An article in Slate magazine written by Kent Sepkowitz asks one of the most ridiculous questions I’ve ever heard: Does your water need more ions? Any chemists that read that question must have been shaking their heads. More than what? Sepkowitz doesn’t say, because he’s too busy trying to establish the concept of drinking water for health as a “health fad.”
Sepkowitz argues that “some companies” are rushing to sell you a “gizmo” that is supposed to “realign” water. The machine is supposed to split off a few hydrogen atoms along the way, something he alleges ionizers do. Sepkowitz never actually says what he means by “realigning”. I’ve been writing about alkaline water since 2010 and have never heard of “realigning” it.
Water an “emerging” or “cutting edge health food?” Not Really
Sepkowitz asks if water is somehow ready to “emerge” as a cutting edge health food. He speculates that it may become a symbol of health and status. Consequently, what he fails to realize is that it “emerged” a long time ago as a way to improve health.
Water for health studied since the 1800s
The briefest review of scholarly research shows that there are studies and academic reviews of various types of water. Those studies go all the way back to the 1800s. In those days, many studies were done on the effects of mineral water on health. Furthermore, many of those studies built the foundations of what we know about the health effects of mineral waters today. Obviously, any “food” that has been studied for its impact on health can’t quite be considered an “emerging” or “cutting edge” food!
“American Water” A strange target for improvement?
Kent Sepkowitz believes that tap water is good for you and can do no harm. He claims that the number of Americans sickened by tap water is “minuscule”. Unfortunately, this is not the case. A UC Berkeley study found that the elderly face a 12% higher risk of stomach infection from drinking untreated tap water. While it may not sound like much, 12% is anything but minuscule. In fact, a 12% chance of infection means that your chances of getting an infection of some kind from tap water are slightly greater than 1 in 9!
American tap water can clearly stand some improvement. We know that in many cases, there is too much fluoride in tap water because it’s causing dental fluorosis among children and teens. We also know that serious infections from bacteria like Brain-Eating Amoeba are on the rise.
Do videos and books make you an expert on ionized water?
Sepkowitz claims to have read numerous books and viewed countless videos on the subject of ionized water (he provides a link to one of them.) He says he remains unclear about how alkaline water can help people. He goes further to claim that “There isn’t even a crummy clinical trial to criticize”.
Perhaps Kent Sepkowitz, who is a doctor, has never heard of the Mayo Clinic? Nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky stated that there are studies which link alkaline water to bone health. Just in case Kent Sepkowitz gets a chance to read this article, I am providing references to some of those “crummy” clinical trials” so he can criticize them. (Authors note: I hope he does, and gets back to me with his critiques, I’d be anxious to hear them.
More studies need to be done
Sepkowitz claims that “the science around ionization and alkalinization is remarkably thin.” I also would suggest that more studies need to be done. Many of the studies done on the health benefits are preliminary in nature. They show promising results, but more studies are needed to confirm those results. What Sepkowitz conveniently neglects to mention is that follow up studies are expensive, and it is highly unlikely that funding would be forthcoming for those kinds of studies since alkaline water can’t be patented. Unlike expensive pharmaceutical drugs, mere water for health doesn’t hold the promise of blockbuster profits.
Acid Alkaline Balance and Your Body’s pH Buffer System
The main reason Sepkowitz gives for doubting the health benefits of alkaline water is that the body has a built-in buffering system for maintaining a balanced pH. This is true, the body can expel acidity in the form of CO2 from the lungs, excrete it in the urine, or buffer it with calcium from the bones.
Bone-buffering: There is a problem with bone-calcium buffering. Over the long term, bone loss from calcium-bone buffering results in weaker bones. In fact, women face a 1 in 2 chance of a hip fracture in their lifetime, and men face a 1 in 3 risks. Clearly, it’s not a good idea to rely on the bone-buffering system to protect you from acidity!
Kidneys: The kidneys can expel excess acidity, but there’s a problem. Chronic low urinary pH has been linked to the symptoms of metabolic syndrome: The lower the urine pH, the more symptoms of metabolic syndrome you are likely to have. These are the symptoms of metabolic syndrome:
High Blood Pressure
High Blood Sugar
High Cholesterol Levels
Acidosis: What happens when you have a temporary pH imbalance
As you can see, there is a downside to acidic urine! So you may not want to depend on your kidneys to protect you from excessive acidity.
Lungs: Your lungs expel acidity in the form of CO2, but they can be overwhelmed. Have you ever felt out of breath? When that happens, your lungs are overwhelmed with CO2. This condition is called respiratory acidosis.
Remember: When you’re out of breath, your body is in a state of respiratory acidosis! Unless you are in this condition due to a serious workout, it’s not healthy!
As you can see, your body can buffer acidity, but its ability to do so is limited, and that ability comes with some health tradeoffs that you don’t want to make! That is where alkaline water comes in.
The Premise of Alkaline Water?
