Balance and Your Health
Virginia Worthington, ScD
healers are concerned with the level of acidity or alkalinity
of the body, from orthodox medical doctors to alternative
practitioners like cancer doctor Emanuel Revici, controversial
test developer Dr. Carey Reams or the sleeping prophet
Edgar Cayce. When these different healers speak about
acid-alkaline balance in the body, what do they mean?
Why is this important? And how do nutrition and lifestyle
affect acid/alkaline balance? Our purpose here is to
explore this topic and to answer some of these questions,
particularly as it relates to the research of Dr. Weston
let us define the terms acidity and alkalinity and get
familiar with some basic chemistry. In terms of chemistry,
when one talks about acidity or alkalinity, one is talking
about hydrogen. An acid is a substance that releases
hydrogen into a solution and an alkali or base is one
that removes hydrogen from a solution. The amount of
free hydrogen is measured on a scale ranging from 1
to 14, called pH, that denotes the exact level of acidity
or alkalinity. A pH value below 7 is considered acid
and above 7 alkaline.
the human body, the acid-alkaline balance is important
since many functions in the body occur only at a certain
level of acidity or alkalinity. Many enzymes and chemical
reactions in the body work best at a particular pH. A
small change in pH can have a profound effect on body
function. For example, muscle contractibility declines
and hormones like adrenaline and aldosterone increase
as the body becomes slightly more acid. In addition, different
parts of the body have different levels of acidity and
alkalinity. Some of these are shown in Table 1. It should
be noted that while there can be a wide range of pH values
for the saliva and urine, the value for the blood is maintained
within narrow bounds.
1. pH of Various Body Tissues (1) (12)
OF ACID-ALKALINE BALANCE
of the importance of the acid-alkaline balance in the
blood and tissues, the body has a number of mechanisms
for regulating this balance (1) (2). These mechanisms
are shown in Table 2.
2. Factors Regulating Acid-Alkaline Balance in
the Body (1)
reactions generating or consuming hydrogen
or exit of hydrogen from the cell via pumps or
body functions are involved in the regulation of acid-alkaline
balance including respiration, excretion, digestion
and cellular metabolism. In the blood stream, there
are substances known as buffers that act chemically
to resist changes in pH. The most important of these
compounds in the blood are bicarbonate, albumin, globulin
and hemoglobin. Other regulation of blood pH is done
chiefly by the lungs and kidneys.
lungs aid in acid-alkaline regulation by removing carbon
dioxide from the blood. Carbon dioxide combines with
water in the body to form carbonic acid, so that removing
carbon dioxide is equivalent to removing acid. Respiratory
rates can vary depending on the acidity of the body,
speeding up under acid conditions to remove carbon dioxide
and reduce acidity and slowing down under alkaline conditions
to retain acids and reduce alkalinity.
kidney also responds to the pH of the blood. If the
blood is too acid, the kidney excretes extra hydrogens
into the urine and retains extra sodium. Phosphorus
in the form of phosphate is required for this exchange.
The body obtains this phosphorus from bone if it is
otherwise unavailable. When the bloodstream is extremely
acid, the kidney uses a different method and excretes
ammonium ions, which contain four hydrogens, into the
urine. When the body is too alkaline, the process is
reversed, and hydrogen is retained.
the digestive process, acid-alkaline balance is affected
by the secretions of the stomach and the pancreas. These
secretions are absorbed into the bloodstream and affect
the rest of the body. When food is eaten, the stomach
secretes hydrochloric acid. In response to this acid,
the pancreas secretes bicarbonate which neutralizes
the stomach acid so that pancreatic enzymes can work
properly. Normally, after eating, there are transient
changes in blood pH, known as the acid and alkaline
tides, that correspond to the stomach and pancreatic
secretions. Usually the pH of the blood quickly returns
to normal. However, if digestive secretions are out
of balance, then the whole body can be affected. Some
physicians, like Dr. William Philpott, feel that insufficient
secretion of pancreatic bicarbonate is a major cause
of over-acidity in the body. Other digestive problems
that affect the body’s pH are diarrhea, which
results in a loss of bicarbonate, and vomiting, which
results in a loss of acid.
