What Exactly Is Alkaline Water (And Does It Actually Do Anything)?
In the same way that kids say the darndest things, fitness studios have the most niche offerings—especially when it comes to hydration. Gone are the days of water being your only option. Now you can have a green juice, coconut water, CBD tonic, or vitamin-infused smoothie in your hand the second you get out of class (literally, some studios will have it waiting for you).
Despite being a fitness studio frequenter, I don’t think twice about drinking anything besides water. That’s why, when I first spotted Kangen water—a specific type of alkaline water—I was intrigued (and admittedly had to taste it). I'd never heard of it before taking the first sip, but after a particularly exhausting workout it tasted how I imagine holy water tastes. Now it had my attention.
The more I read about alkaline water, the more I thought it must have miraculous powers. Signs next to the Kangen machines I saw at studios made claims of grandeur: less soreness, faster recovery, less fatigue, more restoration. Could it be true? I decided to ask the experts.
What is Kangen water?
Kangen water is, at the most fundamental level, hydrogen water. Its creator-company, Enagic, produces a machine that takes regular tap water, filters out impurities, and then separates the hydrogen and oxygen in the water, which is called electrolysis. The result is an “alkaline, antioxidant, mineral-rich, pure, safe, and healthy drinking water.”
While these machines are the only ones producing "Kangen water" (because it’s a trademarked term), they’re far from the only alkaline water out there. In fact, there are plenty of brands bottling and selling waters of varying alkaline pHs. So the real question is—are these waters doing anything for us?
Is drinking alkaline water actually good for you?
As you may remember from chemistry class, water’s neutral pH is 7. Any pH below that is more acidic, and anything higher is more alkaline. Alkaline eating is supposed to be better for us, but is alkaline water all it’s hyped up to be?
“The idea of drinking water that is considered more alkaline is that it can neutralize the acid in your body to regulate your pH levels and lead to a variety of health benefits,” says Will Cole, D.C., IFMCP. “This includes acting as an antioxidant to fight free radicals which damage cells and DNA.”
But again, that’s the idea. When it comes to the actual impact that alkaline water has on our bodies, Cole has his reservations, noting that there isn't enough research in this field.
Richard Firshein, D.O., on the other hand, says that alkaline water does have its advantages, because it's electrolytically-reduced, hydrogen-rich water, and there are benefits to this type of process. That said, he's skeptical of alkaline water's ability to actually alkalinize our bodies.
"It is difficult to determine if drinking alkaline water restores your body to an alkaline state," Firshein told mbg, "because there are many factors that produce an alkaline environment in the body." He notes that there have been small studies demonstrating that alkaline water may be a potential approach to treating reflux, and other studies have shown it can mitigate the effects of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and elevated lipids.
Other experts, however, are quick to dismiss alkaline water's supposed capabilities based on lack of evidence that it can do anything beneficial for the body. Steven Gundry, M.D., for example, thinks the alkaline water craze is overblown.
“There is a lot of hype surrounding alkaline water, but in reality, the alkalinity of water really does nothing to 'alkalinize' the body," Gundry told mbg. “Alkaline water has no ability to neutralize acids, unlike sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) which can actually neutralize acid.”
So in short, most experts say that drinking alkaline water does next to nothing for your health. Or as Amy Shah, M.D. puts it: "There is no evidence that alkaline water helps at all."
Now, let’s unpack some of these claims.
As mentioned, Kangen water is described as “electrolytically reduced, hydrogen-rich water that works to restore your body to a more alkaline state.” When asked if there’s any truth to that, Cole cites existing studies, which point to the unlikelihood of alkaline water being a life-changer.
“While these benefits sound amazing, there isn’t enough research to really say for certain how effective this type of water is, and ultimately how it can improve health in the long-term,” he says. “There are some smaller studies claiming its ability to improve health, but there really needs to be more research before we all make the permanent switch to alkaline water.”
The same goes for any claims made around alkaline water’s ability to better hydrate us. Shah debunks these claims, saying that they're lofty and do not make medical sense. Also, Shah notes that the majority of us don't need "better" hydration—adequate amounts of water will suffice, unless you're an endurance athlete or working out at a very high intensity for over an hour (in which case you may benefit from some electrolytes).
And as for the commercially sold bottles of alkaline water, Gundry says these waters contain no hydrogen, which means they don't have any real benefits.
"Any alkaline water sold in a plastic bottle will be devoid of H2, as hydrogen, being the smallest molecule, rapidly diffuses through plastic," he says. "So, buyer beware."
So what’s the best drinking option for us?
If alkaline water isn’t worth the hype, or at least not scientifically proven to be worth the hype, what are us water-based beings supposed to do? Well for one, we should shy away from tap water when possible, and opt for filtered water whenever we can.
“Ultimately, most types of filtered water are going to be the best choice over tap water,” Cole says. “The Safe Drinking Water Act only regulates 91 pollutants and many studies have found that our water actually contains many more that aren’t regulated. In fact, one study found 316 contaminants in U.S. drinking water and a shocking 202 of those contaminants didn't have any safety standards.”
If you do decide to invest in an alkaline water machine, always find out how much molecular hydrogen it produces. (Gundry says around 1ppm is great.) Also, it's worth noting that you should store any alkaline water in a glass or metal container—if you put it in plastic, the hydrogen will escape.
"Unless you store your water at home in a glass or metal container, the gas will be gone rapidly," Gundry notes. "And carrying home Alkaline water from a generator at a store in a gallon jug is similarly a waste of money and any perceived benefits will derive from the placebo effect."
In terms of what you can do to ensure you’re getting the healthiest possible drinking water, start by choosing filtered or reverse osmosis water as often as you can (note: this does not necessarily mean bottled water is best, especially plastic ones). Also, invest in a water filter—whichever one is within your budget. The safer we can make our water, the better—which means any filtration is better than none.
And whatever you do, don't fall for the expensive water hype.
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