Apple Cider Vinegar and “Alkalizing” the Body: Why An Acid Can Never Raise Body pH

Woo.

A colloquial term for “bunk”, “junk science”, and generally unfounded, unproven ideas that we encounter in digital “print” (an oxymoron in past for sure, not so today) all the time. Sometimes, we find the phrase “woo-woo.” littering a blog entry or respected article; of course, this is non-standard, non-traditional usage and definition of the word, but by now many of us know what it means when an author brings out this larky (yet powerful) phrase, “It’s just woo”: It’s a clear signal that an author or blogger or news-writer is no proponent of pseudo-science, and will in no way entertain ludicrous, unsound concepts. It shows that the author respects Evidence-Based Medicine, as situated plainly as a class far  above junk science. It further suggests what’s been labeled “woo” is laughable, embarrassing even.

quackery

quackery

Is the term appropriate, ever? Is the idea of “alkalizing” the body with Apple Cider Vinegar appropriately filed under the big “WWW”, the Woebegone Woo Wackiness folder? Personally, I do not use the term “woo” in this manner, and have no such folder in my mind, or on my laptop, or anywhere else; it’s just not a very useful way of looking at things, and may be more limiting than helpful.

Of course, some notions that may be labeled as “woo” by the many may later turn out to be scientifically supported later; it’s probably not the most open-minded or intelligent way to proceed when encountering new ideas and concepts; merely mentally filing unproven theories as “theorems” and “postulations” and “possible explanations” is certainly enough, without imposing biased prejudgments on any new concepts outside our own usual idea-set and experience.

Possibly, this term came into usage in this manner drawing from its original usage; as people were “wooed” by those hawking dubious health cures, or at least it may have seemed that way in the eyes of third parties, watching the “cures” bought and sold.  Perhaps some were wooed by slick sales pitches, but time has told that many traditional  cures of various cultures , as well as contemporary alternative health remedies, do have scientifically-sound reasons for working. People just didn’t know; they did have the empirical evidence, though, gained from experience and casual observation.

If many ill patients “got better”, a substance was deemed “good.” If the treatment did nothing to improve a patient’s condition, or harmed, it was “bad.” Very simple. Over many generations, this feedback loop provides a lot of data, however invisible or inaccessible. In any case, only those “cures” that had at least a marginal rate of success survived the passage of time over the centuries and millenia. However, even if a cure “worked” (as in, “cured” the patient), both patients and healers working with”medicine” from traditional cultures in the past, may have entertained false ideas and attributed a rationale for its success that was totally askew. The two are (obviously) not mutually exclusive.

Aple Cider Vinegar image credit: jeepersmedia Improved at NJMAssages.com/articles

Apple Cider Vinegar
image credit: jeepersmedia

It’s not difficult finding people on-line stating that Apple Cider Vinegar acts to alkalize the body, raising internal pH, something many claim is an amazing thing, positively affecting health in a plethora of observable ways. But we’ve all studied chemistry in middle school high school, and again at university, and most of us can remember that vinegar is a weak acid. Perhaps some will even recall pH of vinegar is about 3 – 5.

Acids acidify.

So how can ingesting an acidic substance ever result in an increase in the body’s pH? Does this make sense to a logical mind?

To answer the first question, of course acidic substances lower pH of any liquid medium, and our bodies are about 70% water. Does it make sense that an acid can actually RAISE pH? No; it does not.   Most websites trying to suggest such never actually get to the supporting argumentation, merely stating that the “digestive process” for apple cider vinegar actually *raises* pH in the body, unlike other vinegars sourced from other ingredients.

One argument Internet users may stumble upon states that the body can dispense with releasing tons of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, as ACV “fills in”. Firstly, it’s not a strong acid like HCl, and secondly, even if it were more acidic (like lemon juice at at pH of 2), that means the acid usually released in the stomach to digest food and then be excreted, would remain in the body, but  alkaline bile would still be released to counter the lowered pH of the stomach contents, regardless of whether the acid was exogenous or not. The end result? A net loss of alkaline ions and retaining of acidic ones, clearly not a way to raise the pH of anything.

So, we’re left with what seems like a clear understanding: Apple Cider Vinegar cannot raise the PH of the body. Ever. This is basic chemistry.

However, living beings are complex biochemically; we are not the equivalent to a breathing glass of water and the underlying reactions that the body performs when we ingest vinegar are numerous. And so, the puzzle is not quite so simple as it may initially seem…

A letter to the editor, a case report appearing in Nephron, describes a patient consuming over eight ounces a day of Apple Cider Vinegar (the same as two-thirds the volume of a can of soda). Actually, a can of soda also has a relatively low pH: Coke Classic has a pH of 2.5 due to the addition of phosphoric acid for flavor. It’s not from the “metal in the can” or anything like that; the glass-bottled variety of the popular soft drink is equally low in pH. And of course, it’s not just Coke, but rather most brands of soda.