as the pH of the bloodstream is kept under tight control,
the acid-alkaline environment inside the cells is also
regulated so that it remains within narrow bounds. One
way that this regulation occurs is by pumps in the cell
membrane that cause hydrogen to enter or exit from the
cell. Many of these pumps require phosphorus and magnesium
to function so that micronutrient nutrition is a factor
affecting acid-alkaline balance. Another way that cells
regulate the pH inside the cell is by changing the chemical
reactions that occur so that more or less hydrogen is
OF OVER ACIDITY OR ALKALINITY
the blood is too acid, symptoms include drowsiness,
progressing to stupor and coma. Acute acidosis can result
from kidney or lung problems, dehydration, ingestion
of certain drugs, diabetes or diarrhea, and is treated
by giving an alkaline solution such as bicarbonate of
soda. A particular form of acidosis is ketosis that
occurs in diets high in fat and lacking in carbohydrates,
as well as in conditions of diabetes or starvation,
when the body burns fats rather than carbohydrates.
However, when normal quantities of fat are consumed
in a diet containing carbohydrate, the fats cause no
problems in acid-alkaline balance for the majority of
the blood is too alkaline, symptoms include cramps,
muscle spasms, irritability and hyperexcitability. Acute
alkalosis may be caused by impaired kidney function,
hyperventilation, use of diuretic or steroid drugs,
vomiting or gastric drainage. Acute alkalosis is treated
by giving an acid solution such as ammonium chloride
or by breathing expired carbon dioxide from a paper
BODY pH IS MEASURED
of what is known and used clinically relates to the
acidity and alkalinity of the bloodstream, since it
is possible to measure the pH of blood and difficult
and sometimes impossible to measure the pH of other
tissues. Medical doctors typically try to determine
the acidity or alkalinity of the body and its cells
by analyzing the blood. Some of the elements in blood
that are measured are sodium, potassium, chloride, carbon
dioxide and bicarbonate. A number known as the anion
gap can be calculated using the sodium, chloride and
bicarbonate measurement. The anion gap, along with the
other values, are used to assess the acidity or alkalinity
of the body tissues (1).
practitioners may use systems developed by Carey Reams,
Harold Hawkins or Emanuel Revici. All three measure
urine pH plus other factors to assess metabolism. Drs.
Reams and Hawkins also measured saliva pH. None of these
systems claims that internal pH can be determined by
saliva or urine pH alone. As we saw earlier, the kidney
has several methods for disposing of excess acid, and
each has a different effect on the urine pH. Similarly,
the saliva pH is affected by bacteria and other microbes
in the mouth so that saliva pH is not a reliable indicator
of the internal environment. Nonetheless, Dr. Reams
felt that saliva pH reflected the strength of digestive
fluids (4) (5) (6).
AND ACID-ALKALINE BALANCE
World War II, there was considerable interest in how the
food we eat affects the acid-alkaline balance of the body.
While today the subject is not receiving much attention
in orthodox circles, many alternative practitioners place
considerable stress on the acid-base balance characteristics
of various diets. In spite of a certain amount of ongoing
debate, it is generally acknowledged that the food that
is eaten is a major source of acid and alkali for the
3. Acid, Alkaline and Neutral Ash Foods (8)
confusion in terminology has resulted because of the
way that the discussion evolved. In investigating how
different foods might affect the acid-alkaline balance,
various foods were burned to ash in the laboratory,
and the pH of the resulting ash was measured. These
foods were then classified as acid, alkaline or neutral
ash foods as shown in Table 3 (8).
addition, various alternative practitioners such as
Edgar Cayce and Bernard Jensen have referred to acid
and alkaline-forming foods, based on the reaction of
foods in the body. These categories are shown in Table
terms acid or alkaline ash and acid and alkaline forming
are often used interchangeably, but as can be seen from
these tables, the terms are not always synonymous.
