01.03.2013 Natural Health

Acidosis and Chronic Illness

When our body is too acidic, it's a warning that our diet and lifestyle need urgent attention. Story by Peter Dingle PhD.

Although inflammation, oxidation and acidosis are natural they can be seriously problematic if they are recurring as a result of our body being out of balance. Recent studies have established that all three conditions - the triad - are a leading pathogenic force in the development of chronic diseases, including diabetes, cancers, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases (including asthma and arthritis) osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis and dementia. Even depression, obesity and premature ageing can all be attributed to this triad of conditions.

A cancer or CVD does not just happen - it is because these conditions prevail in the body over a long period of time and create the preconditions for these disease states. On the other hand, if you want to reduce the risk of these disease states, you reduce the levels of the disease triad - inflammation, oxidation and acidosis.

Acid refers to one of the fundamental principles of science. All chemical reactions require numerous conditions to be present for the process to occur. For example, if you warm up the temperature reactions usually go faster. Fever is a classic example of this, whereby the body's metabolism is running faster as a result of the fever. The same occurs with acid levels. The level of acid, known as the pH (potential Hydrogen) determines the speed at which chemical reactions occur. Some reactions need higher acid levels (lower pH), while most chemical reactions in our body require neutral to alkaline (the opposite to acid) to occur.

An example of this is in the stomach which requires a pH as low as 1 or 2 for certain digestive enzymes to work.(Pepsin, the main protein digestive enzyme in the stomach, works at a pH of 1-2.4 and that is why the consumption of antacids only reduces digestion and creates more digestive problems). But in the small intestine the pH has to be alkaline for the other digestive enzymes to work so the body injects bicarbonate (HCO3) into the small intestine.

Need for Balance
When we refer to acidosis, we are referring to the pH level in the internal body fluids. When the body fluids, such as the blood and the fluid between the cells and in the cells, becomes slightly acidic it is so smart it sets up a triage system to rebalance the pH (acid/alkali levels) to maintain homeostasis.

The pH of the blood is between 7.35-7.45. When the blood pH falls below 7.35, this is called "acidosis," (too much acid) and our death can occur at a blood pH of 7.0. So we want to avoid this situation. If the pH varies slightly from this level, it dramatically affects many of the 90 or so enzyme functions in the blood. These enzymes literally do all the work of repair, cleaning up, immune function, transport and so on in the blood. If they slow down too much we get very sick and die quickly. To make sure this doesn't happen, the body has a few mechanisms to keep the pH in perfect balance. These include buffers, respiratory regulation and renal regulation of pH.

Unfortunately, many of the body's natural processes produce acid waste byproducts so we have a constant requirement to balance out the pH. Each cell, in the presence of oxygen, performs its task of respiration (the chemical and physical process in which oxygen is delivered to tissues or cells in an organism). It also creates acidic end products that are used for energy and function.

The residue of these products and functions is known as metabolic wastes, and these are acidic in nature. This acidic waste must not be allowed to build up as it becomes increasingly toxic to the body. One example of the short term waste build-up is the often painful lactic acid which is created through extreme exercise.

The importance of acid-base homeostasis (balance) in the maintenance of normal cellular responses and physiological integrity has long been recognised. Many cellular responses are diminished at lowered extracellular pH, including intracellular fluid and membrane-associated enzyme activities, ion transport activity, protein and DNA synthesis, metabolism and calcium levels.

Dangers of Acidosis
Even at low levels of acidosis, it decreases the body's ability to absorb minerals and other nutrients, lowers energy production in the cells and the body's ability to repair damaged cells. Essentially, it stops all the normal functioning, growth and repair in the cells so we slowly start to decay. Acidosis also increases the body's ability to grow abnormal cells, increases fatigue and susceptibility to infections and also contributes to cardiovascular disease, weight gain, diabetes, kidney and gall bladder stones, hormonal problems, premature ageing and much more. An acid environment is also required for cancer cells to survive and increases the inflammation in the body, which feeds cancers. Dr Otto Warburg was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 and 1946 for his studies on how cancer cannot thrive in an alkaline medium and the interstitial fluid of tumors has shown pH values of less than 6.0, 0.2-0.6 units lower than mean pH of normal tissues. In fact, a major byproduct of cancers due to their incomplete metabolism is high levels of acid.

In the case of chronic acidosis, the main mechanism is to allocate or triage alkali minerals like magnesium and calcium from where they should be working in optimal conditions, such as in the muscle cells and in bones, to balance the pH in the blood. Acidosis literally causes physicochemical dissolution of bone and cell-mediated bone resorption (inhibition of osteoblast - which cause bone to be laid down - and stimulation of osteoclast function - which breaks down the bone). While this protects our urgent health requirements and keeps us alive today, it increases our long risk of chronic health conditions such as osteoporosis, heart attack and cancer as a result of the shortage of these minerals. The body allocates the nutrients for short-term survival so the 'essential' functions are protected from nutrient deficiency over other 'nonessential, non immediate' functions needed only for long-term health. As a result, acidosis does not refer to the body becoming full of acid but the conditions that are created around the body by chronic low-grade metabolic acidosis.

