For some time, claims have been made about the health benefits of drinking alkaline water instead of regular tap water.
Many companies sell water ionisers – devices that turn regular water into alkaline water through the process of electrolysis or ionisation.
The evidence is not conclusive, but some claims made by the proponents of alkaline water are that it:
· Has anti-aging properties
· Helps prevent diseases, including cancer and immune-system related diseases
· Helps you lose weight
· Detoxes the body.
How Does a Water Ioniser Work?
Naturally alkaline water occurs when water passes over rocks and picks up minerals that increase its alkaline level. These minerals include magnesium, calcium and potassium, and they are good for your body.
However, most people who drink alkaline water are consuming regular tap water that has been through a chemical process called electrolysis or ionisation.
The process uses electricity to separate the water molecules and filter out the acidic molecules from the alkaline ones. Suppliers of water ionisation machines often claim that the results of the process produce alkaline water. This is debatable, and depends on interpretation, as discussed below.
Water ionisers are not cheap. In the UK, you will have to pay well over £1000 to buy one.
It is true that water processed through a water ioniser will increase its pH level. It becomes ‘more alkaline’, but there is some debate about whether it should be called ‘alkaline water’ after going through the process.
To understand the effectiveness of a water ioniser, one must understand some of the science.
A pH test measures the amount of acid and alkaline in water. The pH scale is 0 to 14. The higher the pH, the higher the alkalinity, so water with a pH level of 4 would be very acidic and water with a pH of 12 would be very alkaline.
The controversy about alkaline water usage and its benefits is primarily caused by the nomenclature. What is alkaline? What is alkalinity? What is alkaline water?
Technically, water with a pH of 7.5 is alkaline because a pH of 7 is neutral. But almost no one will tell you that you will obtain any health benefits from water that has a 7.5 pH.
Companies who sell water ionisers use pH tests to show the effectiveness of their products. It is a scientific fact that using an effective ionising machine does change the pH level of water.
But it is important to understand that pH tests are a measurement. If you increase the pH level of your water, you are indeed making it ‘more alkaline’ but you are not necessarily making it healthier.
Many scientists would also argue that you are also not creating ‘alkaline water’.
Are Water Ionisers Beneficial to Your Health?
The claims made about alkaline water are that it neutralises acid in the body – ie. the bloodstream.
There are some isolated studies that show benefits from the consumption of alkaline water, including a preliminary Chinese study[i] which claims that alkaline ionised water may ‘be used as one of the accessory therapeutic methods for essential hypertension, diabetes mellitus and hyperlipidaemia’.
However, most research suggests that alkaline water will not improve your health and is unlikely to significantly change blood pH.[ii]
Drinking alkaline water is generally considered safe, but there is some research[iii] to suggest that too much alkaline water can cause health problems such as Alkalosis. It could also exacerbate underlying health issues such as low potassium, or hypokalaemia.
Another problem is that some consumers using water ionisers do not receive the benefits of the naturally occurring minerals in water lost during the ionisation process.
Many health organisations, including the WHO and the Mayo Clinic, advise that it is better to drink tap water instead of treated water that is missing essential minerals. Some experts also worry that the filtration systems on water ionisers do not adequately filter out contaminants and therefore make the water unsafe to drink.
The bottom line is that increasing the pH level of your water is not enough to improve your health.
Scientists and health experts say that if you want ‘alkaline water’ – not simply regular water that has been ionised to increase its pH level – your water must also have alkaline minerals and negative oxidation reduction potential (ORP).
ORP is the ability of water to work as an antioxidant. The more negative the ORP value, the more antioxidising it is.
Scientists argue that you must have alkaline minerals in the source water to produce alkalinity – water with a substantial amount of alkaline.
The argument is that good quality water with alkaline minerals is good for you regardless of whether it has been processed through a water ioniser.
Poor quality water without alkaline minerals is not going to be much improved by going through a water ionisation process, if at all.
The quality of your water before the ionisation process is crucial to its health-giving properties. If you accept this thesis – held by most scientists – it follows that you must question whether you need a water ioniser in the first place.
If ‘good’ water is already giving you benefits, why pay for a water ioniser that cannot turn ‘bad’ water into ‘good’?
You cannot receive any benefit from water that has been treated by a water ioniser if the source water is not already high in alkaline minerals.
Water passed through a water ioniser may still contain contaminants that render it unsafe to drink. Most ionisers do not have good filtration systems.
Ioniser machines are very expensive to purchase.
Many organisations advise against regularly consuming water that has a low mineral content.
[i] Wang, Y. (2001). ‘Shanghai Preliminary observation on changes of blood pressure, blood sugar and blood lipids after using alkaline ionized drinking water’. Journal of Preventative Medicine.
[ii] Zeratsky, K. Cited in Mayo Clinic: ‘Is alkaline water better for you than plain water?’
[iii] Kahn, A. (2019). Alkalosis: Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/alkalosis