4. Acid and Alkaline Forming Foods (9)
meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood
fruits except those noted above
foods made from cereal grains including breads,
breakfast cereals, crackers, pasta and rice
vegetables except beans, peas and lentils
including salad oil, butter, margarine, lard etc.
products including milk, buttermilk, cheeses and
including beans, peas, lentils and peanuts
containing benzoic or oxalic acid including prunes,
plums, cranberries, rhubarb and sour cherries
tea and most soft drinks
the more scientific definitions, alkaline ash foods
are those that contain large quantities of magnesium,
calcium, potassium and/or sodium, minerals that form
alkaline compounds. Most fruits and vegetables are considered
alkaline. Acid ash foods are those that contain chloride,
phosphorus, or sulphur, minerals that form acid compounds.
These acid ash foods include meat, fish, poultry, legumes
and grains, which all contain high levels of phosphorus,
and mustard and eggs, which contain sulphur. In addition,
the fruits, plums, prunes, cranberries, rhubarb and
sour cherries are also acid-forming since they contain
either oxalic or benzoic acid, organic acids which are
not completely broken down in the body (5) (7) (8).
digestion and metabolism also plays a role in determining
whether a food leaves an acid or alkaline residue. For
example, certain foods containing organic acids, such
as citrus fruits and tomatoes, which normally leave
no acid residues, may be incompletely metabolized in
some people and are acid-forming for these individuals.
This is quite frequently the case where stomach acid
is low or thyroid activity is subnormal (5).
are other metabolic and life style factors which affect
the acidity of the body and the reactions of foods.
Infection, smoking and alcohol consumption tend to make
the body more acid (5) (10). Conversely, exercise will
tend to make the body more alkaline, but if continued
beyond a comfortable level it can become acid forming,
as lactic acid levels build up (1) (5). Furthermore,
the dietary content of trace elements also affects acid-alkaline
balance. Adequate magnesium and phosphorus are necessary
for cellular pumps. Zinc is necessary both for secretion
of acid in the stomach and for excretion or retention
of acid by the kidney. In addition, many other nutrients,
the B vitamins as an example, are necessary to completely
oxidize carbohydrates and fats.
has been recommended by Edgar Cayce and others that
the diet be comprised of 80% alkaline forming foods
and 20% acid-forming ones. In more practical terms,
the recommendation was four vegetables and two fruits
to one starchy food and one protein food (9). It is
not clear whether these proportions apply for all people.
By contrast, Dr. Weston Price found that the traditional
diets of the healthy primitives he studied were higher
in acid ash foods than in alkaline ash foods. (See From
the Archives, page 10.) The traditional diets were higher
in minerals than the more processed modern diets. (11).
Dr. Price’s research confirms the importance of
nutrient-dense, unrefined, properly prepared foods.
genetic differences may play a role in what constitutes
an appropriate balance in the diet. For example, it
is known that Eskimos handle fats far more efficiently
than other populations and do not suffer from ketosis
from very high fat consumption as other groups do (12).
The fact that Cayce’s recommendations seem at
odds with those of Dr. Price can be explained by the
fact they were aimed at a different population group,
living in a different climate with a different level
people of European descent in the U.S., manipulation
of the acid or alkaline nature of the diet has been
used along with other measures to treat disease conditions,
particularly dental caries. Dr. Harold Hawkins, a professor
of dentistry at the University of Southern California
in the 1940s, studied the effects of foods on the pH
and mineral content of the saliva, urine and bloodstream.
Dr. Hawkins found that the pH and mineral composition
of the saliva and urine were affected by diet, but that
the pH of the bloodstream was more influenced by digestion
and other metabolic and lifestyle factors.
a result of his studies over many years, Dr. Hawkins
was able to construct a diet that was adequate for most
people and to treat those with dental problems and other
disease conditions using primarily diets adjusted to
balance saliva and urine chemistry. Like Dr. Price,
Dr. Hawkins stressed the importance of animal protein
and whole grains along with adequate fat and vegetable
acid-alkaline balance is an important factor in the
health and functioning of the body. Diet is one factor
that influences acid-alkaline balance both through the
acid or alkaline forming nature of the foods that are
eaten and through the nutrient content which affects
metabolism. Nutrient rich traditional diets provide
the essential factors necessary for excellent metabolism,
good acid-alkaline regulation and optimal health.
