Ionized, aka alkaline, water systems seem to be a new health trend. Businesses want them for their reception rooms to show how they care about their clients’ health, or that they have the money to spend on messing with the composition of water. But is your money going where it is intended? Are there true health benefits? Just using common sense, an individual who knows very little science would think “I know we eat and drink substances of varying pH on a daily basis, our stomachs are very acidic, therefore, a basic solution would be neutralized when mixed with stomach acid upon consumption.” But perhaps that is more to it?
First, lets look at the science and an explanation of water and pH: Water, in its purest form, consists solely of H2O molecules. These molecules are slightly polar, and have a tendency to dissociate (aka ionize) into H+ and OH- ions, however the reaction of these ions forming a water molecule is much more rapid. Therefore, maintaining the ionization of pure water is impossible. The neutrality of pure water is supported by the fact that pure water will not conduct an electrical current, however, salt water, which has an alkaline pH of 7.5-8.4, will… and we know the dehydrating affects drinking salt water can have on the human body. With an understanding of water, we can see that no machine can take pure water and change the pH. Other ions must be introduced to produce acidic or alkaline water. All aqueous (liquid) solutions contain a ration of H+ and OH- ions, which give a solution a certain pH. When the balance is weighted toward H+ ions, the solution is acidic; when weighted toward OH- ions, the solution is basic, or alkaline. Pure water has a pH of 7, drinking water (tap or bottled) has a pH of 6.5-8, rainwater has a pH of 4-7, depending on where you live. For the pH to change one unit, in either direction, the ration of H+ to OH- is either 100:1 (drop one unit in pH, making the solution more acidic) or 1:100 (an increase in pH, making the solution more basic). Whether water is slightly acidic or alkaline, it will always contain the same number of positive and negative charges. That being said, since alkaline water contains an excess of negative OH- ions, it must be balanced by positive ions to stabilize and equalize the opposite charges. Therefore when excess OH- ions are present, commonly metal ions, such as sodium, calcium, or magnesium, are added to water to allow a stable pH change. In other words, as the pH strays from 7, so does the purity of the water.
Now, let’s look at the ionization process: Ionizers use a process called “electrolysis”, which refers to the breaking of chemical bonds, due to electric current. The thought process is that breaking bonds will leave OH- ions unpaired, in suspension between the H+ ions that are consumed by a negative electrode, and the positive electrode, creating an alkaline solution. If the solution is solely water, these H+ and OH- ions will bond back to original state quickly, resulting in a pH of 7, just as prior to electrolysis. Bottom line, if your water is at drinking water standards, from the tap or bottle, no electrical device or chemical additive is capable of creating alkalinity. Therefore, if your goal is to consume alkaline water, and your device does not add ions, you are literally wasting money and energy. Due to the fact that pH adjustment in water cannot be maintained, some devices depend on the addition of salt to increase water’s conductivity, using NaOH, which allows chlorine ions that are present in water to bond with OH- ions, creating hypochlorous acid, which is a weak acid and oxidizing agent. Some systems allow this to be separated and used as a disinfecting agent, but many times, this hypochlorous acid is encouraged to mix with sodium hypochlorite, which is equivalent to diluted laundry bleach. In other words, you can make this water yourself by adding bleach to your drinking water! Just adjust the pH with lemon juice, and you are good to go! Getting thirsty yet?
Why so many claims of health benefits from alkaline water? Although it has been proven by numerous research studies (including those performed at Michigan State and Ohio State) that highly alkaline water has extreme adverse effects on plants and animals, very few studies have been performed on humans. The lack of experimentation on humans has, unfortunately, allowed for claims of positive effects, not based on scientific fact; and although our medications come with warnings that are based on animal experimentation, somehow, alkaline water is exempt from stating these findings. People genuinely believe that drinking alkaline water makes them feel better, and there are many claims of health benefits. So let’s again look at the scientific reasons behind these claims. The hypochlorite ions that are present in ionized water (which is charged with external salts) may end up in the digestive tract and the large intestine, where the presence of these ions can react with, and kill, bacterial organisms (whose job is to remove harmful substances), which may make certain individuals feel better initially. However, the presence of hypochlorite ions is known to trigger a number of cellular processes connected with cancer, by suppressing genes that normally act to inhibit cell proliferation and tumor growth. This negates the positive impacts you initially feel, and also contradicts claims of preventing cancer. From the research reports I have read, tumors, which are naturally acidic, do not respond positively to basic surroundings, however they do respond to extreme acidic environments. For example, vitamin C has been proven to kill cancer cells. Surprising? I know. One would think that if something is acidic, it can be neutralized with a base. There has not been a single unbiased, scientific research report that provides conclusive evidence of an alkaline environment, within the human body, being beneficial. However, it is evident that a neutral pH is necessary for biologic processes to carry out normally.
