While water might be the driving force of nature, today’s supermarket shelves are crowded with a dazzling number of alternatives to plain H2O and even natural mineral waters from Himalayan springs. Fruit flavours, activated charcoal, vitamin infusions—there are waters for nearly every time of day and occasion.
One of the newest “super" waters to have entered India recently is alkaline water. Simply put, this is water with pH levels that are higher than seven—enabled by the addition of an alkalizing agent. “pH is a central measurable parameter of our body’s well-being, like BP, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. It is a scale used to measure the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. The pH scale uses a range from 0 to 14, with 7.0 indicating neutrality. When pH levels are balanced (at a pH of 7.352), our body is able to function to the best of its biochemical ability with more mental clarity and revitalization," says Mumbai-based nutritionist Charmaine D’Souza. She clarifies that this almost never happens because all the metabolic processes that take place in our body are acidic in nature. “Hence, our body is forever striving to maintain that delicate acid-base balance. When our body is acidic our health is compromised and our susceptibility to diseases and infections increases. We gain weight, become stressed, have difficulty in falling asleep at night, suffer from aching muscles, lack energy, and are prone to coughs and colds, nasal congestion, irritability, anxiety and panic attacks," she says.
But is alkaline water the solution or is it just a health fad? Its increasing availability in the market is definitely a piece of smart marketing meant to target everyone from athletes to fitness enthusiasts as well as those concerned about gut health. The fact that there hasn’t been enough research in the field is one of the reasons that alkaline water is shrouded in mystery. Stray studies have revealed positive effects on bone resorption or the process where old bone cells are broken down and replaced by new ones, but most scientists have called for further research in the field before they can present conclusive findings.
“Commercially available alkaline waters can be of help to remove some of the stomach acid and hydrate your body. If your diet is deficient in certain nutrients, then these waters will give you some of your minerals and electrolyte," says D’Souza. Among the brands doing the rounds are Blk., a premium Los Angeles-based brand which entered India in November 2017. Its stylish packaging, naturally black colour and promised health benefits made it the new insta-worthy favourite among celebrities and health enthusiasts. Blk. is priced at ₹999 for a pack of four bottles and is infused with fulvic minerals and immunizing agents. Mumbai-based Malaki, which had grabbed attention with its 24K gold-infused water, also launched alkaline water. With a pH level of 9.5, it claims to be everything from a hangover cure to an elixir of youth. Alkalen, another brand, defines itself as an upgraded version of regular water, with its addition of selected electrolytes and minerals.
It is important to read the labels with some amount of scepticism and take a moment to remember the case of the Robert O. Young, an American naturopathic practitioner and author of the book The pH Miracle, who put forth his alkaline diet as the cure to many lifestyle problems, including cancer. His treatment of a breast cancer patient and her subsequent death led to series of legal battles and he was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to three years in prison. So alkaline waters might not necessarily be the new elixir they are being touted as. “Apart from being expensive, you cannot consume alkaline waters in the large amounts actually required to change the pH of your body. If you did manage that, you would end up with more health problems as the minerals present in them may not be good for your body, especially if you have a specific health condition like kidney disease," says says D’Souza. She says commercially available alkaline waters use electro-magnetic ionization rather than natural ionization, thereby denaturing the water. “Moreover, if sodium bicarbonate is used to alkalinize the water (your body is already producing it for natural pH balance) then there will be too much of it in your system, further compromising your health," she says.
Globally, the jury is still out as to whether alkaline water is really good for you and worth its substantial price tag. Consume the water in moderation—without expecting any miracles.