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If you’ve been looking at ways to provide your body with the healthiest sustenance possible, you may have come across the idea of increasing the pH of your water.
pH is something you probably last thought about in the science lab, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be aware of the exact pH level of the water you drink today. It’s obviously in the safe range for drinking – but if you were to alter your water’s pH using one of the at-home treatment options available today, would it actually be healthier?
Producing drinking water with a high alkalinity is easier than ever nowadays. In this guide, I’ll discuss everything you need to know about water pH, acidic vs alkaline water, and the disadvantages and benefits of drinking water with an elevated pH.
What is pH?
pH is a measurement used to classify how acidic or alkaline water is. The pH range is between 0 and 14, with 7 being “neutral” or “normal”. Water with a pH of lower than 7 is considered acidic, while water with a pH level that’s higher than the neutral pH of 7 is alkaline. The lower the water’s pH, the more acidic it is; the higher its pH, the more alkaline it is.
pH doesn’t stand for anything definitive, but as pH is a measure of how many hydrogen ions are formed in a specific volume of water, scientists will usually refer to pH as “potential of hydrogen” or “power of hydrogen”.
It’s more complex than that, though. Water that’s very acidic has the highest concentration of active hydrogen ions, but virtually no hydroxide ions. For alkaline drinking water, the opposite is true.
There are many processes that may make a water source more acid or alkaline before it reaches your home, such as absorption of carbon dioxide from rainfall.
How Does pH Affect Drinking Water?
The pH of your drinking water isn’t considered interesting enough to be reported on every day, like the weather. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t still important that your water’s pH is safe and suitable for drinking.
Water’s pH determines its solubility, and contaminants like heavy metals are more likely to be toxic in drinking water that’s more acidic because of this. Acidic water may also be corrosive to pipes and appliances.
Typically, though, the only real noticeable effect of pH on drinking water is taste. Providing you’re drinking within the safe pH scale, you may notice that more alkaline or acidic water has an unfamiliar taste. A pH of water of 8.5 or higher may give the solution an unpleasant smell or taste, and, depending on its mineral content, it may damage appliances and pipes.
Common Water pH Levels
Surface water sources typically have a pH range of between 6.5 and 8.5, while groundwater sources usually have pH levels of 6 to 8.5. If you buy bottled mineral water, which has a higher alkalinity because of its mineral content, it’ll likely have a pH range of between 7.5 and 8.
To give an idea of comparison, the pH of black coffee usually measures at 5, while baking soda typically has a pH of 9 and bleach can measure up to 12.
What pH Range is Safe for Drinking?
pH is considered an aesthetic water quality, which means that it isn’t regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, the EPA still recommends that all water supplies in the US should be kept within the pH scale of 6.5 and 8.5, which is considered safe.
What Are the Risks With an Unsafe pH?
Water outside of the 6.5-8.5 pH range may pose aesthetic problems in your home, and may also have a number of health effects.
The biggest problem with water that has a low pH is that it’s more susceptible to contamination. It’s more likely to be polluted with chemicals or heavy metals, according to research, which could be incredibly damaging to the human body if ingested.
Alkaline water with a high pH isn’t typically “unsafe”, but you’ll probably find that the higher the pH, the more difficult it is to drink, because it’ll taste unpleasant. If you’re not drinking enough, you might become dehydrated, which is a serious health concern.
Acidic vs Alkaline Water
Most municipalities regularly test their pH levels to make sure the pH of water doesn’t drop too low, ensuring that water is not susceptible to contamination. There is less of a focus on alkaline water, because a high pH doesn’t indicate anything particularly worrying.
Comparing acidic vs alkaline water, you’re more likely to find a much higher mineral content in alkaline water than in that with a lower-than-neutral pH. Alkaline water also offers a number of health benefits that you won’t get from drinking acidic water.
Benefits of Alkaline Water
It’s difficult to say with 100% certainty that alkaline water can benefit the human body in all the ways that the claims suggest, because research in the field is still relatively new. But based on emerging evidence, some of the claimed benefits of alkaline water include:
May Improve Bone Health
Our bones constantly undergo a process called resorption, in which old bone cells break down and release calcium into the blood. The less resorption, the higher the mineral content in our bones, which helps to keep them strong and healthy. Data from one study showed that mineral water with a high pH decreased bone resorption compared to water with a low pH.
May Reduce Cancer Risk
What scientists know about alkaline water and cancer is limited so far, and studies cannot provide definitive evidence to say that drinking water on the higher end of the pH scale may reduce cancer so far. However, scientific analysis did appear to show a link between urinary bladder cancer and acid in the diet, suggesting that the opposite may decrease cancer risk.
May Prevent Acid Reflux & Reduce Symptoms
One of the most well-known apparent benefits of alkaline water is its ability to reduce symptoms in people suffering with GERD, a type of long-term, recurring acid reflux. One of the studies in this field found that water with a pH level of 8.8 can inhibit an enzyme that’s often present in those with GERD. This water also showed promise in reducing the stomach’s acidity.
