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Discover how acid buildup in the body can cause harm

acid buildup in the body can cause harm

Credit: Anurag Arora

We’ve become a civilisation mired in acidic erosion. I used to think nature in its infinite wisdom could trump our crass excesses. I was mistaken.

In more primitive times when we were happily marauding around the savannahs encased in much leaner chassis, our menus consisted exclusively of wild animals, uncultivated plants and nuts. This primordial Palaeolithic diet underwent a profound transformation with the advent of the industrial revolution and the more recent mass food production and distribution technologies that have seen supermarket aisles bursting with packaged foods full of fat and sugar. Fruit and vegetables are alkaline. The rest of the foods in our supermarket trolley are acid forming.

The PRAL (potential renal acid load) food list — easily sourced from the internet — shows that cheese, beef, eggs and grains such as oats generate significant amounts of acid. Spinach tops the list of vegetables that are alkaline followed by kale and kohlrabi.

The problem with a diet high in acid-containing foods such as milk, cheese, cereal grains, fats and sugars is it affects the most vulnerable, who are blissfully unaware of the havoc these substances are wreaking on their naïve bodies. While protein in fish, meat and eggs is a nutrient that’s essential for all of us and vital for the growth of children, it’s also rich in acid, which leaches nitrogen from our muscles and calcium from our bones, slowly eroding these core components of the anatomy.

Studies suggest that uncurbed acidosis can lead to growth retardation and is even associated with impaired intellectual function in adolescent males.

The fact that acid accumulation can be so destructive is testament to how far we’ve strayed from our body’s innate capacity to neutralise acid once it starts to threaten our wellbeing. Nature has a massive investment in maintaining our acid-alkaline balance within extremely narrow parameters. Once acid builds up, your kidneys are deployed to excrete unwanted acid, ensuring that this unwelcome substance does not cause undue damage. But nature has its limits and contemporary diets that are laden with acids and relatively devoid of alkaline foods have exhausted our natural resources.

Fruit and vegetables are alkaline. The rest of the foods in our supermarket trolley are acid forming.

As a result, our cells are being threatened by a constant barrage of volatile acids. Aside from decimating our bones and weakening our muscles, an acid surplus compromises the function of insulin, one of our master hormones. Insulin not only commandeers sugar or glucose utilisation, seeing to it that we are served by ample amounts of energy, it also oversees the brain centres that govern our emotional and mental faculties as well as our sleep function. Derail insulin and it becomes more difficult to burn fat, our emotional stability and mental powers start to unravel and restorative sleep evaporates.

An acidic environment also makes us more sensitive to pain by opening up what is known as ion channels or conduits that heighten our pain sensitivity, normally closed when acids aren’t around. If this is not enough, acids also seed inflammation, which is characterised by an immune system that is unsettled and overheated, paving the way for diseases such as osteoporosis, heart disease and dementia. There is even evidence that tau proteins, some of the toxic substances associated with Alzheimer’s disease, multiply in an acidic milieu.

That we are seeing an epidemic of obesity and diabetes in the West should come as no surprise when we consider how acidic our diets have become. Stiffness and inflexibility, joints that are deranged and dysfunctional, leading to diseases such as gout as well as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, all see their origins in eating habits that favour easily palatable acid-forming foods versus the less tasty but far healthier alkaline-based fruit and vegetables.

Testing for over-acidity

Intractable back pain, recurrent headaches, debilitating fatigue, muscle weakness, unexplained nausea and mental confusion are all pointers to an acid insurgency. There are also simple medical tests that will confirm that over-acidity prevails. These include a routine urine test carried out by health professionals, and even at home, which measures the pH of the urine, with a score below seven suggesting acid buildup.

A simple estimation called the anion gap can be calculated by using a blood test that calibrates kidney electrolytes and then adds sodium and potassium and subtracts chloride and bicarbonate. An elevated anion gap, and here the magic number is 13 or greater, confirms that acid levels are too high.

Combating acidity

Those reading this article who complacently expect that their fruit- and vegetable-rich diet insulates them from the corrosive effects of acid-producing foods are in for a serious reality check. Experts indicate that in order to effectively counteract the might of the acid invasion we would need to ingest at least 12 serves of green leafy vegetables every day, a feat that would even stretch the holder of the Guinness Book of World Records for kale consumption.

There is an easier solution. A supplement comprising magnesium and citrate has been shown to have significant alkalinising effects. It has already been utilised in clinical trials, which demonstrate that it helps with weight loss, boosts bone mineral density, reduces pain sensation and excitingly turns on endorphins, the brain’s happy molecules.

We might be overwhelmed by acid rain but an elemental supplement might go some way to alleviating our pain and, more importantly, contribute to preventing diseases such as osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and dementia, which threaten to truncate healthy ageing.


Michael Elstein

Michael Elstein is a Fellow of the Australian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine. Anti-ageing medicine is his current passion and he is the author of Eternal Health and You Have The Power, which are available as e-books through his website.

Dr Elstein has just attained a Masters in Nutrition from RMIT university located in Melbourne. He treats those who suffer from fatigue, insomnia, weight gain, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders and menopausal dysfunction. He utilises diet, nutritional therapy, hormonal interventions and herbal remedies.