be unwise and inefficient to use first gear during the entire trip. You would burn out your engine! However, using first gear provides a lot of torque and is needed to get started, drive through challenging terrain such as snow or mud, or might be necessary when you’re driving up a steep road in the Rocky Mountains during certain portions of your trip. This buffer system is good for handling a crisis, but unable to accommodate long durations of prolonged over acidity in the body, especially as we age. Because of inadequate diet, poor enzyme and nutrient status, many Americans are putting their body in a pH crisis each day. This buffer system also requires healthy lungs and kidneys, enzymes, naturally occurring sodium, and a few other minerals to operate. During this process bicarbonate reacts with acids to form carbonic acid which is converted into carbon dioxide and water. Carbon dioxide is expired waste through the lungs. Bicarbonate ions are recycled via the kidneys while the water is excreted in the urine.
The next buffer system is the Phosphate Buffer System. This buffer system works inside the fluid of our cells, and is slower and less powerful than the bicarbonate system. Provided our cells our healthy, this buffer system converts phosphorous, found significantly in proteins, into phosphates which can neutralize acids. This buffer system requires enzymes such as proteases, and several minerals such as potassium to be present in the blood in sufficient amounts.
The last buffer system in the body is the protein buffer system, also called the cellular buffering system since our cells have many proteins which neutralize acid. This buffer system relies on a healthy liver—which manufactures and recycles proteins, protein digesting enzymes, and a variety of amino acids found in food protein used to neutralize acids. One major type of protein which buffers against acidity in the blood is hemoglobin (Hb), which is the main protein found inside red blood cells that carries oxygen. Some cellular proteins, which are largely broken down via enzymes and synthesized in the liver, are capable of absorbing acids. Unlike the bicarbonate buffer system, this system is slow and once our cellular proteins reach saturation, our overall pH level can expect to drop due to acid buildup. When our blood pH begins to drop, a whole host of health problems can arise. This system requires a variety of amino acids from protein, certain minerals and enzymes to be present in the diet.
Managing pH in your body
A diet and supplementation rich in the right types of enzymes, minerals, vitamins and proteins, must be an essential step in properly manage pH in the body. Our buffer systems rely on these nutrients, and the right form of calcium, needed alleviate the heavy taxing on your buffer systems, and can prevent cell breakdown. Calcium is the only mineral which can directly neutralize acid on contact; other alkalizing minerals operate mainly indirectly through mechanisms mentioned above. One of the best sources of ionized calcium is from dark leafy green vegetables, and coral calcium. Dairy products are not considered to be the best source of calcium due to lack of enzymes, general dairy intolerances, and high amounts of protein. Whenever we digest protein our body must secrete higher amounts of stomach acid needed to activate the protein digesting enzymes, called proteases, required to break it down. In time, poor stomach acid management from our digestive organs can lend to higher amounts of stomach acid ending up in the small intestine and eventually passes into the blood if not buffered properly. Dark leafy green vegetables such as kale, mustard greens, collard greens, arugula, chard, spinach, and other vegetables such as carrots all contain usable forms of calcium and other minerals which the blood can use to assist the body’s buffer systems. Unfortunately, today these vegetables contain far less minerals due to soil erosion, supplementation is important.
Calcium Deficiency and taxing our bones
When our body is deficient in calcium, the main response involves signaling the parathyroid gland to produce a hormone called “parathormone” which liberates calcium into the blood by breaking down our bones. This is our body making a “smart decision” to manage deficiencies needed badly in our body. This may sound good, especially when our buffer systems are overwhelmed and/or functioning poorly. However, in the long run this “robbing Peter to pay Paul” method of calcium liberation taxes our bones and we may see a variety of problems with our bones such as thinning bones, porous bones, and overall poor bone health and other signs of calcium deficiency.
As you can see, a variety of nutrients and overall body health is required to maintain an optimum pH. There is no one-thing that “does it all” when it comes to managing pH imbalance in the body. When improper pH exists many nutrients are needed, to include an ionizable source calcium. Without proper pH, your quest for optimal health will forever be an uphill battle.