What Causes Acidosis?
Under normal conditions the body produces acid as a byproduct of metabolism and breakdown of other molecules. In a healthy body with a nutritious diet and well balanced healthy lifestyle, our body eliminates the wastes. Unfortunately, a nutritious diet and well balanced healthy lifestyle are relatively rare now.

When food is altered from its natural state, the way it interacts with the body also changes. It is not the organic matter of foods (whether the food itself is acidic or alkaline such as in the case of lemon juice being acidic), but their inorganic matter - how they break down in our bodies into minerals - that determines either the acidity or alkalinity of our internal body.

Following digestion, absorption and metabolism, nearly all foods release either acid or base into the systemic circulation. The pH of the body is determined and measured by the mineral residues in the blood and tissue. Acid and alkaline minerals bind to each other to neutralise the pH and bring about balance. If there are not enough alkaline minerals it will draw on minerals from the bone and other organs as described earlier.

Alkalising elements include:


Acidic elements include:


There are significant differences between modern diets and those typical of our Homo sapiens ancestors. Studies in hunter-gatherer tribes suggest a relatively high intake of plant foods compared with modern-day humans. In a recent study estimating the net acid load, 87% of 159 pre-agricultural diets were found to be alkaline compared with the average American diet which was acid producing. This represents a major switch from the alkaline-producing diet we ate for the majority of our evolutionary history to the acid-producing diet we now eat.

The adoption of a diet which is high in alkaline foods has been shown to reduce the occurrence of diseases such as osteoporosis, age-related muscle degeneration, kidney stones, hypertension, asthma and kidney degeneration. The adoption of a predominantly acidic diet can lead to a condition called pathogenic metabolic acidosis which causes degeneration of the kidneys.

Acidic foods include:

Meats and seafood
Dairy products
Drinks: coffee, tea, alcohol, processed fruit juice
Fats and Oils
Pasta, bread,
Artificial sweeteners

Acidity within the body can also occur as a result of dehydration and/or the quality of liquids we drink. While liquids are needed to flush out the wastes, including the acid wastes, the different drinks we consume can have a big impact on our internal pH. Acid forming drinks include coffee, alcohol and soft drinks. The worst of these without doubt is soft drinks - not just because of the pH of the drinks, but the sheer quantity some people take and the fact they are consumed mainly by young people, even infants.

When soft drinks are consumed, pH regulatory mechanisms come into force to reduce the acidity of the soft drink. Soft drinks have a high buffering capacity, which means that more pressure is placed on the body to neutralise the pH, as the soft drink is resistant to small changes in the pH. The lower the pH (more acidic), the more alkaline is needed to make the soft drink return to a neutral pH. So not only is the initial pH of the soft drink bad, but also the corresponding buffering capacity results in greater stress on the body.

Soft drinks are associated with many adverse health effects, as well as osteoporosis and tooth decay. If the minerals are drawn out of the bone they are also removed from the teeth with acidosis, leading to an increased risk of tooth decay - literally from the inside out.

It is not just our diet. Stress and anxiety are acid generators aside outside of our diet. An overactive adrenal gland caused by high levels of stress can release a hormone called aldosterone into the blood stream, causing large quantities of potassium and magnesium, alkaline minerals, to be excreted into the urine.

As in so many things, balance is the key to maintaining optimal health and wellbeing and avoiding the unseen but serious dangers of acidosis.

The pH Scale
The pH scale ranges from 1 to 14 - 1 being highly acidic and 14 being highly alkaline. So the lower the number the higher the acidity. A pH of 7 is neutral. A pH less than 7 is acidic. A pH greater than 7 is basic/alkaline. The pH scale is also logarithmic, which means each whole pH value below 7 is ten times more acidic than the next higher value, not just one. For example, pH 6 (acidic) is ten times more acidic than pH 7 (neutral) and 100 times (10 times 10) more acidic than pH 8. Similarly a pH 8 is ten times more alkaline than pH 7.

Dr Peter Dingle is a researcher, educator and public health advocate.
He has a PhD in the field of environmental toxicology and is not a medical doctor.

Peter Dingle

Dr Peter Dingle (PhD) has spent the past 30 years as a researcher, educator, author and advocate for a common sense approach to health and wellbeing. He has a PhD in the field of environmental toxicology and is not a medical doctor. He is Australia’s leading motivational health speaker and has 14 books in publication.