Alison and I were recently talking about our opinions regarding conventional medicine and holistic medicine. Personally, I believe in both, I care about both worlds. I work in acute care; I see the need for medicine, diagnostic imagining and procedures that may be very taboo to a Holistic approach to healing. I believe this is a luxury we have in the Western world, something that we should be very thankful for and not take for granted. But Holistic healing is extremely important and helps us to not overuse the luxuries of western medicine, such as medicating when we could be preventing. I do not believe we need to medicate absolutely every ailment that we face, and the key to optimal health is prevention. Nearly all of our greatest risks are preventable; sadly, our health care system is utterly exhausted by so many sick individuals who could have easily prevented their illness. Of course, this is not always the case, there are times when disease cannot be prevented, leading us to the real need for health care. If you follow this blog, chances are you are probably interested in living/eating a healthy way. This is preventative medicine!
As a Respiratory Therapist, I spend a large amount of time analyzing the gases in our blood, which determine and effect our pH, leading to a number of disease processes. Ventilation care is often determined and adjusted based on blood gas values. The pH of our body is a massive determining agent in our care, our chances of survival in an acute event and our recovery; this is probably something that few people are familiar with. Of course, in an acute event, our natural ventilation drive is adjusted subconsciously, and therefore we have no control over our acid/base balance, however from a nutritional view point, there are many lifestyle factors we can consider to control our body’s pH. In Nutrition school, I remember spending an exceptionally large amount of time learning about the essential need for our acid/base balance in healing. This topic is following me through my Respiratory studies, equally as essential to healing but looking at it from a different angle. This makes me believe that this is an important topic for our health.
pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity of a substance on a scale of 0 to 14 with 7 being neutral and 0 totally acid and 14 totally alkaline, in between are varying degrees of acidity and alkalinity. Human blood should be 7.4 (7.35-7.45), slightly alkaline, even slight changes are not compatible with life (less than 6.8 and greater than 8.0). My medical physiology text book says that only slight changes in hydrogen ion concentration (which determine acid/base) from the normal value can cause marked alterations in the rate of chemical reactions in the cells, some being depressed and some being elevated. Basically this means that our survival depends on our blood remaining in the slightly alkaline state of 7.4, when our blood becomes slightly acidic, our body will buffer this acid with alkalizing minerals from other tissues, these minerals include potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium. After these minerals are oxidized, they will become carbon dioxide which is eliminated through our lungs and kidneys. Among a list of problems, this process is very fatiguing to our bodies and will likely leave you with a mineral deficit that must be replaced through our diet. In a crisis situation, this is not helpful.
This brings me to the topic of how are diets can relate to our acid-base balance. Due to the increased availability of produced, refined and processed foods, our whole grain consumption is decreasing. Fruit and vegetable consumption has decreased by 45% in the last 5 years while fat, salt and sugar consumption has increased by 100% in that same time period. Diets high in meat, fat and refined products will constantly push our body’s pH towards the acid state, whereas fruits and vegetables are the body’s main source of minerals or alkaline elements. Regardless of whether we are acidic (more common) or alkaline, stimulating our bodies continuously in either direction will eventually exhaust the body systems, changing its functions in order to adapt to new situations and eventually leading to degenerative changes. This makes me think back a few weeks ago when we talked about our excessive protein intake, likely changing your body to an acid environment, definitely not optimal for health. Some symptoms that can be associated to even a slightly acidic environment include: fatigue, stomach pain, allergies, insomnia, water retention, migraines, arthritis, alternating constipation and diarrhea, and pain upon waking in the morning. In general, fruits and vegetables are alkalizing and meats and grains are acidifying, however, here are a few more examples:
Acidic foods: Bread, eggs, fish, flours, grains, meats, most nuts, oatmeal, rice and shellfish.
Alkaline foods: Almonds, fruits, vegetables, beans, berries, millet, and potato
With that said, studies have shown that whole grains when chewed thoroughly can become alkaline by mixing with the alkaline salivary enzyme, however, will leave an acid residue if not chewed thoroughly. Also, acidic fruits like lemons and oranges have an alkalizing effect on the body because their acid is burned off by the body in the cellular respiration process. The tendency of our western diet is towards high acid forming foods and therefore a pH shift towards an acidic state. It is likely that the majority of us could benefit from increasing alkaline forming foods in our diet, and conveniently these foods tend to eliminate processed, refined foods and excess fats. For many other reasons, that we’ve already looked at, this only contributes to a far better way of eating anyways. If you do live in an acidic state, you can also benefit by increasing your alkaline food to return your pH to normal and create a healing environment for your body.
Obviously this is all a bit scientific and tedious. But a commitment to educating yourself on how best you can care for your body, will help you prevent many diseases down the road.