The pH factor

To feel more energetic and healthy, you need to balance pH levels in the body

What is pH?

woman eating oats

pH is an index to measure the acidity or alkalinity of the body. A pH value more than 7 is considered alkaline, while a value of less than 7 is considered acidic. Water has a pH of 7 and is considered neutral.

The ideal pH levels required for optimal functioning of the body is between 7.3 and 7.4. Any imbalance in this level creates problems in the body.

Why is it important?

Our body continuously strives to maintain a balanced pH within its fluids. When this balance is compromised, the body’s metabolism gets disturbed. For instance, an acidic pH forces the body to borrow minerals like calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium from vital body organs and bones to buffer or neutralise the acid and then safely remove it from the body. Due to this, these vital minerals are not available for bone strength and normal body functioning. This lack can cause the body to suffer significant damage. Hence, it is important to maintain a good pH balance in our diet.

So what foods should we eat?

Nutrition scientists have shown that a diet comprising at least 75–80 per cent alkalinising foods and 20–25 per cent acidifying foods is perfect for balancing the pH. Such a diet protects against a wide range of problems—from heart disease and arthritis to weight and skin ailments.

Before selecting a right diet, remember that any food—whether acid- or alkaline-forming—has nothing to do with the actual pH of the food itself.

For example, despite lemons being acidic, the end-result they produce after digestion and assimilation is alkaline. Likewise, meat will test alkaline before digestion, but leaves an acidic residue in the body. All meat and animal products are acid-forming.

Does lifestyle impact pH too?

A lifestyle that involves a lot of stress, less sleep and lack of exercise stimulates acid-formation in the body. Whereas, a lifestyle that involves physical activity and sufficient sleep reduces the acid-formation and increases alkalinity in the body.

Did you know that your sleep timings and your biological cycle also impact your pH? That’s why people who work night shifts suffer from increased acidity in their body.

What should I eat to maintain my pH balance?

Eat more alkaline foods

Vegetables, particularly green leafy vegetables, nuts, eggs, ginger, flaxseeds and yoghurt are alkalinising foods. Additionally, these are also high in minerals and nutrients and low in calories.

Most fruits are also alkaline in nature besides being rich sources of vitamins and antioxidants. So, remember to add at least two fruits to your daily diet.

Watch your consumption of acid-forming foods

If the food is processed, fried or fatty, it is likely to be acidic and hence should be eaten in moderation. The most common culprits of over-acidifying your body are dairy foods, meat, sugar, processed foods like potato chips, refined flour and deep-fried foods.

The exact ratio of acid and alkaline-forming foods is difficult to determine as the balance is altered by chewing, food preparation, individual lifestyle, genetics, exercise and stress.

How can I achieve a healthy pH balance?

saladA few modifications in your lifestyle and nutrition can go a long way in moving the acid and alkaline balance in a positive direction:

  • Soak acid-forming foods such as whole grains and legumes before cooking.
  • Chew complex carbohydrates like grains, vegetables, and legumes thoroughly to mix them well with saliva, the alkaline fluid that begins the digestive process.
  • Do not drink liquids in excess while eating, as it disturbs the digestive process.
  • When cooking leafy vegetables, keep the cooking pan uncovered for initial few minutes to let the volatile acids escape.
  • Avoid adding cooking soda while cooking legumes and dals.
  • Instead of salt, add a few drops of lemon when cooking rice.
  • Drink plenty of water through the day.
  • Sleep well, and exercise for at least 20–30 minutes daily.

Follow these simple tips and you will be pleasantly surprised at their health benefits. The goal is to eat more alkaline foods and follow the 80:20 ratio.

How pH affects skin

woman on beachHealthy skin has a natural pH between 5.5 and 6, which prevents excessive bacterial growth and oil on the skin. An extremely low pH can cause dryness and irritation, whereas a high pH allows bacterial over-growth, causing acne/pimples.

Many factors trigger the skin’s pH imbalance. Some common causes include using harsh soaps, seasonal changes, dietary changes and stress. Here’s what you can do about it:

  • Summer causes pH imbalance, leading to acne flare-ups. Apply a sunscreen that is effective against both UV-A and UV-B rays, regularly and liberally.
  • A pH balanced diet and foods rich in vitamin A and C provide antioxidants, which further protect you from sunlight damage and also help repair skin. Eat at least one vegetable/fruit containing vitamin A/ betacarotene [carrots, papaya, black grapes, green leafy vegetables] and vitamin C [citrus fruits, amla, gooseberries, mangoes] daily.
  • Avoid using alkaline soaps as they directly affect the pH of the skin. This causes dehydration with rebound oiliness. Use a grade-I soap or one that has TFM [Total Fatty Matter] of more than 80 per cent. If your face feels dry immediately after washing it, switch to a 100 per cent soap-free and pH-balanced face wash.
  • Hydrate your skin. Use a suitable moisturiser after you wash your face. But make sure that your moisturiser does not clog your pores. If your skin is normal to oily, use a moisturising lotion and if your skin is dry, use a moisturising cream. Remember, your skin is even thirstier than you are. So drink enough water to keep yourself hydrated from within.
  • Revitalise your skin. An excellent way to do this is through regular exfoliation, which removes dead and dry skin cells. You can gently exfoliate your skin through skin polishing, milk peels or aqua peels. These restore the pH balance and repair damage, making your skin look fresher and brighter. However, remember that our skin repair needs are unique and it is important to ensure that you exfoliate only under the supervision of an expert to get best results.

Problems of imbalance

The human body is healthiest when it is slightly alkaline. However, irregular eating habits and hectic lifestyles lead to over-acidification, commonly called as acidosis, which then interrupts with cellular activity and functions of the body. According to experts, acidosis is the root cause of most of our sickness and disease.

Studies have shown that an acidic and anaerobic [oxygen deprived] environment in the body encourages the growth of fungus, mould, bacteria, and viruses.

Thus, the body has to undertake extra effort to neutralise and detoxify the high acid levels. Some common symptoms of acidosis include insomnia, headaches, frequent sighing, water retention, low blood pressure, foul-smelling stools, difficulty in swallowing, mouth ulcers, fatigue, low body temperature, depression, frequent infections, teary eyes, sensitive teeth, gastritis, dry skin, brittle nails, and leg cramps.

According to the bestselling book Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis Balch, if your body is too acidic, eat more alkaline foods like avocados, figs, honey, corn, raisins, molasses, coconut, fresh fruits and vegetables and soy products. This helps restore the pH balance.

Experts say that excess alkalinity too is bad for health, as it can lead to coma. In case your body is more alkaline, opt for acidic foods like asparagus, coffee, meat, eggs, legumes, oatmeal, and vinegar.

—Team CW

This article first appeared in the May 2011 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
Snehal Sriram
Dr Snehal Sriram, MCPS, DVD, DNB, is a consultant in cosmetic dermatology at SevenHills Hospital, Mumbai.


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