Another area where Kent missed the boat is on what he believes is the “premise” of alkaline water. Kent states:
The premise, I think, is that slightly increasing the pH in your stomach will keep the stomach from having to secrete so much acid and in turn spare the pancreas from squirting out so much bicarbonate, thereby giving all your organs a bit of a holiday
Japanese clinical studies have documented the fact that alkaline water temporarily raises the pH of the stomach by a pH of .5 – 1. But raising stomach pH is not the “premise” of it because that does not take into account the mineral content. In fact, it is the composition of the mineral compounds in alkaline water from an ionizer also give it some beneficial effects:
Calcium Hydroxide: Recognized by the FDA for its contribution to human nutrition. It is such an effective source of dietary calcium that it is used to fortify baby formula and orange juice with calcium.
Magnesium Hydroxide: The active ingredient in Milk of Magnesia, is likely the reason that alkaline water can provide gentle relief of the symptoms of stomach upset.
Because he does not take into account the effect of the mineral compounds, Sepkowitz’s “premise” is simply incomplete.
Does a water ionizer split water into hydrogen and oxygen?
Sepkowitz closes his article by attempting to explain what an ionizer does to water, and he got it dead wrong. He incorrectly claims that an ionizer is intended to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. There are machines that do that, but that’s not what an ionizer is for. In fact, ionizers don’t have enough power to make hydrogen and oxygen out of water.
How an ionizer actually works
First of all, an ionizer separates the mineral carbonate compounds in tap water into alkaline and acid fractions. The alkaline side gets the calcium and magnesium, and undergo a reaction called hydrolysis to make the mineral hydroxides I discussed above. The acidic side gets the carbonate ( which is dissolved CO2) it reacts to form a weak solution of carbonic acid. Therefore, the main difference between the two is that tap water contains mineral carbonates, and alkaline water contains mineral hydroxides. Clearly, Kent Sepkowitz did not study up on the actual electrochemical process that occurs in an ionizer. He missed the minerals – the most important part – completely.
Can I prove that alkaline water contains mineral hydroxides, and that tap water doesn’t?
Yes, a simple chemical test proves that calcium hydroxide is present in water from an ionizer. If you add a few drops of sulfuric acid to it, a small pile of white crystals will settle to the bottom. These crystals form when sulphuric acid reacts with calcium hydroxide to form calcium sulphate. Here’s the formula for the reaction:
H2SO4 + Ca(OH)2 –> CaSO4 + 2H2O
Calcium sulphate is hydrophobic – because it doesn’t dissolve. As a result, when you do this test, calcium sulphate crystals settle out of the solution. If you do this test with tap water, it will not produce the calcium sulphate crystals.
Open message to Kent Sepkowitz
If you would like to discuss any of the issues I’ve raised here. If you want further information, feel free to call me (Leo McDevitt) at (760) 585 1635. I’m here Monday through Friday, from 7 am to 3 pm Pacific time. I’ll be happy to share with you the studies I’ve collected.
Get the facts Call us today at 877-959-7977
References (Yes! Including Clinical trials for Kent to criticize!)
Sepkowitz, K Does Your Water Need More Ions? Slate Magazine 22 March 2013 http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2013/03/ionized_and_alkalinized_water_ridiculous_health_fad_debunked.html
Abraham, Guy, and Jorge Flebas. “The effect of daily consumption of 2 liters of electrolyzed water for 2 months on body composition and several physiological parameters in four obese subjects: a preliminary report.” Highbeam Research. Original Internist, 01 Sep 2011. Web. 2 Jul 2013. <http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-269433201.html>.
Maalouf, N, M Cameron, and et al. Low Urine pH: A Novel Feature of the Metabolic Syndrome.”Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. American Society of Nephrology, 29 May 2007. Web. 2 Jul 2013. <http://cjasn.asnjournals.org/content/2/5/883.full.pdf>.
Wynn, E, MA Krieg, JM Aeschlimann, and P Burckhardt. “Alkaline mineral water lowers bone resorption even in calcium sufficiency: alkaline mineral water and bone metabolism.” Bone. Elsevier, 27 Oct 2008. Web. 1 Jul 2013. <http://www.thebonejournal.com/article/S8756-3282(08)00781-3/abstract>.
Rylander, Ragner, Thomas Remer, and et al. “Acid-Base Status Affects Renal Magnesium Losses in Healthy, Elderly Persons.” The Journal of Nutrition. American Society for Nutrition, n.d. Web. 2 Jul 2013. <http://jn.nutrition.org/content/136/9/2374.full>.
[Tashiro, et al: “Digestion and Absorption” issued by the Japan Digestion and Absorption Academics Society Vol. 23 No. 2, pp. 52-56 (2000)]
Kilgore, Christine. ” Kidney Stones Linked to CVD, Metabolic Syndrome.” Internal Medicine News . Internal Medicine News,10 Aug 2011. Web. 3 Jul 2013. <http://www.internalmedicinenews.com/index.php?id=514&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=62138&cHash=86edab9dbe>.
Koufman, Jamie, and Nikki Johnsten. “Potential Benefits of pH 8.8 Alkaline Drinking Water as an Adjunct in the Treatment of Reflux Disease.” Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology. Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology, n.d. Web. 5 Jul 2013. <http://www.annals.com/toc/auto_abstract.php?id=15887>.