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 (except some waters) because they're filled with preservatives, carbonation, or sugar. This includes bottled teas, sparkling drinks, juice, energy drinks, soft drinks, coconut waters and kombuchas.
So 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:
What is pH? pH stands for "power 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 such as magnesium, potassium 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 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.
What makes palo azul alkaline? When palo azul tea is prepared with alkaline water (pH 7+), it will stay alkaline because palo azul doesn't release any acidic components that would decrease the pH of the solution. 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.
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. Alkaline Drinks Don't Erode 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:
Here's a pH chart of common beverages:
2. Better for Blood Pressure
One study found that “the levels of blood pressure, blood sugar and blood lipids decreased significantly even to normal ranges after alkaline ionized water was drunk” and concluded that “alkaline ionized water may be used as one of the accessory therapeutic methods for essential hypertension, diabetes mellitus and hyperlipidaemia.”
This result might be related to the findings of a 2016 study which concluded that “a significant difference in whole blood viscosity was detected in this study when assessing a high-pH, electrolyte water versus an acceptable standard purified water.” Viscosity measures how effectively blood can flow through your body. Essentially this means that drinking alkaline water could help blood flow and improve blood pressure.
These findings are corroborated by a study published by the World Health Organization (WHO) which found that drinking demineralized water (acidic) “leads to lower volumes of red cells and swollen vascular endothelium limiting the blood flow.”
Epidemiology studies have also found that “populations supplied with low-mineral (acidic) water may be a risk factor for hypertension and coronary heart disease, gastric and duodenal ulcers, chronic gastritis, goitre, pregnancy complications and several complications in newborns and infants, including jaundice, anemia, fractures and growth disorders.”
Another epidemiology study found that “the population of the area supplied with water lower in minerals showed higher incidence rates of goiter, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, gastric and duodenal ulcers, chronic gastritis, cholecystitis and nephritis. Children living in this area exhibited slower physical development and more growth abnormalities, pregnant women suffered more frequently from edema and anemia.”
3. Better Hydration
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. Inadequate body water redistribution between compartments may compromise the function of vital organs. Symptoms at the very beginning of this condition include tiredness, weakness and headache; more severe symptoms are muscular cramps and impaired heart rate.”
4. More Calcium and Magnesium Intake
Calcium and magnesium are essential elements for hydration, bone and teeth health, coagulability of blood and other bodily functions. The WHO paper mentions that intake of “water low in calcium and magnesium is associated with increased morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular disease (CVD).” They also mention that “water low in calcium may be associated with higher risk of fracture in children, certain neurodegenerative diseases, pre-term birth and low weight at birth and some types of cancer.”
Other studies have also shown that animals that consumed low mineral water “exhibited a reduction in thyroidal and other associated functions compared to the animals given the two higher doses of calcium.”
There’s also the case of the Czech and Slovak populations who began using reverse osmosis water filtration systems for their tap water in 2000-2002 and within several months there were various health complaints suggesting magnesium and calcium deficiency. These complaints included cardiovascular disorders, tiredness, weakness or muscular cramps.
Moreover, 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.”
5. Less Toxic Heavy Metals
Not that heavy metal! The WHO paper mentions that "calcium and magnesium can help prevent the absorption of toxic heavy metals such as lead and cadmium from the intestine into the blood.” The authors suggest that acidic water has a “lower protective (antitoxic) capacity” because of their lack of calcium and magnesium, which “are known to have antitoxic activity.”
6. Improves Acid Reflux
A 2012 study concluded the following: “Unlike conventional drinking water, pH 8.8 alkaline water instantly denatures pepsin, rendering it permanently inactive. In addition, it has good acid-buffering capacity. Thus, the consumption of alkaline water may have therapeutic benefits for patients with reflux disease.”
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 negative effects related to blood pressure, dehydration, acid reflux, dental health and toxic heavy metals. Lastly, we’ll leave you with the conclusion of the WHO article:
“Sufficient evidence is now available to confirm the health consequences from drinking water deficient in calcium or magnesium. Many studies show that higher water magnesium is related to decreased risks for CVD. This relationship has been independently described in epidemiological studies with different study designs, performed in different areas, different populations, and at different times. The consistent epidemiological observations are supported by the data from autopsy, clinical, and animal studies.”
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.