The Trouble with Wheat #6: Too Much Acid!

January 23, 2012

The Trouble with Wheat #6:  Too Much Acid! 

 Reference: Wheat Belly by Bill Davis (Milwaukee Native: Office at Mayfair Mall) Massey. Sebastian et al Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76:1308-16 

 What’s the deal with acid?  One of the ways of explaining some of our health conundrums is along the acid base axis.  You’ve heard this before.  Acid foods are those that end up making biological ash with more acid in it after you have digested it down to its final end products.  They tend to be animal-based.  Alkaline foods are by and large plant-based.  Our bodies can easily dispose of alkali. We struggle with acid.  It is so important to maintain a precise acid-base balance that we have exquisitely sensitive mechanisms by which to do so. 

 Our first acid base-balancing tool is to excrete extra acid in our urine.  When that is limited, in the extremely short term, we can breathe a little harder, blowing off carbon dioxide and thereby balancing a sudden rush of acid.  Finally, in the long term, we borrow calcium bicarbonate from our blood, and ultimately from our bones.  America eats such an acidic diet that we have osteoporosis as an epidemic of historical proportion.  

Something is very wrong in America.  Our rate of hip and bone fractures is 60-100 times greater than other parts of the world where diets are different.  A woman over age 65 has a greater risk of premature death from the complications of a fall and a fracture than a heart attack or stroke.  Authors writing best-selling books plead with us to have an “alkaline diet” which is code for “eat more vegetables”.  And, in truth, those who do have reversed their osteoporosis by doing so.  That strategy works.   

Now, vegetables have much more than alkali, but, that’s part of the solution. You can’t measure the pH changing in your blood by dietary changes because it is so subtle.  That’s because it is so critical to maintain precise acid-base balance that blood pH tests don’t show the change.  The subtle changes in your blood pH are within the range of random measurement error and are modulated by three different blood buffering systems.   The precise measurement of those buffers isn't technically possible.  . But you can measure pH changes in your urine, which is a compilation or summary of what you have eaten in the last 12 hours.  You can also look under a microscope and see that red cell morphology changes in sync with your urinary pH changes.   (Is this real?) And where does wheat fit in?  

Actually, this is a surprise.  Wheat is pretty acidic.  It supplies about 37% of the acid in the American diet.  Wheat, alone among grains has a lot of sulfur in it that turns into acid.  Our ancient Paleolithic diet likely had a fair amount of meat in it: but it was omega acid-containing and often had lots of fat along with it (Inuit for example).  The shift that occurs in our metabolic pH from wheat, and thereby the change in urinary pH and red cell morphology follows.  So, is this change in RBC morphology real?  It needs research and confirmation!

 WWW.  What will work for me?  Successful long-term weight loss occurs with low processed food diets, or extreme willpower and exercise.  That wheat is relatively new in human experience points to something we have to adjust to, and maybe haven’t quite yet.  That our bones heal with alkaline diets is an important clue.  The tool of red cell morphology changing needs more research.  But it could open the door to the concept of “alkaline” diets.  For now, I’m trying to eat more vegetables. 

Pop Quiz

1.    Is wheat acidic or alkaline?                   Answer:   Wheat is slightly acidic.

2.    Through most of human history, the human diet was acidic or alkaline?               Answer:   Alkaline

3.    The modern diet is acidic or alkaline?                     Answer:       Acid

4.    When you eat a strongly alkaline diet, what happens to the shape of your red cells?           Answer: This is widely followed in the naturopathic community.  Darkfield examination of red cells will show they become widely separated from each other when a person is eating an alkaline diet.  In fact, a before and after blood exam after one alkaline smoothie will show the difference.   The implication is that an acidic diet is hard on your red cells' stickiness and flow in blood vessels. This needs research.

 Written by John E Whitcomb, MD  Brookfield Longevity and Healthy Living Clinic, 17585 W North Ave, Suite 160   Brookfield, WI 53045   262-784-5300