Alkaline water is a popular buzz word in wellness circles, with some touting benefits like keeping a youthful appearance, balancing the body’s pH levels, reducing acidity, and even preventing chronic diseases or disorders like cancer.
Those are some tall claims, so how does alkaline water really stack up?
What is Alkaline Water?
Alkaline water is a particular kind of water with a pH value that is higher than regular tap or bottled water. The pH value refers to a measure of acidity—with lower numbers being more acidic and higher numbers being more alkaline.
Blood pH is strictly regulated in the body to be around 7.4, and when other aspects of the body become more acidic, inflammation and problems occur.
It has been said that diseases can’t survive in the body when it is alkaline. Because alkaline water has a higher pH level, it is supposedly better for overall health than normal tap or bottled water.
How do pH levels of water compare?
- Tap and bottled water: 7.0 or less
- Alkalized water: Between 8.0 and 9.0
Other supposed benefits of alkaline water are that it provides more minerals to the body, such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, and sodium.
These minerals perform critical functions in the body when it comes to acid buffering and also act as electrolytes, helping to maintain a healthy fluid balance inside and out of cells.
Because of these minerals and a higher pH level, alkaline water is believed healthier because proponents say it can neutralize acid and even free radicals in the body. We will explore the research below.
How Does Alkaline Water Compare to Other Types of Bottled Water?
Between spring water, alkaline water, ionized water, and so on, choosing a bottle of drinking water is becoming just as complex as choosing beverages that actually contain other ingredients.
Looking at the bottled water section of any grocery store or health foods market can quickly get overwhelming. With dozens of varieties at a wide range of prices, it can be difficult to see through the packaging and claims.
Alkaline water is the same as mineral water, but depending on the company and how the water came to be alkaline, packaging and claims may differ.
Let’s break down the common types of water you might find for purchase:
- Regular bottled water that doesn’t make any special claims typically comes from a water source, like tap water, that has then been purified and filtered. Usually, the filtering method is reverse osmosis. This process removes contaminants, but also largely removes most of the mineral content.
- Mineral water comes from natural spring water that is mineral-rich and has not been purified to remove them from it. It is alkaline water, but may not be marketed as “alkaline.” Instead, it may say mineral-rich or natural.
- Spring water is another term that often means something similar to mineral water since “spring” means that it naturally passes over rocks and picks up minerals. However, not all companies use “spring water” to mean naturally mineralized. Reading the label on the water bottle will tell you what the original water source was.
- Alkaline water could be another way of referring to mineral water, but it also often references water that has been through purification and then electrolysis, which is a chemical process that uses an electric ionizer to raise the pH values of water. The method of creating this alkaline water isn’t thoroughly backed by research for understanding the exact health benefits.
In general, drinking water that has been processed with reverse osmosis or that is distilled isn’t the healthiest long-term solution, because these are largely void of the natural minerals that we need for electrolyte and bone health.
What are the Health Claims of Alkalized Water?
In the health world, alkaline water is controversial and surrounded by more opinions than research.
Some health professionals say that there aren’t enough unbiased studies showing benefit and that the claims are largely unproven.
Others cite small studies that do prove some benefits, such as helping to reduce acid reflux or helping to better control certain conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. (source, source)
Yet another study shows benefit for people who work out intensely, showing that alkaline water could improve blood flow and oxygen delivery throughout the body. (source)
While these studies show promise, in the big picture, they are small and most proven health benefits are backed by bigger studies with a larger body of research.
Even so, those who believe in the health benefits of alkaline water continue to make claims, including:
- Benefits for colon health
- Boosting antioxidants to fight signs of aging
- Supporting natural immunity
- Hydrating the skin
- Promoting weight loss
- Decreasing acid and increasing cancer resistance
- Boosting energy and oxygen levels
- Promote better hydration
- Reduce headaches
For most of these claims, there is no direct evidence linking alkaline water with these benefits. Some research even shows that alkaline water or alkaline foods cannot treat or prevent cancer. (source)
While the evidence is limited, overall, alkaline water can do a few key things in the body—although “regular” water may be just as capable, in some cases. The benefits include:
Hydration: Any water helps to boost hydration levels, so claims that alkaline water can do it better are not necessarily founded.
