If no disease, including cancer, can survive in an alkaline environment, then why aren’t doctors using this method to heal their patients? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Mike Condron, M.D. Medicine, Meharry Medical College, on Quora: If no disease, including cancer, can survive in an alkaline environment, then why aren’t doctors using this method to heal their patients?
This is a great question.
First of all, let’s be clear about this: human blood is in fact “alkaline”. Our blood pH is very (and I mean VERY) tightly regulated to be almost exactly 7.4 (maybe 7.35, but let’s use 7.4 so I don’t have to type more), which is in fact slightly alkaline. There are multiple systems in place to keep our blood pH at or very near this level.
So, right away, the premise of the question is off: Lots of diseases—or actually, all human diseases, can survive just fine in an alkaline environment, since our blood is alkaline. But it is also true that if you make the environment alkaline enough, nothing can survive. You could pour, say, lye (sodium hydroxide, with a pH of about 13), onto tumor cells in a laboratory dish, or bacteria, or yeast, and you would kill them in an instant.
But is this a useful therapeutic method? If your blood were infused with sodium hydroxide you would be dead long before it got to a pH of 13. I don’t think experiments have been done to test exactly what blood pH is lethal, but I can assure you it is nowhere near 13. Probably about 7.8.
We cannot survive with a blood pH much different from 7.40. The “normal” range is 7.35 to 7.45. Any significant deviation will cause major problems, and is in fact a sign of major derangements of the systems that are designed to keep our blood pH in that range. There are buffers in the blood that chemically limit the pH, and then there are mechanisms in both the lungs and the kidneys to change the way acidity (which is just hydrogen ions) is managed, just to keep the blood pH in that range.
A deviation to either more acidic or more alkaline will cause severe physiologic disturbances, like enzymes not working properly, chemical reactions in cells not working right, and so on. That is the reason we have evolved so many multi-layered backup systems and emergency plans to keep our blood pH in that range.
The question does not say what kind of range of alkalinity is being considered as a treatment for diseases, but we are already slightly alkaline, and we cannot survive any deviation from the very precise level of alkalinity that we need. So, one major idea here is that you can kill a tumor, or micro-organism, or whatever else may be causing a disease, by putting it in a sufficiently alkaline environment.
But you can do the same with acidity — pouring hydrochloric acid on tumor cells in a laboratory dish will kill them too. You can also do the same with heat—nothing can survive being heated to 250 F (about 120 C). We would kill all cancers, infections, and every other disease known, by heating them to that temperature. That works great in a laboratory test dish, but we can’t subject living patients to such a treatment, obviously, just like we can’t infuse lye or hydrochloric acid into patients’ blood to kill their cancer.
You can kill cancer by depriving it of oxygen, too…but that is also not a useful treatment, because it would also kill the patient. Same for glucose — cancer cells need glucose (although some bacteria could maybe make it from things they can absorb from your body, perhaps) but your body’s cells need glucose too, so inducing a hypoglycemic state is not a useful treatment for cancer. You could make the same argument for vitamins and minerals, since cancer cells (and micro-organisms) need them too.
So, to summarize before I go on: We are alkaline to begin with, so the idea that an alkaline environment is bad for diseases is simply wrong. Making the body more alkaline will kill the patient. Lots of other things can kill cancer or other diseases, but they will all kill the patient, too, like acidity, or heat, or deprivation of oxygen, or glucose, etc.
Now let me turn to a different perspective on this question. I have a feeling — and forgive me if I am jumping to conclusions here but I have a feeling that this question is about one of the latest trends in marketing … “alkaline” water, and “alkaline” diets. I described earlier that our blood pH is very (and I emphasized VERY) tightly regulated. One part of that is that there is almost nothing you can eat or drink that will affect your pH. Certainly not the “alkaline water” that is being sold everywhere now.
Think about this. It’s true that pure water is at a pH of 7.0, which is neutral. But does that really matter? We eat fruits, most of which are acidic. Are we saying that fruits are bad? Or what about meat? It has a pH, like most tissues, around the same as our body, so why drink alkaline water, when you can just eat meat? Does the idea that the pH of our food affects our blood pH even make sense? No, it does not.
Bear in mind that the acidity of our stomach is impressive — the cells lining the stomach secrete acid with a pH of around 1. That is somewhere between vinegar and battery acid. And that is regardless of what you eat. So if you eat or drink something slightly alkaline (say, 7.5 or 8.0) it will be immediately overwhelmed by the gastric acid, and what enters your duodenum (the first part of the small intestine after your stomach) is going to be at the pH of your gastric secretions, more or less. Maybe around pH 3 or 4.
Is a slightly alkaline water going to stand a chance against the wildly acidic environment of the stomach? Then bear in mind this: Immediately after the stomach contents goes into the duodenum, it is met with a huge load of bicarbonate ions secreted by the pancreas, which immediately neutralizes any acidity. And this all happens before anything is actually absorbed into the body.
Another aspect of this is the concept of “alkaline foods”. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding of an almost irrelevant idea from old food physiology research, which looked at the pH not of foods, but of the ash left over after foods were burned. The vague idea that burning something and looking at the residue left over applied to our physiology of digestion has led to the concept that certain foods are “acidic” and others are “alkaline”.
This was not the intent of the original research, but for some reason has been taken on by alternative medicine as a way of directing dietary choices, and then there was the birth of alkaline water. Wikipedia has a good article on this:And now let me take a more general perspective on this question. It is in a broad category of questions: “I read somewhere [or heard, or saw in an advertisement] that doing X will cure diseases. So why don’t doctors do X?”
The answer to that is: Because X does not work in the real world, and X is being sold to people, hoping that the customer is too ignorant to know better. I know what I am about to say implies something that you have not stated, but maybe I can speak to others reading this answer who might think this: Please, if you read about something that someone is selling, and they are trying to say doctors are keeping a miracle cure from you, don’t believe them.
I am glad you asked this question, and I hope this answer gives some insight into why we don’t treat cancer or any other disease with alkalinity… or any other non-scientific method.