The term pH balance refers to a measurement of the degree to which a substance is acidic or alkaline. In chemistry, pH is the acronym for "Potential Hydrogen" and it is the measurement of acidity.
An acid is any chemical that releases hydrogen ions in solution. The Potential Hydrogen scale was invented in 1909 to measure the acidity of beer. The scale extends from 0.0 to 14.
A solution with a measurement of 7 is neutral; solutions measuring below 7 are acidic; and solutions measuring above 7 are alkaline (or basic). To put this scale into perspective, it is important to note that a change of one whole number represents a 10-fold change in hydrogen ion concentration. For example, a solution with a measurement of 4 is 10 times as acidic as one with a measurement of 5 and 100 times as acidic as one with a measurement of 6.
Slight disturbances of the acid-balance of the body's fluids can seriously disrupt biological functions. Maintaining the pH balance of the body's fluids is one of the key functions of the kidneys. Blood, for example, normally has a measurement ranging from 7.35 to 7.45. Deviations from this range can cause fainting, paralysis, or even death.
The normal pH balance of blood plasma is approximately 7.4. If it falls below 7.35, a state of acidosis exists and if it rises above 7.45, a state of alkalosis exists. A person will only survive for a few hours if their pH balance is below 7.0 or above 7.7. It is quickly fatal if it falls below 6.8 or above 8.0. In a state of acidosis, the central nervous system becomes depressed and this causes symptoms such as confusion, disorientation, and coma. In a state of alkalosis, the skeletal muscles are over stimulated causing muscle spasms, convulsions, or respiratory paralysis.
Acid-base imbalances fall into two categories - respiratory and metabolic. Respiratory acidosis occurs when there is an accumulation of carbon dioxide, which lowers the Potential Hydrogen. On the other hand, Respiratory alkalosis results from hyperventilation, in which carbon dioxide is eliminated faster than it is produced.
Metabolic acidosis can result from increased production of organic acids, such as lactic acid in anaerobic fermentation and ketone bodies in alcoholism and diabetes mellitus. It can also result from chronic diarrhea or overuse of laxatives, or from ingestion of acidic drugs such as aspirin. Metabolic alkalosis is not as common as metabolic acidosis. It can result from overuse of bicarbonates such as antacids or intravenous bicarbonate solutions. It can also result from the loss of stomach acids due to chronic vomiting.
Generally, health is maintained when the body's fluids have their normal pH measurement. Different fluids have different measurements. For instance the blood and tissue fluid normally have a measurement of 7.35 to 7.45, while urine usually has a measurement of 5 to 6. Once they stay within these ranges, a state of health usually exists. When they move out of these ranges, however, sickness or even death could result.
Maintaining or restoring a balanced pH is not possible when the body is loaded with acid toxins. Acid imbalances compromise the efficient functioning of all cells and organs, leading to premature deterioration and degeneration of health.
Nutritional chemistry reveals that raw fruits and vegetables provide the best source of nutrients that helps to maintain the constant pH balance of the body's biological systems. When heat is applied to these foods, through cooking, or preservatives and refined sugars are added to them, most of their nutritional properties are destroyed and they become more acidic. When we consume these foods in their acidic state, we contribute to acid imbalances within the body's biochemical systems. This places greater burden on our buffer systems to regulate these imbalances that can lead to their malfunctioning, over time.
A buffer is any mechanism that resists changes in acidity. The body has two types of buffers:
Chemical buffers - substances that bind hydrogen ion and remove it as the concentration of a solution begins to rise, and releases hydrogen ion as the concentration begins to fall.
The three major chemical buffer systems of the body are the bicarbonate, phosphate, and protein systems.
The bicarbonate buffer system is a solution of carbonic acid (a property of carbon dioxide) and bicarbonate irons. If the body's pH balance is too low (acidic), the lungs and the kidneys constantly remove carbon dioxide, which helps to neutralize hydrogen ions. Conversely, if it is too high (alkaline), the kidneys excrete bicarbonate iron that elevates the hydrogen ion concentration, creating a more acidic environment.
The phosphate buffer system works in very much the same way as the bicarbonate system. It, however, has a much stronger buffering effect than an equal amount of bicarbonate buffer.
The protein buffer system accounts for about 75% of all chemical buffering ability or the body's fluids. The buffering ability of proteins is due to certain side groups of their amino acid residues. Some of these amino acids allow the protein buffer system to release hydrogen ion when pH balance begins to rise (alkaline), thus creating a more acidic environment. Others bind hydrogen ions when the environment becomes too acidic, thus raising pH balance to normal levels.
Physiological buffers - systems that control the body's output of acids, acid bases, or carbon dioxide.
The body's two main physiological buffers are the urinary system and the respiratory system. Of all the buffer systems, the urinary system buffers the greatest quantity of acid. It is quite slow, however, as it requires several hours to days to respond to changes in acidity. The respiratory system doesn't buffer as much acid as the urinary system but it works much faster. It can respond to changes in acidity within a few minutes.
Respiratory Buffer System:
When carbon dioxide increases in the body's fluids the concentration of hydrogen ion increases, thus lowering Potential Hydrogen (acidic), while the removal of carbon dioxide has the opposite effect. This is the basis of the strong buffering capacity of the respiratory system. It can neutralize up to three (3) times as much acid as the chemical buffers. Carbon dioxide is constantly produced by aerobic metabolism and is normally eliminated by the lungs at an equivalent rate.
Urinary Buffer System:
The kidneys can neutralize more acid than any of the other buffering systems. It is unique and operates differently from the other buffering systems. It can actually expel hydrogen ions from the body while the other systems only reduce its concentration by binding it to other chemicals. The essence of the urinary buffer system is that the renal tubules secrete hydrogen ion into the tubular fluid (fluid in the renal tubule) where most of it binds to chemical buffers. Both bound and free hydrogen ions are excreted in the urine.
Poor diet is possibly the single most significant reason for the increasing incidences of renal failure. Almost 90% of adults in western societies, over the age of 50 years, suffer from some form of degenerative disease. The pH-factor, which is a critical factor in the efficient functioning of all biological systems, must be the central focus around which a balanced diet is formulated.
The key to maintaining proper pH balance, and by extension biological balance, is to include a fair amount of these foods in our diet. If we are to support the efficient creation and maintenance of energy and quality of health, we need to maintain a diet compatible with natural pH balance.