Drink Coke Ad. Restored On Brick Wall Image Credit: Donald Lee Pardue Image Improved at NJMassages.COM Uneding Health Quest Article August 2018

Drink Coke Ad. Restored On Brick Wall
Image Credit: Donald Lee Pardue

Apple Cider Vinegar isn’t the world’s strongest acid and doesn’t have the lowest pH of everything we drink or eat, but is strong enough to have left children, and sensitive adults, with harmful esophageal burns when imbibed (in its undiluted form), usually for its “health benefits.”

The metabolism of acetate from, the acetic acid in vinegar (standardized in Italian Balsamic Vinegar to be 8+% acetic acid) releases a good amount of bicarbonate into the bloodstream, which itself possesses a high pH, without depleting body stores of other positive ions used for internal pH neutralization and buffering. The result is “…massive bicarbonate excretion.” upon ingestion of ACV, to cite the Nephron journal article appearing in 1998 entitled, “Hypokalemia, Hyperreninemia and Osteoporosis in a Patient Ingesting Large Amounts of Cider Vinegar.” (Karl Lhotta, Gunther Hofle, Rudolf Gasser, and Gerd Finkenstedt, Department of Internal Medicine, Innsbruck University Hospital, Innsbruck, Austria)

Therefore, vinegar of ALL varieties, and not just ACV, all being comprised of a significant proportion of acetic acid, can actually create a net pH change that is less significant (in terms of depletion of positive ions) than would be the case with other acids, at least in small amounts.

Other studies with animal organs suggest heart tissue, as well as diaphragm tissue, will create some CO2 locally after higher levels of exposure to acetic acid, however CO2 is acidic, unlike bicarbonate, which is basic.

Kidney patients needing to raise body pH rely on baking soda with its high pH and proven track record as an innocuous means of raising the body’s pH with ease and few side effects, a few ingredient we all eat all the time anyway. In fact, studies suggest that daily ingestion of sodium bicarbonate can help kidney patients with metabolic acidosis avoid the need for dialysis. The study was published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology by  Dr. Ione De BritoAshurst and her colleagues from the Department of Renal Medicine and Transplantation from William Harvey Research Institute Barts, as well as the London NHS Trust.

The body prevents acidosis on consumption of large amounts of (any type of) acidic food or drink by leaching calcium carbonate from bone, if need be, as well as exchange with sodium and potassium ions. Thus, consuming too much vinegar can definitely lead to osteoporosis, as the body seeks to buffer pH beyond the amount that acetate conversion to bicarbonate could permit. This can even happen with over-consumption of your favorite soft drink or even antioxidant-rich tea! Bad news: Coffee has a low pH as well. Realistically, we have more to fear, in terms of body acidification, from our habits of what we drink and how frequently.

Kaya Doing a- pH Test by Terren

Kaya Doing a pH Test
Image Credit: Terren Va

If actively seeking to raise the body’s pH, it seems one should avoid foods with a low pH, and favor those with a high value, simply. But maybe it’s not quite so simple. Some acids, in minute amounts, namely acetic acid in vinegar, its chief acidic substance, can be buffered in ways other than leaching precious bone ions. The key here seems to be the amount of acid consumed, as well as the type.

Bicarbonate that starts out as acetate begins with acetate being hydrolyzed to carbon dioxide and water, over time. A hydrogen ion completes the task, finishing the conversion into bicarbonate. According to an article entitled “Critical Care Pearl: Metabolic Acidosis” (Victoria Weston, MD; Kevin Bajer, ParmD, Randy Orr, MD), this reaction occurs mainly in the liver, however, the pancreas also releases bicarbonate as well.

In conclusion, we cannot find evidence that Apple Cider Vinegar raises body pH. That is (seemingly) impossible. Interestingly, however, the novel mechanism for adjustment of pH back to neutral, when concerning moderate amounts of acetate, doesn’t deplete bone as other acids (possibly) would, potentially making it a useful addition, in small quantities, to an alkaline-forming diet.

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena

And, this is true for ALL vinegar, especially those types high in acetic acid, like Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, Italy, a standardized product guaranteeing highest levels of acetic acid.  However, this variety of (Protected Designation of Origin) vinegar is generally not used in the same manner as apple cider vinegar by health enthusiasts; the anecdotal accounts suggest apple cider vinegar is what people use for “alkalizing” and more.

It’s within the realm of possibility that vinegar, and Apple Cider Vinegar specifically, holds other promising health benefits generally not acknowledged beyond the (largely) untrue claim of having the ability to “alkalize”; this shall be explored in a later article on this topic in Unending Health Quest.

Authored by Dee Alban, Copyright 2018 H Miller, D Alban.

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