Alkaline Diets Debunked
Ever hear of an alkaline diet? Or the Acid-Alkaline Diet? Or, did you hear if you regulate the things you eat by their Acid or Alkaline score, you can control the disease state of your body? Well, if you have, then you have heard some of the worst pseudoscience out there! The things you eat, digest, and absorb have nothing to do with your blood or interstitial fluid’s pH! There are plenty of people out there who want to make money off the ignorance of others, and they are unfortunately succeeding! I am going to break down why Alkalinity of the body cannot cure cancer, nor will it help your overall health. I will rebuff that with facts and give simple diet tips you can follow to assist your health!
One example of the con-artists out there is exemplified by this BBC article here. In short, “Dr.” Robert Young convinced dozens of terminally ill cancer patients to go to his healing alkalinity ranch for Baking Soda treatments to increase their alkalinity. This, in turn, would change their environment the cancer is in, and thus, cancer would die. This does not work, it will never work, and I am glad that he is being charged with crimes because this is CRIMINAL!!! The mere fact that he is preying on the fears of these terminally ill patients is enough for me to throw him in jail for murder for the rest of his life. He knew full well that his claims were bull! But, I digress, let’s get to understanding why it is BULL.
The Acid-Base Balance
First, the body regulates the pH of the body via the blood. Blood is the connective tissue that connects the entire body. It carries nutrients, proteins, oxygen attached to hemoglobin, and hormones throughout the body and numerous other molecules. It also delivers the waste of your body’s cells to the liver, kidneys, and the lungs! While performing these key functions, the pH, or measure of how acidic or alkaline something is (if you have ever had a pool, you know that you need to keep it at an optimal pH so algae and other bad stuff doesn’t grow in it and make it green), fluctuates for a few reasons.
The main reason is the body transporting CO2 from the cells of your body to the lungs to be expired. Cells use oxygen to make ATP via the oxidative phosphorylation mechanism in the mitochondria, aka the powerhouse of the cell (We’ll cover Mitochondria in more detail in concept corner). While doing this, the cell makes carbon dioxide (CO2) from the breakdown of glucose and the use of oxygen. This then travels to the interstitial fluid (fluid surrounding your tissues) and subsequently to the blood stream. Now, this is where the CO2 becomes HCO3– when it diffuses into the blood. That little minus symbol on HCO3– means that it can receive a H+ ion from the blood, this process is called protonation, turning into H2CO3. This causes the blood to become more basic.
At this point, the lungs are used to dispel the unwanted HCO3-, via H2CO3 conversion into H2O and CO2 exhalation. This whole process is controlled by chemoreceptors in the arteries that communicate with the brain. When acidity increases, these receptors fire off and the brain tells the body to yawn, or to begin to breathing more heavily to exhale the excess CO2. On another note, the components of blood are acting as a buffer for the body. This means that it tries to minimize changes to pH in the body by neutralizing acids and bases in the blood stream. Other keys mechanisms to regulating this process are within the kidneys. They also act to remove this HCO3– from the body and excrete it in urine. The Kidneys also release H+ ions into the blood to regulate pH.
So, you may be asking, well if you add more alkaline foods into your diet can you change blood pH anyway? NO! You would die if this were the case. No matter what you eat, the stomach (pH 1.5-3.5) will break it down. Then it will go to the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine, where the pancreas secretes HCO3– to neutralize the low ph of the content coming from the stomach. This allows for pancreatic enzymes to break down lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates that we eat (they need a certain pH to work). Again, no matter what you eat, your food will not get past these two compartments of the body to exert their fabled “Alkaline Effects”. NO MATTER WHAT! But let’s play devil’s advocate, even if they did, it still wouldn’t matter given the fact that the blood, lungs, kidneys, and liver all function to reduce any pH change that may occur in the body.
The reason why this idea has grown goes back to what is called the “Warburg effect”. This is a concept in cancer biology that cancer cells change their metabolic processes to meet their energy requirements for growth. This is exemplified by the cells switching from using the electron transport chain and oxygen (OxPhos system) to produce ATP (the energy of the cell) via aerobic glycolysis.
