Hot Take: Alkaline Water is a Scam

Originally published by Belle Kalista Beauty on 04/20

Every time I go to the grocery store or run inside the gas station for a drink, I see some new, fancy-looking water. First, it was sparkling water. Then it was electrolyte water. Then it was water in compostable boxes or recyclable cans. Then it was dozens of different flavors of plain and sparkling water. I’ve even seen caffeinated water.

Glass bottle of water sitting on a table.

The list of ways that brands try to sell us water is outrageous, and it seems to never end. Most recently, alkaline water has been added to that list. You’ve probably seen the claims about how its detoxification properties help with energy and weight loss, or its ability to neutralize your blood helps to keep you healthy.

Before you spend $4 on a bottle of seemingly magical alkaline water, let’s talk about what it is and what it can actually do.

(Spoiler: It can’t do much. Let’s talk about why!)

What is Alkaline Water?

Acid and alkaline are two terms that are used to describe the pH of something. Anything with a pH below 7 is acidic, and anything above 7 is basic or alkaline. (Those terms are interchangeable, but it sounds way less cool to brand it as “basic water,” so they went with alkaline.) A pH of 7 is neutral, and pure water has a pH of 7.

A diagram of the pH scale.

According to EPA recommendations, tap water should fall in the 6.5 (slightly acidic) to 8.5 (slightly alkaline) range. However, in most places, tap water pH tends to be more acidic, with a pH between 4.3-5.3.

So, alkaline water is any type of water that has a pH above 7. When you purchase bottled water listed as alkaline, the manufacturers have raised the water’s pH either with minerals or a chemical process called electrolysis that involves special machinery.

You’ll usually know if you’re drinking alkaline water. Brands market their alkaline waters very specifically. The only exception is if you drink tap water in a region with hard water. Hard water has a high mineral concentration that raises the pH to about 8.5 or higher. You can usually recognize it by its bitter taste.

Why is Alkaline Water So Popular?

Health gurus, social media influencers and wellness brands have all jumped on a few studies that have been done that show possible positive benefits to drinking alkaline water.

Like every other health fad we’ve experienced for the past 20 years, alkaline water has become popular thanks to the Internet.

Much of the benefit that people cite is related to alkaline water having a higher pH than tap water, so it can “neutralize” the acid in your bloodstream. There are other claims that it has anti-aging, detox and weight loss benefits. Some people even go so far as to say it can help with bone density and cancer resistance.

A Look at the Research (Or Lack Of) Behind Alkaline Water

Most of the studies that have been done on alkaline water have produced shaky results that don’t seem to hold up to further scientific review.

An orange striped cat making a skeptical face.
I’m as skeptical as this cat.

Below are a few selling points that I’m going to debunk (sorry).

1. It helps with acid reflux.

In a 2012 study, researchers found that alkaline water with a pH of at least 8.8 could deactivate the digestive enzyme pepsin, which is the primary culprit of the damage that comes from severe acid reflux.

Your stomach acid is crazy strong (It usually has a pH of around 2, which is the same as battery acid). Even if water is alkaline going into your mouth, it’s not alkaline anymore by the time it reaches your stomach. It’s also worth noting that stomach acid has a few critical jobs, so it’s not a good idea to neutralize it unless you’re under medical supervision.

This study was done in vitro, which means it was performed in test tubes in a lab rather than on humans. So, the results might be different in a real-life setting.

Since this study has never been done in a clinical setting with real people, I wouldn’t put much faith in it.

2. It helps maintain bone density.

The claim that alkaline water helps to reduce bone loss comes from this 2008 study that was done on female dieticians.

The alkaline water group did seem to show slightly less overall bone loss, but there were only 30 participants. The study was only a month long, so there’s no way to know if there are any long-term benefits. Since then, a meta-analysis found that an acidic or alkaline diet didn’t affect osteoporosis at all.

In short, alkaline water won’t help with bone loss.

3. It helps lower blood pressure.

In this 2016 study, researchers gave 100 participants high-pH electrolyte water after exercising. They found that the water reduced blood viscosity, which helped blood flow more efficiently (aka it shortened recovery and rehydration time).

While that sounds great, the study was funded and supplied by an alkaline water company, and the specific data materials are confidential. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the results are meaningless. Still, it does make them less convincing, especially since they haven’t been replicated.

4. It helps neutralize your blood, cure cancer and make you look younger!

Claims regarding anti-aging, cancer and “neutralizing” your blood can be ignored. (Shocking, I know.)

First of all, your body does a fantastic job of keeping your blood pH around 7.4, which is where it should be. Even the slightest deviation from a correct pH range of 7.35-7.45 triggers an automatic stabilization response from your body.

If your body has issues stabilizing your blood pH, that’s a serious medical problem. You need medical attention, not a more alkaline diet. You don’t need to neutralize your blood. Trust me.

The claims about cancer are not based on any scientific research that specifically studies alkaline water and humans. Please don’t try to treat cancer with anything except real medicine. People who try to sell you on alternative methods for curing, treating or preventing cancer are scummy, and you should definitely NOT take their advice.

Finally, regarding anti-aging, there are much better ways to look and feel younger. Try eating a nutritious diet, moving your body as much as possible, wearing sunscreen and establishing a great skincare routine.

A woman in white underwear holding a bowl of oatmeal and fruit.
Nutrition and exercise are much better anti-aging tools.

Alkaline water isn’t going to magically “detox” your body and make you feel rejuvenated. That’s what your kidneys are for.

The Bottom Line On Alkaline Water

Ultimately, as long as you’re not ONLY drinking alkaline water, it’s unlikely to cause any harm. It might taste weird (alkaline water is often bitter), and it definitely costs more. Still, it’s not inherently harmful as far as researchers know.

Personally, I recommend saving your money and just drinking regular water. I’ll be glad when the alkaline water fad passes!

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