This is a complex subject, but a very brief overview is that our bodies function better when the tissues are at an optimal pH level. The pH scale measures hydrogen ions. A value of 7.0 is considered neutral – this is the value of pure water (note that most drinking water is slightly acidic). Values below 7 are considered acidic. Values greater than 7 are considered alkaline. The body regulates the pH value of all tissues through a number of metabolic processes, respiration being the main one. There is some variation on what the optimal pH levels are for blood, tissues, saliva, etc.
In this website I focus on the pH value of urine because I have discovered that acid urine causes urethral pain and inflammation, whereas alkaline or neutral urine is pain-free. The pH of urine is determined by the pH value of bodily tissues and is influenced by what we eat. It is therefore easy to regulate urine pH by eating an alkaline diet and taking supplements of certain minerals.
Foods that are alkaline-forming:
In a nutshell the minerals sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium promote an alkaline balance in the body. Foods that are alkalinizing are most fruits and vegetables, especially potatoes (white and sweet), spinach, bananas, and raisins.
Foods that are acid-forming:
The acid-forming substances include all proteins and the minerals chloride and phosphorous. Acid-forming foods include meats, grains, beans and most dairy. The most acid-forming foods are hard cheeses, meats and grains.
Sugar is neutral and milk, ice cream and yogurt are very close to neutral.
Maintaining a urine pH between 6.0 and 8.0 (with 7.0 being optimal) will eliminate the pain of urethral syndrome – this I have proven on myself by carefully monitoring and recording my pain levels and measuring my urine pH every time I urinated over a two month period and then periodic checks for an additional year. I have been told by a medical doctor that this may also control the pain of interstitial cystitis.
We need a balance
Note that it is not true to say that acid-forming foods are bad for you. Our bodies need protein, chloride and phosphorous. We just need a greater proportion of alkalinizing foods over acid ones. And a typical western diet is very high in protein which results in most westerners being chronically mildly acid. Note that it is possible to be too alkaline – a condition called Alkalosis.
An important clarification
When I refer to a food as acid-forming, that refers to its effect on body tissues and urine after being digested. The food itself might test as alkaline if you test it directly with pH paper. Similarly, a food that is alkaline-forming to the body, might measure as acid (for example citrus fruits).
This is because eaten food is mixed with stomach acid which breaks down the nutritional components. During digestion only certain components enter the bloodstream and tissues while the rest passes through and is eliminated. Urine is liquid that is taken out from body tissues, processed by the kidneys and deposited into the bladder. Citrus fruits are high in potassium which enters into body tissues and makes the urine more alkaline. But if you measure a citrus fruit’s pH with test paper before you eat it, it will be very acid because of the citric acid it contains. During digestion your body does not absorb this citric acid into your tissues – it passes through your digestive tract and is eliminated. So the citric acid in the fruit will directly impact your mouth, throat and stomach, but will have little impact on your internal tissues and urine.
More in-depth information can be found in this online article written by John Berardi, PhD, “Covering your nutritional bases: The importance of acid-base balance“.