This paper is about how a condition known as acidosis, which is affected by the pH levels in the body, can cause ailments such as gout, arthritis, diabetes, and coronary problems. The central thrust of the article is that pH levels depend, to a large extent, on diet, or what one puts in one’s mouth. It is also argued that low protein diets are more beneficial than the current, popular, high protein diets when it comes to correcting the pH balance in the body. This field of study stems, in part, from Louis Pasteur’s statement that it is not microbes that are important in the study of disease, so much as the environment or terrain. What this means is that disease develops as a biological process in the body and the rate at which it develops depends on the state of the internal biological terrain – at the heart of which is pH.
This paper will begin with an explanation of pH, its role, and how it regulates our interstitium (the fluid surrounding the cells in our body). It will then look at how the body buffers acids and what happens when our buffering system malfunctions, including some of the disease processes. Finally there will be a comparison of high and low protein diets, and the concluding argument will be that high protein diets contribute to disease, while low protein diets are health promoting.
The pH Factor
There are factors which are common to all diseases and if you can identify those factors and address them then you are most of the way to a cure. Most experts are agreed that many diseases begin at a cellular level. Cells become polluted and acidic and they live in the terrain of your biology. It makes sense therefore to address malfunctioning here, no matter what is wrong with you. The body is largely made up of water and this water has both acid and alkaline components. The first step in this is to measure the alkaline/acid balance in this terrain because the level of acidity in your body is known to have an effect on health.
An increase in total body acid is known as metabolic acidosis. Stavile (2005) maintains that this is usually the result of two things:
“an inability of the kidneys to excrete the dietary hydrogen (H+) load, and an increase in the generation of H+ that is due to the addition of H+ (lactic acid or ketoacids) or to the loss of bicarbonate (HCO3–) due to inappropriate wasting by the kidney or the gastrointestinal tract. The response of the body to an increase in the H+ concentration involves several processes. The first and most readily available process is extracellular buffering. The most readily measured extracellular buffer is carbonic acid (H2CO3). This buffer is considered an open buffering system because compensatory mechanisms in respiratory carbon dioxide (CO2) (increase or decrease in ventilation) and renal HCO3– (increase or decrease in kidney reclamation of HCO3–) serve to maintain equilibrium.” (1)
In layman’s terms there is an imbalance in bodily pH levels. The level of acid in anything is determined by measuring its pH – pH is the potential hydrogen factor. The pH of any fluid is the measure of its hydrogen-ion concentration. The higher the pH reading then the more alkaline and oxygen rich the fluid is – while the lower the pH reading then the more acidic and oxygen depleted the fluid is. The ideal balance of alkaline and acid in the body is 7.4 – slightly more alkaline than acid. If you are ill then it is more than likely that the pH level in your body is unbalanced and you are in a state of what is known as acidosis. Acidosis, simply put, means that the hydrogen ions are increased and the pH and bicarbonate ions are decreased. There are then a greater number of hydrogen ions than can be absorbed by the body’s buffering systems. If the situation is reversed i.e. the bicarbonate ions are increased and the hydrogen ions are decreased then the body is said to be in a state of alkalosis.
The hydrogen ions in a substance are measured on a logarithmic scale from 0-14.
Higher end numbers indicate a substance that is more alkaline while lower ones indicate greater acidity (positively and negatively charged ions) in the bodily fluids, i.e. blood, urine and saliva. Thus a person’s pH level can mirror the state of the blood and thus a good indication of health. The screening of live blood cells reveals how much acid is present in the blood. When acid levels are high the blood cells stick together and this slows their movement while carrying oxygen round the body. The composition of the blood only changes when the pH levels are significantly out of balance. Hospital doctors regard this as symptomatic of old age and the degenerative process, thus the day to day imbalances and how these might be addressed are largely ignored by the traditional medical community. Yet if the pH levels become significantly imbalanced this can lead to mutation in the blood cells.
As the pH of the blood goes more acid, fatty acids which are normally electro-magnetically charged on the negative side switch to positive and automatically are attracted to and begin to stick to the walls of arteries which are electro-magnetically charged on the negative side. (And as science states: opposites attract.) It should start to make sense that a society which over-emphasizes food that could push blood to be more acid will have a high rate of heart disease (2).
