Alkaline water is experiencing a resurgence in popularity with sales jumping from $47 million in 2014 to $427 million in 2017.1 Marketers claim alkaline water can correct excess acidity in your tissues, which can then prevent or reverse cancer, arthritis and other degenerative diseases.2
However, there's virtually no good evidence to support such claims, and I warned people about drinking alkaline water on a regular basis over eight years ago. Molecular hydrogen, on the other hand, does have a number of health benefits, some of which mirror the claims made for alkaline water — and there's a really good reason for that.
So, here, I'll review these two types of waters, and the scientific support (or lack thereof) for each of them, and how the benefits of molecular hydrogen were inappropriately transferred over to alkaline water — primarily due to ignorance.
What Is Alkaline Water?
Alkaline water is water that has gone through electrolysis that separates it into alkaline and acid fractions. The theory behind alkaline water is that alkaline (ionized) water is a powerful antioxidant with surplus electrons that can "mop up" dangerous free radicals. As reported by Arwa Mahdawi in The Guardian:3
"Dr. Tanis Fenton, an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary and an evidence analyst for Dietitians of Canada, told me that the marketing claims behind alkaline water are based on an old idea called the acid-ash hypothesis.
This posits that eating certain food like meat, dairy and eggs results in something called acid ash in your body, which increases your acid levels and causes adverse health effects including osteoporosis.
In 2002, an alternative medicine practitioner called Robert O. Young4 spun the acid-ash hypothesis into a fad alkaline diet, with a popular series of books called the pH Miracle.
According to these books, an alkaline diet could treat all manner of woes, from poor digestion to cancer. Young, by the way, was sentenced to three years in jail in 2017 for practicing medicine without a license."
According to Fenton — author of a systematic review5 of the association between alkaline water and cancer — the few studies showing positive results with alkaline water are poorly designed, leading him to conclude that "there is no rigorous evidence" showing that alkaline water produces health benefits.
This view is shared by Randy Johnson6 — who has a master of science degree in molecular genetics — whose evaluation of the evidence can be found on his Cyber Nook website page, "Drinking Water Resources: A Review of the Evidence Alleged to Support Health Benefits of Alkaline Water."7
Why Alkaline Water Doesn't Work
One of the key reasons why the consumption of alkaline water cannot confer the health benefits associated with alkalinity is because you cannot alter the pH of your blood and body this way. As noted by Fenton:8
"Your body regulates its [blood] pH in a very narrow range because all our enzymes are designed to work at pH 7.4. If our pH varied too much we wouldn't survive."
Your diet, including the water you drink, can however alter the pH of your urine. Urine is typically acidic, with a pH around 6, and this is actually a sign that your kidneys are working properly. As for the benefits people report when drinking alkaline water, Fenton suggests the placebo effect may be at play.
Initial improvement can also be attributed to detoxification and/or improved hydration in general, simply from drinking more water. Lastly, alkaline water is often correlated with having a higher mineral concentration, which is known to have beneficial effects, particularly when dietary intake from food is low.9