image by: Derek Gavey
Do alkaline water's health claims hold water or do the benefits simply favor the maker over the drinker?
I was in a remote area of rural Mexico riding in a bus that was much older than I. Our destination was an out-of-the-way village two hours south. I was the only gringo on the bus and I imagined the only gringo for miles around. A little girl of about six years walked from the back of the bus and stood in front of me, mouth agape. That’s all, she just stared at me.
“Angelina,” I heard her mother say in a hoarse whisper “Ven.” “Pero, Mama. Mira el gringo.” She pointed to me, then stared some more. It was her first gringo sighting.
The aching, squeaking bus bounced and swayed along, puffing dark smoke out from its back. We had quite a trip planned for the day, and I wondered if we would make it to our destination before dark. Someone’s chicken from the back of the bus decided to protest the rough ride with its chicken noises. Somehow I was able to doze off for a moment. Then I was awakened by a man shouting. He seemed to be selling something. He was standing at the front of the bus, facing the passengers, holding a shallow wooden box that had small, maybe four ounce, jars in it.
And he went on and on with his tirade that told all of us we could expect his tonic to cure all sorts of things. Just about every disease or condition I had ever heard of.
I’ll translate. “Constipation, heart attacks, colic.” He went on, “Kidney stones, gall stones, bladder stones.” He didn’t look at any notes, he knew this stuff.
Then he walked down the aisle of the bus, still talking, handing out the jars. Not for us to open, of course, but to examine and feel the healing force from inside. I took a bottle from him, for want of anything else to do. “Stuttering, smoking, drinking too much. Gout, arthritis, diarrhea, ulcers.” I lost track.
Then after about a half an hour he was done and he walked down the aisle taking back his little jars or sometimes coins. He thanked everyone, gave the driver some coins, and left us at the next stop, crossing the street in order to catch a bus going back.
“What was that?” My companion asked. “There’s no way that tonic could cure all those things.”
“Of course not,” I said. “But you saw the eight or so people who paid good money for it. People sometimes are easily convinced to buy something foolishly, irrationally, instead of thinking things through. They think the tonic will work because the other people are buying it. And they think if they want it to work badly enough, then of course it will. It’s one of the standard irrational thinking behaviors.” She had been a psychology major in college.
“Charlatans like this are said to be selling Snake Oil. Anybody that buys useless snake oil is a fool.” “Is it really snake oil?” She wanted to know.
Much had been written by investigators on ionized water and alkalinized water and the facts were sometimes seemingly blurred or confusing. As I was researching the topic I had recalled other magic water claims over the years. The water memory experiments that claimed a glass of water could remember the concentrations of chemicals in it even after the jar had been emptied. This was a justification for homeopathic dosages of medicine.
Magnetic water was the rage for a few years. It was claimed to be softer and to have healing properties. Polywater, where the molecules of water were polymerized together in long strands thereby having a whole new set of chemical properties didn’t last very long.
Everybody’s favorite, the Russian-Korotov experiments of just a few years ago where it was claimed certain people could command bottles of energized water to do things like light up or change color at will. The water was energized by some sort of mental energy. James Randi made a guest appearance at one of the experiments in Russia. He told his hosts that he was ready and they could begin at any time. He sat down and waited. Then he waited some more. No glow. After the session he was thoroughly criticized by the Russian investigators for interfering with the experiment with his own confounding energy thoughts.
I was to report on the alkaline water that had become a popular topic over the last 20 years or so. But first I studied the history of these waters. Where did the notion come from? It seems there are various stories.
One version I ran across claimed that alkaline water was first discovered in a Shangra La-like world called Hunza that was hidden in the thick blanket of mists of the Himalayans. A brave, curious Romanian professor-expolorer named Henri Coanda, after hiking to Hunz, discovered what he thought was the special water in the 1930s. “People lived such a long time,” he would later write, “There was no cancer and few heart attacks.” So he decided it was the water.
With a nod toward the scientist Michael Faraday, it’s often noticed one of his areas of study was electrolysis. Although it’s never noted he connected electrolysis with good health it’s assumed by many that he must have. Why would such a smart guy not think of such a brilliant application?
The Japanese connection posits that since that country’s cancer survival rates are higher than ours, at that time in the 50s, it must be the water. Having heard about Hunza’a healing powers both Russia and Japan began their own experiments after WWII and the first commercial ionizing machines appeared in both Japan and Korea in the 1950s. United States marketing started about twenty years ago.