Another reason people may feel better from drinking alkaline water is simply because they are finally drinking water; or at least drinking more than they were, prior to their “life-saving” water system. Drinking water can improve your health and well-being significantly, providing cells with the tools they need for metabolic processes and waste removal…plus it helps the appearance of your skin by “plumping” flaccid cells. The third reason that ionized water may make someone feel better is as simple as believing… the placebo effect is no joke, people!
Conclusion: If you are still a proponent of an alkaline diet, drink some runoff water that is naturally alkaline from minerals in soil, rather than water that is induced with salts and electric current. There may be some animal excrement that has not been biodegraded yet, but it is still probably healthier in the long run than ionized water. Tap water is slightly alkaline, but at healthy levels. Drinking plenty of this should make you feel and look great. If you don’t like the taste, or if you are worried about pipe contamination, get a Brita filter or a filter for your faucet, that uses a membrane or activated carbon filtration system to remove trihalomethanes, which are responsible for poor taste and odor. The first red flag that went up for me was the claims of unheathy drinking water in the US, and claims that pharmaceuticals exist in both bottled and tap water, which even if true, this “ionization” process would not be able to rid water of this issue either, in addition, the vague explanations to the health claims seemed a little sketchy. Then finally, the disclaimer stating that none of the claims are backed by real scientific research. Many of these ionization machines are manufactured in Japan or Korea, countries knows for their susceptibility to pseudoscientific water-treatment schemes. In the US, these devices are sold by dealers who know very little to nothing about science. They will tell you their machines perform miracles, however, no matter which ionization system you buy, either these machines are doing absolutely nothing, or they have the potential for harm in the long run. Even pro-alkaline professionals say that this water should only be ingested for a maximum of two weeks. The facts from a chemist:
- “Ionized water” is nothing more than sales fiction; the term is meaningless to chemists.
- Pure water (that is, water containing no dissolved ions) is too unconductive to undergo signficant electrolysis by “water ionizer” devices.
- Pure water can never be alkaline or acidic, nor can it be made so by electrolysis. Alkaline water must contain metallic ions of some kind — most commonly, sodium, calcium or magnesium.
- The idea that one must consume alkaline water to neutralize the effects of acidic foods is ridiculous; we get rid of excess acid by exhaling carbon dioxide.
- If you do drink alkaline water, its alkalinity is quickly removed by the highly acidic gastric fluid in the stomach.
- Uptake of water occurs mainly in the intestine, not in the stomach. But when stomach contents enter the intestine, they are neutralized and made alkaline by the pancreatic secretions — so all the water you drink eventually becomes alkaline anyway.
- The claims about the health benefits of drinking alkaline water are not supported by credible scientific evidence.
- “Ionized”/alkaline water is falsely claimed to be an anti-oxidant. It is actually an oxidizing agent, as can be seen by its ability to decolorize iodine (see video)
- There is nothing wrong with drinking slightly acidic waters such as rainwater. “Body pH” is a meaningless concept; different parts of the body (and even of individual cells) can have widely different pH values. The pH of drinking water has zero effect on that of the blood or of the body’s cells.
- If you really want to de-acidify your stomach (at the possible cost of interfering with protein digestion), why spend hundreds of dollars for an electrolysis device when you can take calcium-magnesium pills, Alka-Seltzer or Milk of Magnesia?
- Electrolysis devices are generally worthless for treating water for health enhancement, removal of common impurities, disinfection, and scale control. Claims that “ionized” waters are antioxidants are untrue; hypochlorites (present in most such waters) are in fact oxidizing agents.
- Claims that “water ionizers are approved for use in Japanese hospitals” are misleading: these “approvals” merely attest to the machines’ safety — that they will not electrocute you! My understanding is that the Japanese Health Ministry is highly critical of therapeutic claims made for alkaline water.
- Artificially alkaline water only neutralizes acidity where it has direct contact, like the stomach and upper bowel. When consumed daily, the upper bowel in particular becomes overly alkaline and side effects begin to appear. Most common are erratic heart behavior, hypertension, nervousness/anxiety, urinary tract and bladder infections, and stabbing side pains.
- We have spoken to numerous individuals who were hospitalized for heart conditions that magically disappeared when they stopped drinking artificially alkaline or ionized water. Why would anyone ingest anything unnatural when natural alternatives are available at a comparable cost?
- More severe side effects were observed in a clinical study involving rats. The study revealed injury to cardiac tissue (heart muscle) as a result of drinking ERW (Electrolyzed Reduced Water), or water created by ionizer machines (artificially alkaline water). In an age when heart disease is a leading killer, ionized water is simply not a smart choice.