According to a number of health websites, alkaline water is the latest health miracle. But few people understand what alkaline water is, why it has the potential to be such a great thing, or even where to begin with the science. Thankfully there is a wealth of information available on the topic. But the newest science is still developing, and it does take a little legwork to find relevant information, so we’ll start with why it is important, and whether or not it can really benefit you.
In a word, alkaline water is sparkling water. There is of course more to it than that, but basically, it’s sparkling water, like Evian, which sells for about $2 a liter. Since the average person should drink more than a liter of water a day, according to the NHS, that works out to more than $800 a year of sparkling water. But what exactly is sparkling water?
To understand this, you need to know a little about pH,which is short for “potential Hydrogen,” and how the body works.
Put simply, pH is a measure of acid, alkaline (base), or lack thereof (neutral). Water has a pH of 7, making it neutral. On the lower end of the scale are the acidic materials, like lemons, with a pH of about 2.2. At the upper end are alkaline substances, like blood at 7.4 or ammonia at 11.0.
Because the body is designed to maintain itself in balance, excess acidity in the bloodstream is excreted by the lungs and kidneys. That’s one reason less acidic beverages, such as water, or even alkaline beverages, like sparkling water, are better than their more acidic partners such as beer or soda. What puts a twist on things is that any chemist would have no problem telling you that there is still much we don’t know or understand about water.
Kenneth Jordan is one such chemist, and also happens to be an expert on the properties of molecules and clusters – in particular how water molecules cluster. If you thought water was just, well, water, it isn’t, and the science behind it is what alkaline water filters are built on.
Researchers have been looking into just how these water clusters interact with the body, with the Mayo Clinic reporting that some studies support alkaline water’s ability to slow bone loss. With the worldwide incidence of bone loss nearing an epidemic in the elderly, studies into preventative methods and care are ongoing around the world.
Of course, water is in almost everything we eat to some degree, and there are a number of other studies pointing to the benefits of consuming alkaline foods, such as fruits. AirWaterLife, which is also an alkaline water ionizer vendor, has an excellent chart detailing various foods and their respective pH balances. Ironically fruit is at the top of the list. Every study points to fruit as being healthy and good for the body. Alkaline water is just a plus, and one with additional benefits.
The difference between a quality water ionizer and a run-of-the-mill water filter is, as the name indicates, that with an ionizer the water is filtered and ionized. Ionization is a process by which the molecules of a given substance, water, in this case, receive either a positive or a negative charge. It’s also a page or two of university level math, leading into quantum physics on the most advanced ends of the spectrum. Water ionizers are built on this math, and operate by splitting the water molecules through the introduction of an electric charge. The end result is that normal tap water is turned into sparkling water.
Drinking enough water is also extremely important, whether that water is tap, filtered, or ionized. The big difference is that drinking ionized water increases the level of antioxidants in the body. This is because it has about five water molecules per cluster, as opposed to tap water’s 12-molecule clusters. Water clusters occur when water molecules form hydrogen bonds with their neighbors. This is one of the properties of water that gives it both surface tension (allowing it to pool), and support capillary action against the force of gravity, as in the case of plants sucking up water, or suction in pump devices.
Because larger water clusters are by definition bigger than their smaller counterparts, smaller water clusters are believed to improve hydration because they are more readily absorbed. This significantly contributes to detoxification, hence the antioxidant effect. Additionally, it can improve pH levels, which contributes to maintaining healthy bone density, or bone mass. The actual mineral content of water is also an important consideration, as the more minerals water contains, the more it contributes toward neutralizing acidity in the bloodstream.
In a water ionizer, electrically charged plates break larger water clusters into smaller clusters, separating water molecules into hydroxyl and hydrogen ions. This creates the sparkling water effect. The actual bubbles, unlike the carbon dioxide in many other sparkling beverages, are produced by very fine hydrogen bubbles. These hydrogen gas bubbles (H2) are lighter than water, and so dissipate relatively quickly. As hydrogen provides one of the health benefits, it’s a good idea to drink the water before the bubbles dissipate, as the ions are unstable, and will immediately begin to reform into stable water, or hydrogen gas bubbles.
The smaller water clusters, as previously discussed, are more readily absorbed by the body, resulting in greater hydration. Hydrogen provides its own significant benefits, having antioxidant properties and reducing inflammation. In fact, the National Institute of Health (NIH) performed a study on cancer patients that had impressive results: “The consumption of hydrogen-rich water for 6 weeks reduced reactive oxygen metabolites in the blood and maintained blood oxidation potential. QOL (Quality Of Life) scores during radiotherapy were significantly improved in patients treated with hydrogen-rich water compared to patients receiving placebo water. There was no difference in tumor response to radiotherapy between the two groups.”
Further, the conclusion was that, “Daily consumption of hydrogen-rich water is a potentially novel, therapeutic strategy for improving QOL after radiation exposure. Consumption of hydrogen-rich water reduces the biological reaction to radiation-induced oxidative stress without compromising anti-tumor effects.”
While there are still many studies in progress concerning the benefits of alkaline water, there is a great deal of information available that suggests real and actionable health benefits. Not everyone might need or benefit from such an addition to their diet, but if you’re already on bottled sparkling water, then a water ionizer might be just the thing for you.