Our pH levels are directly related to what we eat. When we eat too much protein, sugary food, and drink fizzy drinks we are upsetting our body’s pH levels. pH refers to potential hydrogen – it is concerned with the acid/alkaline balance in our bodily fluids and to what extent the blood is oxygenated sufficiently to travel round the body at the correct rate. Scientists and doctors are of the opinion that the pH levels in our bodies dictate whether or not we are healthy. A healthy pH level is between 7.4 and 7.6 leaning towards alkaline – anything below this means that our bodily fluids are overly acidic. Medical opinion says that an excess of acidity is at the root of most of the illnesses that are the scourge of our modern day society. Modern diets lack many of the vitamins and minerals our body needs because farming methods have caused an imbalance in the pH levels of the soil in which our food is grown. Your body needs these minerals in order to function properly. Without it pH levels drop and become acidic. The body has to get rid of this acid because it can literally eat away the cells and tissues in your body. To do this the body borrows calcium, magnesium and other minerals from your bones and organs to neutralize the acid and remove it from the body. This can lead to a loss of bone density and conditions such as osteoporosis in women (3).
High acidity causes a strain on the body that can go undetected for a long period and lead to conditions such as:
- Cardiovascular damage, including the constriction of blood vessels and the reduction of oxygen
- Weight gain, obesity and diabetes
- Bladder and kidney conditions, including kidney stones
- Immune deficiency
- Acceleration of free radical damage, possibly contributing to cancerous mutations
- Premature aging
- Weak, brittle bones, hip fractures and bone spurs
- Joint pain, aching muscles and lactic acid build-up
- Low energy and chronic fatigue
The key to restoring the body’s pH balance is to introduce into your lifestyle those things which are said to increase the alkalinity levels in the body. This is not to say that everything has to be totally alkaline, the thing to remember is that you need to achieve a balance – some areas of the body actually need more acid than others. The way this is achieved is through buffering.
Buffering Systems and Buffers
A buffer keeps things where they should be and acts as a protective agent – buffering systems within the body are there to protect cells and tissues against damage, particularly that resulting from an imbalance in the body’s pH levels. Buffering is simply another word for balancing the levels of acid and acidity in the body. Good buffering means that your bodily fluids have a good ionic concentration because this maintains the body’s pH system within its ideal range.
…everything has balance and a perfect range. There are compartments in the body that you could say need “total acidity” in order to function. So for our purposes, we will say that the key is “total buffering” which is a good ionic concentration to maintain a solid pH that stays within an ideal range for the thing being measured (4).
The lungs, kidneys and other organs in the body all work together to act as natural buffering systems in the body and restore the blood’s pH levels. They do this by removing excess acids from the bodily tissues without causing any damage to the living cells (5). Every buffer system has an acid form and a base form. If the body’s pH levels become too acidic or even too alkaline then the body’s cells can become poisoned by their own toxic waste. This means that the body’s base operations are not working as they should.
The pH of plasma is maintained at 7.4. However, changes in plasma pH may reflect changes in other areas (6). If the pH level is right then the blood buffer equation is CO2 + HOH <===> H2CO3 <===> H+ + HCO3 Any changes in the concentration of either the CO or HCO ions can result in slight changes in the blood pH even though they are buffered. Oxygen and carbon dioxide work together in the blood because they are both influenced by hydrogen ions and equilibrium principles. When oxygen enters the blood via the lungs it reacts with hemoglobin. This reaction produces excess H+ ions which react with HCO3 to produce H2CO3 The carbonic acid decomposes and becomes CO2 which is diffused out of the blood via the lungs. Strenuous exercise may result in the addition of protons to the blood which means the buffer cannot control the pH by itself and so requires the help of other organs.
