I am not typically prone to impulse buys, like not at all — unless I'm in Whole Foods. For some reason, that store's displays have a way of convincing me that yes, I should be making turmeric tea and yeah, I probably do need to sprinkle powdered collagen on everything I eat, and, wait, why don't I have a fridge filled with alkaline water?
I've admittedly thrown a bottle or two of Essentia-brand alkaline water into my shopping cart and, after drinking it, I couldn't even convince myself that it was better than the under-a-buck gallon of Publix-brand water I lug to the gym. Is there something wrong with me? Scientists and nutritionists seem to say not at all.
What Is Alkaline Water?
First, if you've forgotten eighth-grade chemistry, this has to do with the pH scale, which measures how acidic or basic a substance is on a scale from 0 to 14. (Alkaline is another word for basic, in this context). A pH of 7 is neutral, and anything under 7 is acidic, while over 7 is basic-slash-alkaline.
Pure water has a neutral pH of 7. Lemon juice, vinegar, and black coffee are all acidic, while seawater, baking soda, and bleach are all basic. So, it seems, are these so-called alkaline waters, which advertise having a pH of up to 9.5. That isn't necessarily in question, but some of the health claims these companies (and their enthusiastic acolytes) make can be.
Is Alkaline Water Good for You?
According to the Los Angeles Times, the people who swear by alkaline water believe that it can slow the aging process, increase energy, boost immune function, decrease the risk of cancer, decrease the risk of osteoporosis, and otherwise insulate them from contracting other chronic diseases. There is little to no research on any of these claims, period, let alone scientific studies that can back them up. (Although one study published in the Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology does suggest that alkaline waters might be beneficial for people with reflux disease).
Other companies have focused on alkaline water's supposedly superior hydration abilities. "We believe proper hydration increases human potential," Essentia Water says on its website. "And Essentia Water delivers peak rehydration performance to people who love getting more out of life."
Essentia links to a study — one that was "funded by a grant from Essentia" — which involved 100 people exercising for between four and eight hours, until they reached a point of "mild dehydration." They were then randomly split into groups, one which rehydrated with Essentia (which the company generously supplied to its participants) and the other which downed regular, non-alkaline water.
The researchers then measured their blood thickness, body composition changes, body mass, and their bodies' electrolyte-to-water balance. The only real difference between the two groups was in their blood thickness; the participants who chugged alkaline water had lower blood viscosity, which Essentia says is proof of its superior hydration. If that sounds weird, it's because it is.
"I've never heard of anyone measuring hydration using the method used in this study in my 30 years of research," Lawrence Armstrong, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut, told the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "This study used only one good way to measure hydration, and it didn't find any difference between groups. I have multiple concerns about this research. I would have rejected this paper, had I been one of the peer reviewers."
The Final Verdict
The CSPI ultimately suggests "don't waste your money" on high pH waters, and registered dietitian (and friend of Kitchn) Abby Langer has called some of these health claims "unproven, unresearched, and outrageous."
Well, that might make one impulse buy seem less tempting.
Have you tried alkaline water? What do you think of its health claims?