As if palo azul wasn't already unique enough...it's also alkaline!
Other teas like black tea, hibiscus, and fruit teas are generally acidic...and pretty much all bottled beverages at grocery stores are acidic because they're filled with preservatives, carbonation, or sugar. This includes bottled teas, sparkling drinks, juice, energy drinks, soft drinks, coconut waters and kombuchas.
While the question of whether alkaline is better than acidic is controversial, many studies have found beneficial properties of alkaline drinks including: Better hydration, more essential minerals, and they don't erode teeth.
What makes palo azul alkaline?
A 2013 study analyzed the nutrients in the palo azul bark and found that it has minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium. All of these minerals are electrolytes which make palo azul tea alkaline.
This 2007 study did an extensive 77 page analysis on palo azul and also showed that it has a potassium. Therefore, the researchers found that palo azul "decreases the acidity of urine."
A 2006 book about botanical medicine also mentions that palo azul tea has an "alkalinizing nature" allows it to dissolve acidic precipitants.
If it's prepared with water that is too acidic, palo azul's slight alkalinizing effect may not be enough to make the water alkaline. However, when palo azul tea is prepared with alkaline water (pH 7+), it will stay alkaline. On the other hand, if you prepared black tea with alkaline water, it wouldn't stay alkaline because black tea has a pH of around 5-6 and it will release acidic components that decrease the pH of the solution.
What does alkaline mean?
Basically (no pun intended 😉), it means having a pH higher than 7. The human blood has a pH of 7.4, so this is why proponents of the alkaline diet believe that consuming drinks and foods closer to that pH might be beneficial. For reference, here’s a pH scale:
Heinrich-Boll-Stiftung, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
What is pH? pH stands for "potential of hydrogen" and it measures the acidity/alkalinity of a solution. Anything below 7 is acidic and anything above 7 is alkaline.
What makes a drink alkaline?
There are minerals (electrolytes) such as magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium which increase the alkalinity of a substance. Then there are other compounds which increase the acidity of a substance, like sugar, preservatives, or carbonic acids used in sparkling drinks.
Naturally alkaline water occurs in springs, where the water passes through rocks and collects magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium. These minerals increase the pH in water, which makes it alkaline. Some alkaline bottled waters however, don't come from natural springs and instead use a process called "electrolysis" to add these minerals to filtered water.
Fun fact: Interestingly enough, we noticed that naturally alkaline spring water gives palo azul tea a more pleasant, deep blue and amber color. Whereas the electrolysis water gave it a sort of darker blue and brown color. Several books about tea also recommend natural spring water as one of the key elements to preparing the perfect cup of tea.
Next time you buy bottled alkaline water, look at the ingredient list on the label and if it has words like: calcium chloride, sodium, bicarbonate, potassium, or electrolytes...then it's not naturally alkaline. There's nothing wrong with these waters, but it's important to know what you're buying.
Benefits of Alkaline
Proponents of alkaline water say that it neutralizes the acidity in your bloodstream, but there’s conflicting evidence to show that alkaline water can change your blood pH.
For example, the Cleveland Clinic published an article which says that “if your blood becomes too acidic, you breathe out more carbon dioxide to bring the levels down...and once alkaline water hits your stomach the gastric juices will neutralize it — another example of natural balancing.” The American Society for Nutrition also mentions that “there's no proof that acidic-forming foods affect the body's pH balance and contribute to diseases.”
There are however, many studies which have found benefits to drinking alkaline beverages.
1. Non-Erosive to teeth
A 2016 study published in the American Dental Association concluded that “commercially available beverages with a pH of less than 4.0 are potentially damaging to the dentition” and that most beverages in the U.S. “are potentially erosive to the dentition.” Healthline also mentions that “the safe pH level of drinks that won’t cause tooth damage is considered 5.5.”
Here's a pH chart of some beverages analyzed by the American Dental Association paper:
Asides from having electrolytes which are essential for hydration, the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition mentions that alkaline water has an increasing hydrating effect through blood viscosity versus regular water.
The WHO paper also mentions that drinking demineralized water (acidic) “led to increased diuresis (urination) and increased the elimination of sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium ions from the body.” In other words, drinking acidic water can dehydrate your body by making you urinate electrolytes.
Here’s a quote from the WHO study which illustrates the effect of acidic water on dehydration:
“If distilled water is ingested, the intestine has to add electrolytes to this water first, taking them from the body reserves. Since the body never eliminates fluid in form of "pure" water but always together with salts, adequate intake of electrolytes must be ensured. Ingestion of distilled (acidic) water leads to the dilution of the electrolytes dissolved in the body water.”
3. Essential Minerals
Alkaline water contains higher concentrations of essential minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium. This article mentions that these minerals are essential for hydration, proper fluid balance, healthy bones, muscular contractions and relaxation.
The WHO paper also mentions that calcium and magnesium are more bioavailable (easily absorbed) in water because “they’re present as free ions and therefore, are more readily absorbed from water compared to food where they are mostly bound to other substances.”
Conclusion: Is Alkaline Healthier than Acidic?
Even though many articles say that there’s no evidence that alkaline water is healthier, we can see that this is not the case. There is in fact evidence that shows that demineralized acidic water has some negative effects.
There’s no question that some companies just put the word “alkaline” on their products as a marketing ploy to make people believe that they’re superior to non-alkaline products. And this leads to a lot of skepticism about the claims being made because it seems like these companies are just trying to charge higher prices for alkaline products. So it’s understandable that sources like Mayo Clinic and Web MD dismiss these claims and say that there’s no evidence for them.
Perhaps some of the evidence we cited in this article is controversial, or maybe it’s all true...who knows. All we know is that it’s good to have balance in our lives, so it doesn’t hurt to drink some alkaline tea every once in a while.
Palo azul's scientific and common names: Eysenhardtia polystachya, Cyclolepis genistoides, Lignum nephricitum, kidney wood, kidney tea, palo dulce
(2006) Herbal medicine of the American Southwest: a guide to the medicinal and edible plants of the Southwestern United States
(2007) Estudio Etnobotánico de Eysenhardtia Polystachia (Ort.) Sarg. En una Comunidad del Municipio de Zempola, Hidalgo, y Evaluación del Efecto Diurético en Rata
(2012) Potential benefits of pH 8.8 alkaline drinking water as an adjunct in the treatment of reflux disease
Preliminary observation on changes of blood pressure, blood sugar and blood lipids after using alkaline ionized drinking water
(2016) Effect of electrolyzed high-pH alkaline water on blood viscosity in healthy adults
World Health Organization: HEALTH RISKS FROM DRINKING DEMINERALISED WATER
(2016) American Dental Association: The pH of beverages in the United States
Mayo Clinic: Is Alkaline Water Better For You than Plain Water?
Bottled Alkaline Water — Don’t Believe the Marketing Hype
Healthline: Alkaline Water: Benefits and Risks
Nova: Top 4 Reasons to Drink Alkaline Water
Livestrong: Herbal Teas That Are Alkaline
Healthline: Acidity in Tea: pH Levels, Effects, and More