Glycolysis uses glucose to make ATP just like the OxPhos system, but does this in a less efficient manner that results in the production of lactic acid. This occurs because of the reduction of pyruvate to lactate and by Lactic Acid Dehydrogenase. This cause a build up of acid in the cells, the cells don’t like this, so they secrete it out. Cancer cells use aerobic glycolysis because they can produce ATP at a much faster rate, even though it’s less efficient. Cancer cells need to generate energy as fast as possible to meet their metabolic demands. When you workout, your muscles undergo a similar change in metabolism by using this system when there is a lack of readily available oxygen, this is known as anaerobic glycolysis. Somehow the production of acidic substrates via metabolism has been the basis for pseudoscience.
This fact, however, should not be justification for the alkaline diet. The cells of your body have naturally occurring systems to combat this as seen in the figure displayed here. The body has enzymes to combat the build up of acid by using compounds such as NAD+. Do not be fooled, just like the blood buffer system described in this article, the body’s cells also have a buffering system and keep you alive. This is part of “Homeostasis” which is a topic for another day, but remember this adage: “if your at equilibrium, you’re dead.”
How To Spot the Bull…Pseudoscience
Before we finish up, I want to delve into how to train yourself to spot pseudoscience that is constantly barraging you every day. I will list 5 tips to assist you in combing through the nonsense:
- Does the article you read cite valid sources? These sources can be .EDU websites, NIH’s website, .Gov websites, Peer-reviewed journal articles (Be careful if the impact factor is lower than 2, but this is not a hard and fast rule. Some lower impact journals actually have great science such as Plos One), reputable news sites (Again be careful that the article doesn’t have some sort of spin to it, and that the author is knowledgeable in the area, or that they site the main article they are discussing), or a REPUTABLE and PRESTIGIOUS organization such as American Association of Cancer or the American Medical Association.
- Does the study in question have a large number of participants? If the article you are reading only mentions 1 or 2 or even 3 cases where a miraculous event occurred, be skeptical of the claims that it is making! I cannot express enough how many times I have seen the memes, articles, and other nonsense that people share on social media that cite a compound, cannabis oil, laetrile/b17/amygdilan, some nut/fruit, or other things that cured one or two people of cancer (None of which have cured anyone by the way). This is what we could call a case study that would lead researchers to look into the metabolism of these substances to determine if they have any true potential as a treatment for diseases. One person being cured does not mean everyone will be cured by that substance. The opposite is also true for medications on the market. Some drugs may not work for everyone, and that is why clinicians will prescribe a series of different drugs to people until they find the one that works.
- Does the author or website you are reading have an agenda? Are you getting your information from someone who is trying to sell you something, sell an idea to make themselves rich such as Dr. Young, or are they an organization that wants to perpetuate an idea on blind faith? If you answered yes, or even maybe, to any of these questions, RUN FROM THAT WEBSITE. Go to a reputable source about the topic you are curious about to truly be educated on it.
- Does the website link to only itself? Does the article you are reading have links embedded into it that only circle you back around to other articles produced on that website? You are being bamboozled. This is a standard trick by some blogs, pseudoscience websites, and fake news to perpetuate the idea that there are sources to back up their nonsense claims. This is a key hallmark of websites that have an agenda or are not factual in any way. Take our blog for example. We clearly use outside sources that come from reputable sources, and we have them at the end of all of our articles for you the reader to verify that we are reporting facts, NOT BULLSHIT.
- If it seems to good to be true, ask yourself, “If this were true, why wouldn’t everyone have heard about it?”; “Is the article asking me to believe in a global conspiracy?”; and “Is there really enough money to pay off, X amount of researchers to keep this quiet?”. Let me be frank. When someone tells you there is a conspiracy to cover something up, it is most likely that they do not have substantial evidence to back up their claim. They use fringe questions and paranoia to perpetuate their ideas. Please, take the time to read this article about why conspiracy theories on a large scale would never stay quiet.
In summary and back to the main focus of this article, the body has many mechanisms to reduce the pH changes that are experienced in the blood. The cells of your body churn out molecules that constantly try this system, but the body’s mechanisms do not allow a big change in pH. If your body allows a drastic change in pH, then you will die. Period. This is not funny, this is not a joke, this is life or death. So, the next time you hear about how an alkaline diet can change your life, you’ll know you are talking to a con-artist who knows nothing about how the body works. They only want your money and care nothing about you or your health. As illustrated by “Dr.” Young’s horrific practice, do not buy into this and tell your friends to not buy into it either!