Alkaline Water – What's all the fuss?

I recently had a client ask me about alkaline water and whether it was better than drinking plain water. I thought others might be curious as well so let’s take a look to see if there are any health benefits to drinking alkaline water.

I was first introduced to alkaline water a few years ago when I participated in a mindful “triathlon” (5k walk/run, then yoga and group meditation). They had vendors as part of the event and one of them was giving away free samples of alkaline water. I took a couple samples home and tried them shortly after. Personally, I did not like the taste of the alkaline water – I recall it being slightly bitter or metallic compared to the filtered water from our refrigerator. I also did not notice any difference in how I felt, although admittedly, I only had one or two glasses – probably not enough to make a true comparison.

What is the difference?

Let’s start by looking at the difference between regular water and alkaline water. You may recall from your high school science days that water is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen. Water’s pH level determines how acidic or basic (alkaline) it is and ranges from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is considered neutral, or balanced, between acidic and alkaline. If water has a pH below 7, it’s “acidic.” If it’s higher than 7, it’s “alkaline.”

The pH of tap water is typically close to neutral but may fall anywhere between 6.5 and 8.5 depending on where you live. Bottled alkaline water has a pH level above 7, usually closer to 8 or 9. Alkaline compounds are salts and metals that, when added to water, make it more basic. Some alkaline waters are from springs or artesian wells and are naturally alkaline because of dissolved minerals. Others are made with an ionizing process, and water ionizing machines are also marketed for home use.

What are the health claims around alkaline water?

Manufacturers and other proponents of alkaline water have made several claims about the health benefits of their product. For example, alkaline water enthusiasts contend that its increased hydrogen provides greater hydration than regular water, especially after a hard workout. Others tout its ability to supposedly reduce acid in the bloodstream, which they allege can improve metabolism and digestion as well as reduce bone loss and slow the aging process. Some have gone so far as to say that it can prevent or even treat cancer by starving cancer cells.

So, what is the truth behind these claims? Unfortunately, there is little evidence from the research to support them. First, much of the research on alkaline water has been animal-based, meaning the possible effects on humans are not yet supported by science. Several small studies – which were funded by companies that sell alkaline water – suggest that it could improve hydration in athletes, but any potential benefits were modest. Most nutrition experts agree that an easier way to improve hydration is just to drink more regular water. Finally, a 2016 review of research studies found no evidence that alkaline water could treat or prevent cancer.

Is there any harm in drinking alkaline water?

For the most part, the answer is no. Unless you have a kidney disease, alkaline water doesn’t pose any serious health risks. (Note: If you have chronic kidney disease or are taking a medication that affects your kidney function, elements in alkaline water could possibly have negative side effects on the kidneys. Please discuss with your doctor before consuming.) Experts say the high pH in alkaline water could make your skin dry and itchy or cause an upset stomach, but that’s about it.

The bottom line

At the present time, there isn’t enough scientific proof to say alkaline water is better than drinking regular bottled water or tap water. Most of the experts agree that alkaline water is just the latest trend that people think is going to make them healthier, feel better, or have more energy. However, most of us can reap those benefits by just drinking enough regular water. Thus, it’s up to you to decide if you want to spend the money on a product that may or may not provide any additional health benefits.