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Ionized Water Is A Scam

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Lower Lewis Falls | Photo: pictoscribe/Flickr/Creative Commons License

I am, by nature, a skeptical man. Give me a person with a strong point of view about nearly anything, and I'm going to do my best to find small holes in their logic and legitimate counter-points to that perspective. Not simply because it's a lot of fun to be a contrarian (even though, yes, it certainly is), but because this is how the scientific method works: Create a thesis, try to find as many ways as possible to refute it, and if it passes the test than you can take it for truth. Without that vital middle step, it's only rumor and hearsay.

So when I stumbled upon an article with the enticing headline "Is ionized water the silliest food fad ever?", I knew immediately that I was going to like it.

Ionized water, for those not in the know, is supposedly healthier and tastier than normal water. Why? Because the liquid's hydrogen atoms are split off and rearranged in a specific way in order to make it a healthier and tastier product than normal water. Or something like that.

How the so-called ionization process allegedly works is by taking your normal tap water and running it through the ionizer. (Which can be purchased for as low as $1,000, and as expensive as roughly three times that price.) When you do, the machine's electrodes perform a process called electrolysis, in which negatively- and positively-charged electrodes either take or send electrons to the various molecules of water inside of the machine. What you're left with is a water that's more alkaline than normal tap water.

Taking you back to high school science, water has a pH of about 7. Something that's acidic has a pH level of less than 7, something alkaline has a pH more than 7. The companies that sell the aforementioned expensive ionizers claim that drinking the alkaline water will counteract the effects of unhealthy acidic foods. For example, counter your breakfast meat and eggs -- both of which are very acidic -- with some alkaline water, you're back to a level, healthy midway point.

Makes sense. In our "everything in moderation" landscape when it comes to health, the allegation that you want your pH levels to be, well, level passes the sniff test. And the companies promoting ionizers certainly believe you'll believe this. They claim that you'll have added energy, that the aging process will be reversed, that your cells will be more fully hydrated, even that you may save yourself from getting the dreaded cancer.

Problem is, all of this is nonsense. As the author of the aptly-named article linked above states:

A more important pH to remember is this: 7.4. That's the pH of the human bloodstream. We work very hard to stay exactly there. Every chemical reaction, all trillion or two our cells crank through daily, is optimized for 7.4. The body does not work well outside a tight range between 7.35 and 7.45; indeed much more variation and you're liable to drop dead. Here's an example of how seriously our body takes its ambient pH. People with emphysema retain carbon dioxide in the distorted nooks and crannies of their lungs, and the carbon dioxide converts to a mild acid that would upset the body's entire acid-base balance. Your heroic kidneys compensate for the extra acid by hanging onto bicarbonate, thereby maintaining the 7.4 pH and keeping the body from collapsing.

A glass of ionized water may have a higher, more-alkaline pH level, but it isn't going to produce any grand health benefits that your body isn't already performing on its own. And science seems to back this up: Back in 2007, Chris Woolston wrote a piece for the L.A. Times claiming that there was no empirical evidence that drinking alkaline water had any extra benefits that normal water didn't already have. And now, six years later, makers of ionizers are still looking for some. Yet on and on they go, still charging thousands of dollars to gullible consumers for their electrode-pounding machines, simply because the claim seems to make sense.

But luckily it seems that people are finally getting the message and staying away from wasting money on ionizers: A Google search for "ionized water snake oil" brings back more than 24,000 hits. I'll drink (normal water) to that!

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