The Importance of pH Balance for Healthy Bones
Alkaline balance is very important for bone health.
We evolved in an alkaline ocean environment, and even today our body’s internal environment remains alkaline, with a pH just above 7.0. Our enzymatic, immunologic, and repair mechanisms all function their best in an alkaline environment. Despite this, our biochemical functioning, the metabolism of food, and many other fundamental life processes, all produce a great deal of acid.
When we exercise or move, for example, we produce lactic acid and carbon dioxide. Lactic acid is by its nature acidic, and the exhalation of carbon dioxide represents an excretion of acids. Further, our immune responses (manifested as allergies and hypersensitivity) and stress responses generate substantial amounts of acidic by-products. Finally, we generate acids when we eat and digest food. For example, sulfuric acid can be produced from the metabolism of sulfur-containing amino acids, and we consume phosphoric acid as a food additive. Long-chain fatty acids also produce acids when metabolized.
There are countless chemical reactions necessary for life that can only occur within a very specific pH range, so the body has many checks and balances to maintain pH within a narrow range. To regain the alkaline state necessary for our health and survival, metabolic acids from all sources must be buffered or neutralized.
Through various mechanisms, alkaline mineral salts of organic anions are drawn upon to buffer acids. Many of these can be obtained by eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Potassium citrate and potassium malate, for example, are commonly found in vegetables and fruits. The organic anions of these compounds, when metabolized, have the ability to accept hydrogen ions and thus reduce the acid load and restore alkaline balance. When dietary consumption patterns provide insufficient buffering capacity, body buffering mineral pools can be depleted and the intracellular environment becomes acidotic.
An underlying metabolic acidity is a common denominator among — and a likely contributing factor to — all degenerative and autoimmune diseases. An acid condition has several adverse effects on cell metabolism, including impaired energy production, fluid accumulation and edema, and a likely increase in free radical production. Interesting enough, kidney specialists working with acid-base balance now recognize that most Americans, as they age, live in chronic, low–grade metabolic acidosis. This condition contributes to a series of health problems, including loss of bone mineral, loss of muscle mass, a reduction in growth hormone, and the development of kidney stones.
Acidosis increases bone loss, which leads to osteoporosis, and fractures. Both pre- and postmenopausal women and older men eating an acid-forming diet have lower density in the spine and hip bones. Making the extracellular environment of the bones more acidic results in activation of osteoclasts and inhibition of osteoblasts causing a net loss of calcium from the bone. Surprisingly, a tiny extracellular pH reduction of 0.1 is sufficient to cause a doubling of calcium resorption from the bone.
The restoration of the health-promoting alkaline state is essential to the regeneration of bone health, immune competence, and overall well-being.
A growing body of research has now clearly documented clinical benefit through diet and alkalinizing supplements. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in animal protein and sodium chloride reduces acid load and is consistently associated with greater bone density. Alkalization through supplementation decreases urinary excretion of calcium, increases bone density, and decreases fractures.