The body produces its own natural buffers. These buffers are chemicals that resist pH changes. If the pH is too low then one chemical will bind some of the hydrogen ions to raise the pH level – if on the other hand one chemical’s malfunctioning results in too high a pH, then the other chemical donates hydrogen to lower it (7). Proteins are the most important natural buffers in the body. They are intracellular and include hemoglobin. Plasma proteins are also buffers but these are in much smaller amounts than intracellular proteins. Proteins contain basic and acidic groups which act either as hydrogen ion acceptors or donors to help maintain blood pH (8).
Phosphate is part of the body’s buffering systems. Like protein it is intracellular and helps to maintain the blood’s pH balance. The equation for phosphate is H2PO4– : HPO42. Phosphate is also important to the body’s urinary system because it acts as a buffer there. The concentration of phosphate elsewhere in the extracellular system is low. Phosphate is part of the body’s buffering systems and helps to maintain the blood’s pH balance. Phosphate is also important to the body’s urinary system (9). Natural proteins also act as buffers in the blood, because proteins are intracellular.
Bicarbonate is a very important buffer in the blood and usually appears as sodium bicarbonate because sodium is a positive ion in the body’s cells. Its combination with the proton H+ means it can be effective in raising blood pH. A truly effective biological buffer helps to maintain the body’s pH levels in the accepted range of 7.35-7.45. It does this by resisting any changes that would shift the pH levels to either side of that figure (10). Sodium bicarbonate can also be taken to help restore the blood’s pH levels this is because it is a natural substance and works with the buffer in our bodies (11). Some foods act as buffers in that they help to keep the body’s pH levels at the required number – they help to restore and keep balance, they are base forming foods. Some other foods upset the balance and result in excess acid, these are acid forming foods. Base forming foods are largely made up of fruit, vegetables and nuts. Acid forming foods are high protein foods such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs, and nearly all carbohydrates.
The normal pH of the intracellular and interstitial fluids is maintained because acids are removed at the same rate as they are added, rather than by the buffer systems. When the acid balance is raised and becomes abnormal because acid is added faster than it is removed the change in the pH is not is drastic as it might have been in a non-buffer solution.
Buffers are there to help regulate the body’s pH levels, thus a buffer such as bicarbonate helps to minimize pH changes. The hydrogen ion easily reacts to things and this affects cells and molecules that are vital to the proper workings of the physiological process. As we have already seen the proper pH level in the body is slightly alkaline at 7.4. If buffers aren’t working properly then this can effect changes in the pH level. Many experts are agreed that changes of 0.2 units either way can have serious effects on the body’s basic operations. If the pH level of the blood goes below 6.9 or above 7.9 for an extended period of time then this can have serious consequences and death can result.
All of our bodily fluids, whether they are inside or outside cells have buffers which are there to defend the body against pH changes. The most important of these buffers is a mixture of carbon dioxide and bicarbonate anion, CO2 and HCO3. Carbon dioxide acts as an acid and donates hydrogen ions when they are needed while bicarbonate is a base which soaks up hydrogen ions when there are too many of them. By and large the blood pH is balanced between bicarbonate and CO2 (12). An imbalance in either of these chemicals, i.e. too much CO2 or too little HCO3 will upset the pH balance and can cause acidosis. If the ratio is reversed and there is too little CO2 and too much HCO3 then the pH levels become too alkaline.
One other important factor in chemical buffers is blood plasma because the carbonic acid and hydrogen carbonate ion that it contains helps to buffer the pH. When the bodily fluids become overly acidic we call this metabolic acidosis. Metabolic acidosis is affected by diet but it can also be caused by excess physical exertion, by diabetes, by too little food or by a high fat diet. The body responds to this by an increase in breathing. This helps to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that is dissolved in the blood and this is the reason why climbing several flights of stairs can cause us to breathe more heavily (13).
These chemical buffers work with the physiological buffers (respiratory and renal systems) to balance the pH. Thus with the respiratory system, the rate and depth of breathing changes to rid the body of excess carbon dioxide. The bicarbonate level is raised by the renal system which also excretes the acid or bases through the urinary system. The renal system is the most effective at balancing input against output; however, it can take days or hours for the process to be completed (14). The job of the buffers is to keep cells stable. The body needs all three mechanisms to keep pH levels stable This cannot be done by one mechanism alone.