Balancing Your Body’s Acid-Base for Optimal Vitality

It’s no secret that optimal health is only attainable for us when there is a well-balanced inner environment. The latest Hollywood craze of “alkaline diets” reflects this fact…and although it is only one Celebrity fad among endless others, being mindful of our acid/alkaline balance is a good habit to keep.

The role of regulating blood pH levels is fulfilled by the lungs, liver, kidneys and intestines. After eating the body’s natural buffering systems generally manage subtle pH changes without hiccup. This process helps avoid any major alterations in cell function which could have much larger implications. For instance optimal pH is essential for enzyme-controlled metabolic processes such as the secretion of hormones.

Both acidosis (a state of extreme acidity) and alkalosis (extreme alkalinity) are abnormal conditions. Metabolic acidosis is associated with fevers, urinary tract obstruction and a dampening of the central nervous system activity causing headaches, lethargy, weakness and confusion. The administration of steroidal drugs can also induce this type of acidosis. High intensity exercise causes increased levels of lactic acid and therefore metabolic acidosis too – resulting in symptoms such as muscle fatigue, cramping and exhaustion.

At the other end of the spectrum, uncontrolled alkalosis can induce over-activity of the nervous system . Symptoms include restlessness, irritability, muscle twitching, tingling and/or numbness of the peripheries and seizures. Hyperventilation will also cause this; stress, high fevers or over-medication of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also play a part. Leaking of antacid medications are another cause of alkalosis. It is even possible for both acidosis and alkalosis to co-exist – for instance in respiratory disease renal disorders and or metabolic disturbances – obviously an unenjoyable experience!

The role of nutrition in keeping our pH “just right”

Dietary intake is one of the most important factors influencing our acid-base balance. People who tend to consume a diet lacking in potassium alkali salts – such as those found in plant foods, will generally have a high metabolic acid load. This explains why vegetarian diets equal consistently lower acid production.

While under normal steady-state conditions the body remains closer to a low pH range, even low-grade acidosis can have severe consequences if left to remain. This situation is more likely the older we get because of the natural age-related decline in kidney function. In children severe acidosis has been associated with decreased hormone growth levels resulting in less weight/height gain, bone weakness. In adults decreased bone and muscle mass is a well documented consequence of acidosis. There is also a strong association with enhanced pain perception and tissue acidosis so if you fall into this category it could be well worth checking your body pH levels.

Further risk factors of on-going acidosis include high blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity as well as increased cortisol levels (a hormone that greatly influences our stress response).. No wonder it is well worth keeping check of our pH/body acid balance. There are case studies of athletes performing markedly better by simply improving their pH before an event and this is often also of interest to those involved in muscle building competitions or where muscle mass is of concern.

In the everyday scenario maintaining a healthy acid-balance will ensure that our body is functioning to its optimum. There are many dietary tips that will take you there – including Apple Cider Vinegar before meals.. because of its high potassium/acetic acid content. If you are unsure where your body ‘sits’ on this spectrum, a standard, quick and easy pH test is included with your consultation.

in health

 

Julie O’Connell-Seamer

Naturopath.

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