May Decrease Blood Pressure & Diabetes
In one study, participants who drank alkaline water for 3 to 6 months had lower levels of blood pressure, blood sugar and blood lipids. Another of the studies on this subject looked at the relationship between pH and water, with data suggesting that water with higher pH levels reduced blood viscosity after exercise, which may reduce strain on the heart from dehydration.
Risks of Alkaline Water
The saying “too much of a good thing” definitely applies to alkaline drinking water. Some of the setbacks of alkaline water may include:
When water’s on the top end of the pH scale, it has corrosive properties that are similar to water that’s more acid. Data from one study of rats that consumed water with pH levels of 11.2 or 12 showed that rats lost weight, shredded fur in patches and experienced delayed growth.
May Cause Metabolic Alkalosis
Science suggests that alkaline water may affect the normal pH levels of the body, resulting in metabolic alkalosis. This condition is characterized by symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, muscle twitching and tremors, and confusion.
May Affect Skin and Scalp Health
According to some data, drinking water with a high alkalinity typically contains more hardness minerals, such as calcium and magnesium. Hard water is well-known for its effects on hair and skin health, and can aggravate certain skin conditions like eczema.
May Lead to Stomach Upset
While water with elevated pH levels is thought to be beneficial to gastrointestinal health, there have been reports of people experiencing stomach upset after consuming water with a high alkalinity.
How to Test pH and Water at Home
It’s easy to test your water’s pH at home for less than $10. If you want to perform a basic pH measurement at home, consider the following techniques:
pH Test Strips
pH test strips are the simplest and most popular means of testing your water for acidity or alkalinity. Usually, these tests will require you to follow basic instructions, soaking a strip in a sample of water and waiting until the strip changes color to determine its pH level.
The shade spectrum of your strip may vary, but usually, water with a pH of 7 that’s considered neutral will cause the test strip to take on a pale green or orange shade, while more acidic water will take on a red/yellow color and water with an elevated alkalinity will turn the strip dark green or blue.
No matter what drinking water source you’re looking at, it’s highly unlikely that it’ll achieve a measurement of below 5.5 or above 8.5, it’s worth looking for pH test strips that don’t test all the way from 0 to 14, as those will give you a less accurate result.
You can buy pH strips online or from most hardware stores for around $5 per pack.
Digital Water Testers
A step up from pH test strips are digital pH testers. These handheld devices do the same basic job as a pH test strip, but they can give a more accurate measurement.
Water with a high acidity has more active, positively charged hydrogen ions than pure water, usually because this water has been introduced to high carbon dioxide levels. Water with an elevated alkalinity, on the other hand, has far fewer positively charged hydrogen ions than pure water.
This doesn’t change a lot in terms of water quality, but the pH of water will determine its potential to produce an electric current. Acidic water has the highest electric potential, and a pH meter works on this theory.
pH meters measure the electrical potential of a solution, known as its voltage. The meter will compare this voltage to the voltage of a known solution, and the difference between these two measurements is used to determine water’s pH.
It sounds complex, but you only have to do the basic stuff: just switch the digital water tester on and stick it in a solution of your choice (such as a cup of drinking water). The meter will provide a reading from 0 to 14, and this number is the data you need to understand the exact pH of water in your household.
You can buy pH meters online or from DIY stores. If you’re looking for a simple meter, which you should be if you’re just wanting to test your drinking water’s pH, you should have no trouble finding a product for less than $20.
Another way to get a basic idea of where your home’s water sits on the pH scale is to use litmus paper. Litmus paper works a bit like pH strips, but with less clear results. The paper has been treated with a mixture of several dyes which cause it to turn red when dipped in water with low pH levels.
To use litmus paper, you simply need a glass of water from your faucet. Soak the paper in your solution and wait for it to change color. It’s worth noting that you’ll likely only get a clear response from litmus paper if you’re dealing with very alkaline or acidic drinking water, so pH strips or test meters are the better options if you’re looking for the most thorough testing process. If you’re looking for a numerical value, digital water testers will yield the results you’re after.
You can buy a pack of litmus paper online for $5-$10.
Usually, the pH of water in your household is highly unlikely to be dangerously high or low. But pH and water quality can be linked.
For instance, if you drink mineral water, which tends to be more alkaline because of the minerals it contains, your water quality will be better. But the pH of water isn’t always an indicator of its concentration of minerals, as pH can be affected by a number of factors, and is essentially just a barometer of how many hydrogen ions are present.
If you get your water from a city supply, you won’t need to worry about acid, but natural wells may have acidic properties depending on the quality of the earth in your local area. Be sure to test your water if you believe it may have a pH of lower than 6.5.
Check out this guide to learn more about acid neutralization systems for well water.
If you’re wondering whether to increase the pH of your water, I would say that it’s worth considering. While many of the advantages of alkalinity are nothing more than claims at the moment, what can be backed by science so far is promising.
You could consider using an ionizer machine, which uses electrolysis to increase pH, or simply improve your water quality with natural mineral drops or a remineralization filter. This is especially worth considering if you currently use an at-home water treatment system that removes these minerals and other healthful properties during the filtration process.
In all, you should keep in mind that it certainly isn’t necessary to solely drink water with an elevated pH value, so if you’re not dealing with acid problems, whether you choose to increase your water’s pH is entirely down to personal preference.