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03/04/2011 / Pedanto

Unhealthy Ideals

With an ever-increasing pressure for the human race (or at least the middle classes in the developed world) to imitate the beautified models of perfection that we have forced down our throats by the idiot box, is it any coincidence there is also a rise in pseudo-scientific quackery?

It is hard to pass a week without hearing about a new fad diet which promises to help you hit that size 0 whilst simultaneously improving your libido and granting you an adamantium endoskeleton. Or perhaps a cosmetic product which, being “inspired by the science of genes”, can surely at least stop (if not reverse) the ageing process.

My aim with this blog is to take each of these claims and expose the snake oil peddlers behind them.

Ben Goldacre’s secondary blog (well worth a look) brought this particular story to my attention today(1) Raise your PH level like a celebrity by Victoria Stewart. To my surprise I found that the newest fashionable diet is concerned with raising one’s pH to improve one’s health. As a lowly fourth year medical student I feel my grasp of acid base balance may not be the quite as refined as a respiratory physicians – I am however aware that a drastic change in pH (note: NOT “pH level” as the title states) can lead to a patient becoming what is medically known as rather poorly. For those of you not cursed with a medical/scientific education here’s a quick overview

pH: In simple terms pH refers to the acid-base balance of a solution (in the case of this diet that solution is blood)

In more technical terms (apologies for this) – The quantity pH is defined in terms of the activity of hydrogen(1+) ions (hydrogen ions) in solution:

pH = − lg a H + = − lg m H + γ m H + / m ⦵(2)
The pH of pure water is 7 which is neutral.

Acid-base balance: human blood should remain at a pH between 7.35 and 7.45. Any lower is considered an acidosis caused by respiratory failure, kidney failure or any number of the illnesses on my list entitled “Not Cool”. Any higher than 7.45 is considered an alkalosis, usually caused by hyperventilation or fairly extreme vomiting.(3)

Now that all that dull scientific fact is out of the way let’s examine why this fad aims to change the acid-base balance of a perfectly healthy human. Thankfully eHow Health supplied me with some easy to follow instructions (strangely without any citations throughout). If you visit http://www.ehow.com/how_2340512_bodys-ph-level-better-health.html you can find out many interesting facts that I was never taught at medical school.

For example :”1) All disease (including cancers) and toxins are acidic” – Rather a bold statement I’m sure you’ll agree, and thanks to the scientific method if i can disprove or find an exception to a single part of that argument the whole statement is null and void. Now I’d rather not just pick out one of the million or so toxic alkaline compounds available readily somewhere such as a pharmacist, I decided a more exotic approach was in order.

Poison dart frogs – that’s right Phyllobates terribilis (a species which produces toxins so powerful that they could kill you if held in your hand) produces an alkaloid poison(4). If only the author of the eHow article hadn’t decided to use the word “all” in their article, and replaced it with “some” or “many” they might have a valid point – well apart from on the whole cancer and disease malarkey!

“2) Bacteria, viruses, and parasites die when exposed to high alkaline environments.” As do many other things such as hamsters, puppies, kittens, babies, and anything which likes all the fun of respiration (excepting of course any alkaline loving extremophiles (5) – they’re like groupies for bleach). I have however performed an experiment to see if the HIV virus can be killed by coming in close contact with a strongly alkaline solution

Thus far there has been no decrease in the activity of the virus

Read more: How to Raise Your Body’s pH Level for Better Health | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/how_2340512_bodys-ph-level-better-health.html#ixzz1ITQ9cMoT

This type of advice is not only a fantastic way for quack “Doctors” (e.g. Gillian McKeith) to sell their wares for an extortionate amount to anyone with a vague anxiety about their health, but also incredibly dangerous. Imagine you are one of these people whose fear of ageing/death/illness is so strong that you are willing to invest £350 a week in juice to regulate your acid-base balance. Then you find yourself googling “blood pH” – Oh really? You can increase your blood pH through hyperemesis (vomiting – lots!)? Well then I can see a quick and cheap way to boost all those good pHs in my blood? Well then I guess i’ll stop cooking that chicken properly! That’ll get me super fit super quick. I might even lose a few more pounds that way!

As a final appeal to anyone who might have stumbled upon this looking for advice on how to increase their body pH: Just because a celebrity with severe body image problems has managed to shed some fat tissue and push themselves into early organ failure, it doesn’t mean copying them is a good idea.

For a brilliant insight into the first hand experience of someone undergoing a variety of fad diets watch Dawn Porter “Super Slim Me”.

References

(1)http://bengoldacre.posterous.com/one-for-the-nephrologists-this-reporter-recko

(2) http://goldbook.iupac.org/P04524.html

(3) Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine-OUP Oxford; 7 edition (4 Jan 2007)-9780198568377

(4) http://news.mongabay.com/2005/0809-frogs.html

(5) Rossi, M. et al., 2003. Extremophiles 2002.” J Bacteriol. 2003 July; 185(13): 3683–3689. A

Read more at Suite101: Bacterial Extremophiles – Alkaline and Salt-Loving Arsenophiles http://www.suite101.com/content/bacterial-extremophiles–alkaline-and-salt-loving-arsenophiles-a316356#ixzz1ITVmdent

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One Comment

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  1. Tired and surly / Jun 28 2011 06:58

    The Daily Mail follows up on this fad by sort of (but only marginally) correcting the science. If you look at the captions below each picture they don’t really seem to refute the idea behind the diet. Also randomly choosing a definition for pH is a bit out of order. Science in the media couldn’t get much worse than what the Mail likes to say!
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2008851/How-cheese-meat-make-body-dangerously-acidic.html

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