Alkaline Diet and Cancer: Does it Really Work?

Black woman smiling and eating bowl of fruit

If you search diet and cancer on the internet, you will likely come across the Alkaline Diet. But what is it exactly and is it beneficial for cancer patients to try? Let’s discuss!

The alkaline diet is based on the idea that different foods we eat can affect the overall pH balance of our bodies, which influences the chances of getting certain diseases. While there are some benefits to eating an alkaline diet, preventing cancer is not one of them.

The measure of acidity or alkalinity is based on a scale of 1-14, known as the pH scale. On the pH scale, 1-6.9 is considered acidic, 7 is neutral, and 7.1-14 is alkaline (or basic). The pH levels within the body vary, some areas are more acidic and some are more alkaline. For example, the stomach is more acidic in order to break down and digest food, whereas the pH of blood is more alkaline/basic. Your kidneys and lungs work very hard to maintain these pH levels within certain ranges. If your blood pH falls out of this range it could be potentially fatal if left untreated.

Metabolism is the breakdown of food into energy through chemical reactions in the body. When you eat, food leaves behind a residue known as metabolic waste. This metabolic waste can be alkaline, neutral, or acidic. The alkaline diet claims that eating acidic foods makes one more vulnerable to illness and disease whereas alkaline foods are more protective and improve health. An important point to clarify, even if a food is acidic, it may not act that way after it is eaten. For example, tomatoes and lemon juice are acidic, but in our bodies, they actually help promote a more alkaline environment. The actual pH of foods does not determine the effect it has on our bodies.

Foods can be categorized as acid-forming or alkaline-forming. Acidic forming foods are things like meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, grains, and alcohol. Alkaline forming foods are things like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. Neutral foods include starches, sugars, and natural fats. Some claim that high-protein foods are “bad” because they are the most acid forming. But instead of limiting healthy sources of protein, it would be more beneficial to eat these with alkaline-forming foods like fruit or vegetables. It is MUCH better to focus on an overall healthy eating pattern rather than eliminating specific foods because someone said it’s “bad” for you.

The alkaline diet suggests testing the pH levels of your urine to determine your body’s pH levels and adjust your diet to alter this level. A high-protein diet actually can change the pH of urine, but it will not change the overall pH of the body. That is because your body uses several systems to control pH, including the kidneys, respiratory system, and minerals from bones. These systems work together to maintain the right pH balance in your body. In fact, if your pH gets too out of its normal levels in the blood, it is usually happening because of one these systems is in distress, which is something we don’t want!

The “theory” behind treating cancer with an alkaline diet is based on claims that cancer cells thrive in more acidic environments, so if the body is an alkaline environment it can prevent cancer from developing. However, there is not really any clinical evidence that says this is true. There is no direct link between eating acidic foods and cancer. Studies that have shown acidic foods making cancer grow are done in a lab setting or petri dish and that acts very differently than the body as a whole. Cancer cells and tumors may grow faster in an acidic environment, but it is because the cancer actually creates the acidic environment. It is NOT an acidic environment that creates cancer cells. There is currently no evidence that shows a direct link between eating a more acidic diet and cancer formation.

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Augusta University Health

Based in Augusta, Georgia, Augusta University Health is a world-class health care network, offering the most comprehensive primary, specialty and subspecialty care in the region. Augusta University Health provides skilled, compassionate care to its patients, conducts leading-edge clinical research and fosters the medical education and training of tomorrow’s health care practitioners. Augusta University Health is a not-for-profit corporation that manages the clinical operations associated with Augusta University.