Go a few days without food and you're fine. Go a few days without water—and you're in trouble.
Staying hydrated is essential to staying alive.
Beyond that, well, should there be anything beyond making sure you drink enough clean water? Fans of alkaline water would say so. Proponents claim it hydrates you better than normal water, makes your digestive system happy and lengthens your life, among other perks.
Alkaline water has a higher pH than ordinary tap water. Understanding pH can be confusing if you aren't a science fan, so let's keep it to this: The pH scale runs from 0 to 14, and 7 is neutral. Below 7 is acidic, and above 7 is alkaline. Pure water, for example, is neutral, right at 7. Your body's pH is slightly alkaline, about 7.4.
Alkaline water usually has a pH of 8 to 10. You'll find (often pricey) bottles of it in stores and online, along with machines that take your otherwise normal water and make it more alkaline.
Here's the theory: A higher pH counters the acidic things you eat—meat and processed foods, for example—by how much work your body has to do to stay at that ideal 7.4 level. Just because the pH scale says something is acidic, though, doesn't mean it promotes acidity: Lemons, for example, are acidic but promote alkalinity in your body after you eat them (their “potential renal acid load” is alkaline-forming in your body), according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic are both are skeptical of alkaline water's supposed benefits. They say there's not enough science to back claims and that our bodies, especially our kidneys and lungs, generally do a fabulous job of maintaining a healthy pH balance.
All told, there's not a lot of solid data showing alkaline water boosts your health more than the ho-hum stuff you'd otherwise chug. But several studies have turned out intriguing results related to the purported benefits mentioned in this piece.
A study published last year in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition revealed that electrolyzed alkaline water better hydrated healthy adults after “exercise-induced dehydration” than standard purified water. It's worth noting that a grant from Essentia—which sells alkaline bottled water—paid for the study.
The same journal published a study in 2010 observing just 38 people, who weren't necessarily sweating up a storm (they were in “free-living conditions”). It showed mineral-rich alkaline water hydrated better than normal water. Funding for this study came from the Glacier Water Company.
A study in the July 2012 issue of Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology suggested that “the consumption of alkaline water may have therapeutic benefits for patients with reflux disease.”
A three-year study—on mice—published in 2016 in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed that the furry guys who consumed alkaline water had a longer lifespan, but that there were no significant differences in their kidneys, intestines, heart, liver or brain
Maybe it helps to look at the bigger picture. All told, an alkaline-forming diet – meaning everything you eat and drink – has been found to help maintain muscle mass in older folks and women, cut the risk of getting a stroke, help keep blood pressure from skyrocketing and improve cognitive functions, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
So if you want to drink some alkaline water, go ahead—but don't overdo it, and don't do it at all if you have a medical condition that might make it a no-no (check with a doctor, especially if you have kidney or respiratory issues). Paying extra to try to tip the scales probably won't hurt anything except your bank account's balance.
Learn more about journalist and wellness writer Mitra Malek at mitramalek.com.