Note: A number of alternative practitioners today advocate
a diet based primarily on fruits and vegetables, one
that minimizes “acid-forming” foods such
as meat, fish and grains. While the inclusion of fruits
and vegetables in the diet is important for many reasons,
including the fact that these foods provide alkalinizing
minerals, for most people it is not necessary to minimize
acid ash foods such as meat and whole grains in order
to maintain acid-base balance. In fact, a diet in which
these acid ash foods are absent can lead to deficiencies
which undermine the body’s ability to maintain
the proper blood pH. Meat and other animal foods provide
protein, red meats provide zinc, and meat and properly
prepared whole grains provide phosphorus, all of which
are needed for the regulation of acid-base balance.
Fat soluble vitamins found in organ meats, shellfish
and good quality butter help maintain the health of
the lungs and kidneys, the two prime organs involved
in acid-base regulation. Weston Price’s research
indicates a nutrient-dense diet that supplies both alkaline-ash
and acid-ash minerals in liberal amounts is key to the
health of the entire organism, including the complex
systems that regulate acid-base balance.
A, DuBose TD (1995). Cellular and whole-body acid-base
regulation. IN: Fluid, Electrolyte and Acid Base Disorders
(Arieff, AI and DeFronzo, RA, eds.). Churchill Livingstone.
New York. p. 69-103.
RC, Kupi W, Faber MD, Goodkin DA, Dunfee TD (1995).
Pathophysiology, class and therapy of acid-base disorders.
IN: Fluid, Electrolyte and Acid Base Disorders (Arieff,
AI and DeFronzo, RA, eds.). Churchill Livingstone.
New York. p. 104-198.
R, ed. (1982). Merck Manual (14th edition). Merck,
Sharp & Dohme Research Labs, Rahwy, N.J. p. 945-52.
AF (1984). Biological Ionization as Applied to Human
Nutrition, Principles and Techniques. Agro-Bio Systems,
Fort Bragg, Ca.
HF (1947). Applied Nutrition. International College
of Applied Nutrition. La Habra, California.
GR (1997). The Nutri-Spec Letter 8(7):1-6.
FC (1973). Acidification of the urine. Handbook of
Physiology Section 8: Renal Physiology (Orloff J,
Berliner RW and Fieger S, eds.) American Physiological
Society. Washington D.C. p. 431-54.
AH, Ensminger ME, Konlande JE, Robsin JRK (1994).
Foods and Nutrition Encyclopedia (2nd edition). CRC
Press. Boca Raton, Florida. p. 6-7, 41.
A, Ilstrup C (1967). A Diet/Recipe Guide Based on
the Edgar Cayce Readings. A.R.E. Press. Virginia Beach,
WR (1990). Nutrition and infection. IN: Nutritional
Biochemistry and Metabolism (Linder M, ed.). Elsevier.
New York. p. 507-42.
WA (1935). Acid-base balance of diets which produce
immunity to dental caries among the south sea islanders
and other primitive races. Dental Cosmos 1935:842-46.
AC (1980). Textbook of Medical Physiology (2nd edition).
W.B. Saunders Co.. Philadelphia. p. 457, 803, 853.
Worthington has a Master of Science degree in nutritional
sciences from the University of Maryland and a doctorate
in International Health with a specialty in nutrition
from Johns Hopkins University, School of Public Health.
In addition, she has studied herbal and nutritional
medicine with several herbalists and traditional healers.
Worthington has 13 years of experience in various
aspects of nutrition including research, community
nutrition, nutrition education and clinical work with
individual patients using nutritional and herbal therapies.
She is currently in private practice in Washington,
DC and writes on health related subjects.
to the top of the page