A lot of people who take their hydration seriously these days aren’t just investing in heavy-duty water bottles (hi, Hydro Flask). They’re also filling them up with water that’s giving a little extra. Enter: Alkaline water.
Alkaline water isn’t new, but it’s only recently exploded in popularity. Sales are expected to reach $1.3 billion next year, up from less than $95 million as recently as 2015. Fans say the beverage helps with detoxing and has anti-aging properties, among other benefits. But the science says those claims don’t quite hold water.
To find out if alkaline water lives up to the hype, we researched what it’s actually made of and how it affects the body. So you can decide whether it’s worth drinking.
The “alkaline” refers to the drink’s pH level. Quick chem lesson: pH measures how acidic or alkaline (aka basic) a liquid is. A liquid with a pH of 7 is neutral. And the level of your everyday H2O should be between 6.5 to 8.5. A pH level of less than 7 means it’s acidic. While anything above 7 means it’s alkaline. Alkaline water usually has a pH of 8 or 9. They also tend to contain specific alkaline minerals like magnesium and potassium.
Some people who rave about alkaline water say it’s basically a miracle drink that can do everything from detoxing your body to boosting your immune system. But there isn't enough evidence to give these claims the green light. Here’s what it might be useful for:
Supporting bone health: Thanks in part to the minerals included in most alkaline waters. Which might help reduce bone resorption — when old bone tissue breaks down and is replaced with new tissue. A normal process. But one that skews toward breaking down as you age. Less bone resorption means stronger bones. But the study was small and further research into the long-term benefits on bone health is needed.
Fighting acid reflux disease: Alkaline water, taken with other treatments, could potentially help people with acid reflux. Reminder: Acid reflux (aka heartburn) is when the stomach’s contents flow back up the esophagus, creating a burning sensation in the lower chest area. Alkaline water may be able to stop an enzyme that’s connected to reflux disease and reduce the acidity of the stomach, a study found. Thing to know: The results were based on lab work and not human tests.
Drinking too much alkaline water can lead to a number of issues:
Lowering your stomach’s natural acidity. While this might be a good thing for people with acid reflux, it’s not necessarily helpful for everyone. The acid in the stomach serves a specific purpose outside of just breaking down your food. It also kills bacteria and other pathogens.
Irritated skin. Think: A red and flaky reaction caused by high alkalinity in the body.
Metabolic alkalosis. A condition where your blood pH is too alkaline. Which can cause nausea, confusion, hand tremors, and other issues.
A good question considering standard water and alkaline water look exactly the same. Short of using pH test strips every time you drink water, there's no surefire way to determine if you're drinking true alkaline water or not. What can you do? Do your homework and find a brand you trust (think: Essentia or Smartwater). If the label says the pH is above 7, then chances are you’re drinking the real thing.
The alkaline water trend is giving people another way to stay hydrated, while also providing some other potential benefits. Just be sure to consider the risks, and to drink what feels best for you.
Skimm'd by Madelyn Gee, Eleanor Goldberg, Anthony Rivas, and Alicia Valenski
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