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MERS virus and alkaline water

We’ve written in previous columns about the hyped-up but unproven claims of alkaline water. A patient recently related to me how she was also convinced by a local multilevel networking company to buy an expensive device worth P210,000, which is supposed to alkalinize the water she drinks so it could heal her of all her ailments.

The marketers are also capitalizing on the current Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) virus scare, claiming that taking alkaline water daily could boost one’s immune system to make it strong enough to combat infections like MERS virus.

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She was told that recently published researches have already proven the multiple health benefits of alkaline water, and especially in warm and humid countries like the Philippines, that the best hydration one can get is from alkaline water.

There’s no question that water is one of the best natural medicines and that we should drink enough of it daily to remain healthy, but alkaline water does not really provide any additional benefit. So it would appear that all the fuss about alkaline water is more of a marketing hype rather than science-based.

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Nothing new

I reviewed the scientific literature again earlier this week, but aside from testimonials and some observations, there’s nothing new to prove any health benefit which alkaline water might provide.

It’s true that patients who have an infection, whether it’s MERS virus, dengue or the ordinary flu, will benefit from adequate hydration until the body recovers, but there’s no scientific data showing that alkaline water is better than ordinary mineral or clean tap water to hydrate the patient by mouth. When one is too sick to drink water, intravenous fluids are usually given.

Supportive therapy

Most viral infections are also self-limiting, and since there’s no definitive treatment for them, supportive therapy to prevent complications are all that healthcare givers could administer until the patient recovers naturally from the infection.

At best, the claimed benefits of alkaline water are only a theoretical possibility. The marketers claim that alkaline water has a higher pH level than plain water, which can neutralize the acidity in the body and enhance the absorption of essential nutrients into the bloodstream. It’s also supposed to improve the body’s metabolism, prevent diseases and even slow the aging process.

But we’ve already explained previously that the body, by itself, should be able to maintain the right pH level in the blood and various tissues, provided one is adequately hydrated and properly nourished. This is the body’s capability to maintain “homeostasis” or balance. One does not have to drink alkaline water for this.

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Homeostasis maintains internal stability, characterized by the coordinated response of the various organ-systems in the body to any situation or stimulus that would tend to disturb its normal state or function.

Enough water in the diet plus eating several servings of fruits and vegetables would be sufficient to maintain the body’s optimal pH.

It’s true though that when one has longstanding kidney disease, this compensatory mechanism may be disrupted. But rather than spend a hefty sum for alkaline water devices, one can just take sodium bicarbonate tablets which should be more effective and definitely a lot cheaper.

False, deceptive claims

I’m not sure if these water-alkalinizing devices have been approved by our Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If so, that would be ironic since early last year, the FDA came out with an advisory warning the public on the “false, deceptive and misleading claims and strategies to promote alkaline water and oxygenated water.”

Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go, then FDA director and now health undersecretary, reproached establishments operating vendo-type outlets or filling stations, and those engaged in the manufacture, importation and distribution of water purification devices for their “unsubstantiated therapeutic claims in the promotion and marketing of their products and/or purification device allegedly producing water known as ‘alkaline water’ or ‘oxygenated water.’”

So the bottom line on alkaline water is that from the scientific standpoint, there’s still no strong indication that can justify the big amount consumers are spending on it. I don’t want to call it a scam, but it’s ripping off a lot of gullible people who could use the money for the more essential things.

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TAGS: alkaline water, column, health and science, mers virus, Rafael Castillo
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