As I began my search for the facts about ionized or alkaline water I ran across some interesting things. One of the first was an endorsement by none other than Cecil Fielder, the baseball player. He didn’t seem to have any special knowledge about the topic but he assured all watching that ionized water sure made him feel better and he thought his diabetes was under better control. I guess an A1C test might have supported his claim of being in better control of his blood sugar, but he was sure it felt like it was and he seemed to have more energy. He was a great, award winning first baseman and, I’m told, a nice guy.
As I studied more data and moved through a large pile of endorsements and theses, it seemed the basis or rational for this multimillion dollar business was the claim that since the blood in our bodies is slightly basic, higher ph, making the ph even more basic, would be better. It seemed it was common sense reasoning supported by absolutely no science. Just conjecture. I moved on.
Then there was an important looking endorsement by someone who listed the benefits of ionized water and the science behind how it works. But alas, it is an anonymous report, Dr. No Name. Actually, there seem to be a lot of unclaimed endorsements.
Ray Kurzweil has supported the health benefits of ionized water. During an interview he was asked why anyone would want to buy an expensive ionizer when to get a glass of ionized water, all one had to do was put some sodium bicarbonate in a glass of water and drink it. He answered by saying there’s more to alkalinizing than raising the ph. Ionizing water changes the oxygenation reduction potential of the water and therefore binds up free radicals thereby reducing cancer and other bad things. So now, there seemed to be a second benefit mediated by this changing oxygenation reduction potential.
Ray Kurzweil is a very smart man and he posits an interesting theory, but it’s just theory. No testing of his hypothesis has ever been done. And it doesn’t explain how the supercharged oxygen molecules cross the stomach, with a ph of about 2, very acidic, and get into the bloodstream. Mr. Kurzweil reportedly takes 250 vitamins and supplements every day. Mr. Kurzweil remains a well-respected man for all his other achievements in the field of music synthesizers, and speech recognition and synthesis in the form of speech-to-text. Hello Siri.
Several videos show how ionized water can clean vegetables. A glass of dark, dirty-appearing water with a few vegetables in it is mixed with some purported ionized water and instantly the water clears, and presumably, the vegetables, are cleaned. This is a classic Iodine oxidation experiment familiar to any high school chemistry student. It wasn’t the ionized water.
The fact that such a trick would be foisted at all in the marketing of this product was disturbing to me. It’s also noted that rigid, controlled experiments have demonstrated, and I quote, “that washing vegetables in ionized water actually washes off bacteria.” I bet washing them in tap water might have done it also. There were other encounters. That drinking ionized water cures obesity is also claimed. I could find no proof or hypothesis as to why this was the case. This appears to be a relatively recent claim.
My best description of this business is that it is based on the premise that since the body has a slightly basic ph then an even higher ph would be good for the body and probably, through no known mechanism, would improve the quality of life in general.
There are three ways to alkalize water. With super drops, five or six drops of which raise the ph of a glass of water, a teaspoon of baking soda does the same, and a slew of water ionization machines costing up to four thousand dollars. I’m still wondering why one would pay big dollars for a machine. There is every reason to believe that basic water, once drunk, would quickly turn acidic from the gastric acids in the stomach. But even if the ph of the stomach could change it might be deleterious because many nutrients, vitamins, and drugs require a certain ph to be absorbed and work properly.
The Federal Trade Commission is taking an interest in the marketing structure of one of the prominent companies in the field. Enagic has eight layers of distributors. Reimbursement to the highest level is guaranteed with each lower-level sale and each layer raises the price to layers below it. This particular company’s prices are about double its competitors’.
The human mind is a wonderful machine, yet with its many strengths, it can still be fooled. Don’t believe things that seem unbelievable or too good to be true. My best advice for those wanting to drink alkaline water put a teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water.
How to Make Alkaline Water, WikiHow.com
Katherine Zeratsky, RD, LD, Is alkaline water better for you than plain water? MayoClinic.org
Senior Correspondent Jones practiced emergency medicine in Southern California for 30 years and now writes for HealthWorldNet.com. He has also published several scientific papers as well as his novel A Murder in West Covina, Chronicle of the Finch-Tregoff case.
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