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Acid-base balance – what is it all about?

Our metabolism is based on fascinating biochemical processes. Thus, countless enzymes in our body work to convert proteins, fats and carbohydrates into energy. For this to work well, an optimal balance between acids and bases in the blood and organs is necessary. To maintain this balance, our body has regulatory mechanisms which counteract imbalances rapidly. Illness can result if these "buffer systems" are overloaded over long periods.

Acids are chemical compounds that contain positively charged hydrogen ions. Bases (also: alkaline solutions) are compounds with negatively charged hydrogen ions. If an acid comes into contact with a base, these substances neutralise each other. An acid or basic solution is obtained depending on which hydrogen content predominates in the liquid. The measurement parameter for the degree of acidity is the pH, which ranges from 1 to 14. A pH below 7 indicates an acidic environment and above 7 is referred to as a base excess, the value is basic. This is also termed an alkaline value. All body fluids and organs require an environment specially tailored to their task. While the stomach functions well e.g., with an acidic pH from 1 to 4, the pancreas needs a basic value. Therefore, the pancreatic juice ideally has a pH of 8.5. In our blood, the optimal pH ranges between the narrow limits of 7.35 and 7.45. Lower values are referred to as "acidosis". If the values are too high, "alkalosis" is diagnosed. Both can cause a wide range of Symptoms.

Organs that regulate the acid-base balance

Lungs: Breathe out acids in the form of carbon dioxide
Kidneys: Wash out acids etc. in the form of uric acid with the Urine
Liver: Converts fats to acids which can then be excreted by the kidneys
Intestine: Excretes acids via the stool
Skin: Gets rid of acids via sweat
Connective tissue and muscle tissue: Can temporarily store excess acid
Bones: Largest storage medium for basic minerals that the body can access when there is increased need

Regulatory systems of the body

In each metabolic process, acids or bases are produced which alter the surrounding environment. Muscle metabolism, for example, produces lactic acid, while protein metabolism produces uric acid. Furthermore, we absorb acids and bases with our food and drink. If there is excess acid, our body requires sufficient bases to restore the healthy environment. A constant pH is particularly vital in the blood! Therefore, several buffer systems are available to our body. Blood contains bicarbonate which can bind acids. Other regulatory systems are found in the organs.

Over-acidification Causes, symptoms, consequences

Over-acidification is referred to when the body's acid exposure becomes acutely or chronically too high and thereby inhibits metabolic processes. Acute over-acidification can be caused, for example, by acute metabolic disorders such as diabetes or renal disease. Chronic over-acidification, on the other hand, usually develops unnoticed over years.

Factors of chronic over-acidification

  • Foods with a high proportion of animal Proteins
  • Low-carb diets
  • Excessive Sport
  • Chronic stress
  • Chronic inflammation

Permanently increased exposure to acids is one of the essential factors of modern lifestyle diseases. The first signs of overload of the body are, however, not very specific.

Symptoms that could indicate over-acidification:

  • Chronic fatigue and exhaustion
  • Skin, nail or digestive problems.

Support your acid-base balance: Advice and information

As a chronically acidotic body does not happen overnight, it also takes time to restore the healthy balance. Therefore, it can be helpful if you review your lifestyle and health to make lasting changes. In this way you promote an equilibrated acid-base balance.

Diet: Fruit and vegetables are ideal base-forming foods. They should feature daily in your diet. Also drink sufficient water so that your kidneys can function well.

Exercise and relaxation: The entire body benefits from moderate sport. Some exercise in the fresh air already has a positive effect as exercise activates and supports metabolism and excretion. Regular activity in conjunction with sufficient time to relax can also help you to reduce stress. Therefore, get up off the sofa and do something positive!

Minerals: Zinc, calcium and magnesium are vital nutrients for our body. First and foremost zinc is vital for the production of buffer substances that are necessary for correction of the acid-base balance. It is also an important component of skin, nails and bones and boosts the immune system. Calcium gives the bones support and structure. Magnesium supports the nervous system and muscle tissue. Minerals are mainly found in plant-based foods. Green tea is also a valuable source of minerals. Together with its stimulating effect on the metabolism, it can provide support if you have set weight reduction as a goal, for example. In addition, special mineral preparations can help to cover increased demand in specific stress situations.

Basic foods? The PRAL table shows you acidic and basic foods for your acid-base diet

A health, balanced diet has a positive effect on the body's acid-base balance. A healthy diet means eating a balanced diet. The acid-base balance of the body plays a vital role in this process. In healthy people, the acids and bases are balanced. If a lot of foods are eaten that have an acidic effect in the body, this may result in the long run in over-acidification of the body, the so-called latent acidosis (additionally other factors which have an influence such as stress). But what does an acid-base diet that is optimal for health look like and which foods have an acidic effect in the body and which a basic effect? Acid-base tables that show you what effect the food has in your body can be helpful for this.

What are basic or acid-forming foods and how can I spot this in the acid-base table?

Classical basic foods are fruit and vegetables, with meat, cereals and milk products tending to be acidic. The values in the table provide information on whether the foods are metabolised acidically (yellow) or have a basic effect (blue). The PRAL values of acid and basic foods indicate the degree of acid loading: a high negative value means that the food has a very basic effect (for example, spinach in the "vegetables" section with a PRAL value of -14); a high positive value, on the other hand, indicates that the food has a strong acidifying effect in the body (for example, Parmesan cheese with a PRAL value of 34.2).

Health means acids and bases in equilibrium

The abbreviation "PRAL" stands for "potential renal acid load", i.e., the potential acid load affecting the kidneys relative to 100 grammes of the respective food. Using the dietary table, you can classify a variety of foods into basic foods (various varieties of fruit and vegetables) or those that produce acids and thus contribute to over-acidification (meat, sausage, hard cheese such as Parmesan etc.). A purely basic diet is also not healthy, acidic and basic foods should ideally be balanced. Sugar is, by the way, slightly basic – but, if possible, sugar should be avoided. It can be seen, however, that the PRAL value is a hugely important factor, but not the only factor to consider for nutrition with regard to health. Stay in balance!

Here you can download a PDF of the PRAL table with more than 100 Foods.