However, it will certainly push you toward your goal of being hydrated, which is vital for maintaining homeostatic balance in the body, keeping your temperature regulated, ridding the body of waste, and ensuring the cells have the proper fluid balance to work efficiently.
Bone health: Acidic diets that are highly processed can lead to bone loss, due to the loss of calcium through urine. Increasing the intake of alkaline foods and liquids can help to cut back on the volume of acidic intake.
Some research shows that alkaline water can support bone health and potentially lead to a decrease in bone turnover. (source)
Acid reflux: A chronic problem for many, acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) produces unpleasant and painful symptoms like nausea, burping, gas, and even stomach acid coming up the esophagus and burning the throat.
Alkaline water can help to tone down the severity of stomach acid, but only in cases where too much is actually present. In most cases of reflux, too little acid is present, leading to poor digestion of food.
This impaired digestion results in undigested food sitting in the stomach for longer than it should, allowing for reflux symptoms to occur. Alkaline water is in no way a fix for acid reflux, but can simply temporarily ease symptoms.
Circulation: As mentioned above, some research does show that alkalized water can boost blood flow, particularly after athletic events or workouts, so it may be better for pre- or post-workout hydration.
Is Alkaline Water Safe?
Alkaline water isn’t considered unsafe, even by those who criticize its supposed health claims. The concern lies in those unproven claims, and that people would try to use it to treat or address certain health problems.
Essentially, medical experts want consumers to be aware that spending more on alkalized water that makes health claims is likely just a waste of money.
There is a mild concern, however, that if you drink only alkalized water all the time then you might alter your body’s natural mineral balance, which could result in nutrient deficiencies.
Generally speaking, balance is always the best idea when it comes to most aspects of health, and water is no exception. While drinking enough each day is important, it doesn’t have to be a specialized type and there is no guarantee that spending extra money on alkalized water will do anything for your health anyway.
Focus on drinking enough ounces per day and that alone will be beneficial for your wellness. Most people do not drink enough water on a regular basis.
Alkaline Water Recommendations
If you want to drink alkaline water, you can, but be sure to choose alkalized water that is sourced from a natural mineral spring. It should contain mineral content and not be first treated with reverse osmosis.
If you have questions about a particular water brand, you can check the water company’s website or call the company for more information.
Various types of alkaline and mineral water can be found in most health food and grocery stores or wherever bottled water is sold.
Prices can vary wildly per ounce, so do your homework and read labels before impulse-purchasing one that has the flashiest packaging or makes the most claims.
Make Your Own Alkaline Water
You don’t need to involve complicated science if you want to add some alkaline pH to your regular tap or drinking water. You can do this in a few ways:
Add lemon or lime: While these citrus fruits seem acidic, they actually have a pH-lowering impact on the body. It’s also a great way to get a boost of vitamin C.
Add pH drops: Several different companies sell pH or electrolyte drops, which can typically be added to eight ounces of whatever water you are drinking. Be sure to read serving sizes carefully to ensure you don’t take too much in a single day.
Electrolyte powder: While it doesn’t have the same effect as simple pH drops, many companies sell healthy versions of electrolyte powder that contain minerals. These are often flavored, but several sugarless options exist, which are healthier than drinking sports beverages. Beware of artificial sweeteners in these types of products, however, even in organic products.
While alkaline water can offer some potential health benefits, mostly in the form of being another way to hydrate your body, most of the claims are largely unproven. Spending lots of money on special alkalized water could be a waste.
The reasons why people might seek out alkaline water—to fight acidity or to combat an acidic, processed diet—are better addressed with an overall dietary and lifestyle change, not just by drinking “special” water.
If you want to boost alkaline ingredients in your diet, focus on the following nutrients:
- Other fresh fruits
- Leafy greens and other green vegetables
- Herbs and spices
If you have specific questions about eating for pH balance, it’s best to work with a nutritionist to get personalized information.
Not only will you want to know the best foods to add to your diet, but you’ll want to be able to understand the most acidic foods you’re eating and why they’re best eaten in moderation or avoided altogether.
Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid problems, infertility, and digestive wellness. She ate her way back to health using a Paleo diet, lost 80 pounds, and had a healthy baby after numerous miscarriages. She focuses on simple nutrition practices that promote long-lasting results.