Pros and cons of ionised water: answering the sceptics

The advantages of ionized alkaline water have been explained in the articles presented on this website. However, there is an ongoing debate between the supporters and detractors of ionized water as a potential source of health. Sceptics say that there are not enough reliable studies to validate the marketing claims of ionized water companies.

Let us review some of the basic statements that are typically challenged, and make an effort to provide an adequate evidence-based answer to the critics.

Some sceptics challenge the claim that alkaline water neutralises excess acidity in the body. They argue that as soon as the alkaline drink enters the stomach and comes into contact with gastric acid, it loses its alkalinity.

Yes, the stomach does indeed neutralize ionized alkaline water. Its inner environment is highly acidic (pH ~ 4). When alkaline water finds its way into the stomach, its acidity level drops and stomach cells intensify the production of gastric acid. It may seem that this would minimize the effect of the alkalized water.

However, it is important to understand that there is no organ in the human body for storing gastric acid produced in advance. Stomach cells produce it on demand, whenever food enters the stomach. By-products of gastric acid production, namely sodium bicarbonate and potassium bicarbonate, play an important part in the alkalinisation of the body. Bicarbonates act as alkaline buffers enhancing the blood’s ability to neutralize hyperacidity in the body. As the production of gastric acid intensifies, so does the production of bicarbonates. As a result, the larger quantity of bicarbonates passes into the blood stream. With an increase of bicarbonates, the blood’s ability to neutralize acids grows and the acidification of the body is arrested.

Neither food supplements, nor baking soda dissolved in water can raise the amount of bicarbonates (alkaline buffers) in the blood. Only ionized alkaline water with a sufficiently high pH (8.5-9.5) can do that. By consuming 2-2.5 l of ionised water daily, you can maintain an adequate alkaline buffer level and ensure the elimination of acidic waste.

However, it is advisable to avoid drinking ionised water with foods, especially those that are known to trigger an acidic response, for example, meat and eggs.

Since the 1970s, oxidative stress has been recognized as a contributing factor in the body’s ageing process and a number of common pathologies such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Antioxidants play an active role in the prevention of cellular damage which plays a role in the development of these conditions.

A number of studies conducted up to date have shown that alkaline water is a powerful antioxidant working against free radical damage.  However, there are sceptics who claim that there is no reason to believe this.

 

What science has to say?

In 1997, Professor S. Shirahata and his colleagues from Kyushu University (Japan) published a pioneering study on the anti-oxidative qualities of ionised water[1]. Further clinical studies conducted in Japan and the US have shown that ionised alkaline water not only supports acid-alkaline balance in the body but also controls free radical activity and works to reduce its hazardous effects.  To sum up their findings, the consumption of alkaline water (ERW):

  • may reduce oxidative stress in the body[2],
  • prevents oxidative DNA damage induced by oxygen free radicals[3],
  • lowers oxidative stress in the brain and prevents the impairment of cognitive functions[4].

Take note of the fact that ionised alkaline water not only acts as an antioxidant but strengthens the effect of fermentative and non-fermentative antioxidants many times over.

[1] Shirahata S., Kabayama S., Nakano M., Miura T., Kusumoto K., Gotoh M., Hayashi H., Otsubo K., Morisawa S., Katakura Y. Electrolyzed-reduced water scavenges active oxygen species and protects DNA from oxidative damage. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 8 May 1997; 234(1): 269-74.

[2] Yanagihara T., Arai K., Miyamae K., Sato B., Shudo T., Yamada M., Ayoyama M. Electrolysed Hydrogen-Saturated Water for Drinking Use Elicits an Antioxidative Effect: A Feeding Test With Rats. Biosci. Biotechnol. Biochem., Oct 2005; 69 (10):1985-7.

[3] Hanaoka K., Sun D., Lawrence R., Kamitani Y., Fernandes G. The mechanism of the enhanced anti-oxidative effects against superoxide anion radicals of reduced water produced by electrolysis. Biophysical Chemistry 1 Jan 2004; 107(1): 71-82.

[4] Nagata K., Nakashima-Kamimura N., Mikami T., Ohsawa I., Ohta S., Consumption of molecular Hydrogen Prevents the Stress-Induced Impairments of Hyppocampus-Dependent Learning Tasks during Chronic Physical Restraint in Mice. Neuropsychopharmacology (2008), p. 1-8

During the electrolysis process, aimed at producing ionised alkaline water, water molecules undergo a chemical restructuring known as microclustering. While regular tap water comes in large clusters containing up to 13 molecules, electrolysed water contains only 5 or 6 molecules. The reduced molecular cluster size allows the body to absorb fluids, along with their mineral content, much more rapidly and efficiently, and thus gives an advantage to ionised alkaline water as a superior source of hydration.

