Importance of the Acid-Base Balance
in the Body
by Vladimir Stojnic
How many times we have heard words like acid-base balance? Probably not enough to admit the importance of it. In past few years, we have been bombarded with these words but do we understand the meaning of it? Ladies and gentlemen let us make it clear, let’s dig under the surface and give the acid-base balance the importance that this function in the body deserves.
When we say this three words, acid-base balance, we mean a perfect balance of acid and base in the body. Since both acidity (acid environment, where the cell’s ph is under the physiological balance) or alkalinity (base environment, ph above 7) can cause a damage or potential death, the primary goal of all body systems is to maintain that small window of pH value in which all in-body reactions occur. ---Just as a reminder, pH is a scale which measure the acidity or basicity of a given solution : 0-6 acid, 7 neutral, 8-14 base. (www.epa.gov)
During rest, a human body does an excellent job of regulating the metabolic processes (breakdown and rebuild of macronutrients) very easily. Thus, pH value is in its comfortable zone, pH 7.3-7.4.... That’s how small that window of comfort is! This environment is the best for almost all metabolic reactions that occur in the body. The problem starts when we put the body through some stress, let’s say exercise.
Once we engage in some planned physical activity, exercise, there is a chemical instability caused by greater demand for energy, ATP (adenosine triphosphate). The higher demand of ATP (an unit of energy that we produce) is managed by increase of all metabolic processes. The consequence of it is increased hydrogen ion production. That is as if you put a few extra layers of clothing on a hot summer day or if you wear a short sleeve shirt on a cold winter day. Middle is the best. Excessive number of hydrogen ions can cause more acidic environment, which if it falls down to pH 6.8 and stays for more than few seconds, it can cause severe damages and potential death.
On the positive side, our body does a great amount of work to keep us off that metabolic instability through hard workers called buffers. Buffers are chemical structures that resist acid-base imbalance. There are few of them but the most important system is bicarbonate (HCO3-). (www.chemistry.wustl.edu)
A bicarbonate molecule is a weak acid that serves as a regulator of pH, in and out of the cell. That means that this molecule can easily accept a free hydrogen ion and lower the level of acidity, which product is a molecule of water and carbon dioxide. And that is the time when our lungs get into a play. By exhaling we get a rid of excessive carbon dioxide, which helps the body to maintain the levels of acid-base balance and water goes back in the system.
During high intensity exercise, professional athletes are trying to increase the buffering by ingesting a sodium bicarbonate or sodium citrate, which reduces the time of system imbalance. It is very important that the system bounce back as quickly as possible to reduce potential complications caused by acidic environment in the cells.
So, the acid-base balance is very important part of homeostasis, as it maintains the environment suited for all in body chemical reactions. Slight changes, like increased sodium intake or sugar consumption, can cause pathological processes on the body which can lead to death. It is important to understand that improper diet and lack of exercise can increase the homeostatic instability and create medical problems to the body. Less processed food and more fruits and vegetables combined with moderate exercising that includes cardiovascular and strength exercise, is very beneficial for the acid-base balance.
The human body, in simple language, work on “Goldilocks” based system. It uses all senses to choose the best “soup” (chemical substances we eat and produce) and picks the most comfortable “bed” (environmental properties) to maintain the complexed machine called human body to function normal through our life. With that being said, stop injuring the body by doing nothing and eating garbage and go out, play and eat naturally grown food, prepared with care and love.
"What is pH?." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 11 Sept. 2014 http://www.epa.gov/acidrain/measure/ph.html
"Blood, Sweat, and Buffers: pH Regulation During Exercise." pH Buffers in
the Blood. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2014. < http://www.chemistry.wustl.edu/~edudev/LabTutorials/Buffer/Buffer
(n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2014, from http://circres.ahajournals.org/content/72/4/837.full.pdf