What science has to say?

Still, there are sceptics who insist that there is no valid and reputable scientific evidence for the existence of these microclusters, and the idea of better hydration due to microclustering is yet to be proved.

Well, that’s not exactly the case. An independent study conducted in 2003 by the Chinese Health Care Science and Technology Society[1] upheld the benefits of microclustered water.

Participants of the Hydration and Health project compared distilled water and US patented microclustered water. During a 4 week testing period researchers observed that microclustered water consumption improved cell water distribution, the basal metabolism rate, phase angle and cell capacitance. They found that 60 percent of people who drank it experienced a tenfold increase in their cellular hydration level. Another observation was that a relatively small size of molecular cluster may be one of the mechanisms that are conducive to cell structure and function improvement.

[1] Wang, Z. Y.; Zhou, Z. C.; Zhu, K. N.; Wang, X.; Pan, J. G.; Lorenzen, L. H.; Zhou, M. C. Microclustered water and hydration. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition . 2004, Vol. 13, p. S128-S128. 1/2p.

Ionised alkaline water, also known as electrochemically reduced water (ERW), is beneficial to human health. In fact, in a number of cases, it may serve as a means of therapy. Still, some assert that any claims concerning the health benefits of ionised water are unfounded.

A more accurate point of view would be that much of the research on the potential benefits of alkaline water carried out thus far is only preliminary.

What science has to say?

A number of pilot studies conducted in Japan, Korea, the USA and Russia have provided promising data, although some of their health claims need to be confirmed by further research. Clinical studies investigating the benefits of alkaline water actually take decades to complete, and the field of water ionisation is still very young.

On the other hand, there is a growing amount of research. Japan is taking the lead here as the first country to take an interest in the health benefits of ERW. Studies on the functions of potable ERW (pH 8-10) were first conducted in 1931. In 1966, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare admitted that ERW was an effective treatment for chronic diarrhoea, indigestion, abnormal gastrointestinal fermentation, antacid and hyperacidity, and authorised the production of an ERW-producing device for home use[1]. In that same year, the ministry recognized the water ionizer as a medical device intended for health purposes.

In 1970, water ionisers were introduced in South Korea and later certified for use by the Korean Food and Drug Administration (KFDA, now the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety) as medical devices. The KFDA confirmed that water produced by the latter may help relieve gastrointestinal symptoms such as abnormal fermentation in the intestines, indigestion, chronic diarrhoea and hyperacidity in the stomach.

During the period from 1985 to 2000, the Japanese scientists H. Hayashi from the Water Institute of Japan and M. Kawamura from the Kyowa medical clinic conducted a study and presented their findings on the positive effects of alkalized water in the treatment of a variety of diseases[2].

The already mentioned Professor S. Shirahata and his team at Kyushu University carried out an extensive study on ionized alkaline water and in 1997, prepared one of the first scientific works on its anti-oxidative qualities.

Other countries were also beginning to show an increasing interest in ionized water. Scientists in Germany, the U.S., Korea and China, among others, have since recognised the beneficial qualities of ionized water. Korean[3] and German[4] scientists have conducted comprehensive research on the anti-diabetic effect of ionized alkaline water. Research data produced by Japanese and German scientists on the stimulating effect of ionized alkaline water on the body’s immune system and its role in the prevention of tumour development has generated great interest.

[1] Shirahata S., Hamasaki T. and Teruya K., Advanced research on the health benefit of reduced water. Trends in Food Science & Technology 23 (2012), p. 124-131

[2] Http://www.hydrogeninmywaterbottle.com/html/research.html

[3] Kim MJ, Kim HK. Anti-diabetic effects of electrolysed reduced water in streptozotocin-induced and genetic diabetic mice.  Life Science. 10 Nov 2006;79(24):2288-92. Epub 2006 Aug 2.

[4] Dina Gitelman und Dr. med. Hans Georg 5chwedes: „Kann man Diabetes melli­tus mit aktiviertem Wasser behandeln?“ CO’MED No. 08/2007

Would it be justified to claim that ionised alkaline water is a panacea that helps you get rid of all ailments and prevent sickness in the future? No, certainly not. The established definition of medicine doesn’t refer to ionized water as such, just as it doesn’t refer to fresh air, recreation or healthy food as medicines. However, we are well aware of how beneficial the above are to human health, and how many ailments can be addressed by simply working on these areas. So it is up to the individual to decide on whether to treat alkalized water as a remedy, and the amelioration of the body’s functions – as a recovery.