Articles & Events

Sign up to receive the latest news and offers

Icon arrow
3d rendered illustration of a painful belly

The influence of acidity on bowel flora

February 10, 2016May 27, 2015 | by Blair & Cathy Morgan

There are several thousand billion bacteria in each person – more than all the cells in the body. It is, thus, easy to appreciate the importance of their role to our overall health and vice versa. Most of them live in our digestive tract and depending upon which type of foods we eat either good or bad bacteria will proliferate. Certain bacteria help to maintain good health, whilst others can do quite the opposite and have a detrimental effect upon our well-being. Our bowel flora is fundamental to creating and maintaining a balanced state of health – homeostasis. Our responsibility to the maintenance of our health is to creating the right environment for positive (friendly) bowel flora to flourish.

The diversity of bacterial type and their populations depends to a great extent on the body’s pH levels. Reducing overall body acidity by various means, e.g., eating a more alkali-forming diet (a diet rich in vegetables, non glutinous grains, legumes, and low in animal products, dairy products, sugar and other stimulants), reducing stress, being conscious of “toxic” emotions and being aware of the environment we create for ourselves, has a beneficial effect on the bowel flora. As the life-style we maintain, along with the processes of our intestines, affects the bacteria in the colon we can say that the relationship between the body and the bacteria is one of symbiosis. The culture medium that we create inside the large intestine determines what kind of bacteria will proliferate there[1]. By reducing body acidity so that the body becomes more alkaline more acidic conditions are formed in the colon. This is the normal state of homeostasis. Acidic conditions within the colon provide a positive environment for lactose fermenting, “friendly” bacteria. If the body acidity is high and the diet is predominated by refined and unnatural foods harmful bacteria will proliferate.

The intestinal lining serves as an extensive and intricate interface between the body, its external and its internal environment; acting as both barrier and portal entry for all nutrients. This bacterial mucous coating is in constant flux, as are the cells of the lining which are completely cast off and re-built every 24- 48 hours. As a result the mucosal ‘terrain’ and it’s ‘vegetation’ are at any given point in time a momentary reflection of this constantly changing equilibrium. By eating a diet full of natural, alkaline non-challenging foods we can support this fragile internal environment and gradually alter the balance of microbes present in the intestinal tract to one that is predominately positive and supportive to the full holistic health picture, rather than one that is harmful and damaging to the health of the body-mind-spirit.

Additional consideration to be aware of: We know acidity levels in the body are mostly defined by what foods we eat, however, there are other factors that affect the body’s ability to remain fluid and free of toxicity and dis-ease. The modern Western diet is often referred to as more acid-forming and/or damaging to the intestine and its flora than traditional diets. Some of the factors that are cited as central to this ascertain include the move towards increasing consumption packaged and pre-prepared foods containing chemical additives. The additives can irritate the intestines, even extra vitamins and minerals, such as iron-enriched bread, can be irritating to the intestines and kill off or damage the friendly intestinal flora.  They often irritate the intestine and alter its pH or other delicate chemical balances in the intestine. These chemicals include flavorings, preservatives, conditioners, artificial and natural sweeteners, MSG, aspartame and many others.  The presence of mercury, in particular, and copper, has a very damaging effect upon the intestinal flora in some people.

In addition to their acid forming capacities, damaged or poor quality foods, such as pasteurized and homogenized milk products, refined grains and others can cause subtle allergic reactions in the intestines and damage the intestinal tract in other ways. Irritating and hot herbs, spices and condiments that inflame and can slowly damage the intestines. Empty calorie foods, such as white bread, white rice, white sugar, soda pop and most prepared foods also they lack the needed vitamins and minerals required for their proper digestion.

Drinking water is another aspect – most people do not drink enough fresh, pure water each day.  Adults need about 2 – 2 1/2 litres of water daily.  Municipally piped drinking water is contaminated with chlorine, fluoride, and toxic chemicals and even residues of medical drugs which can cause damage to the intestines.

Taking antibiotics, especially wide-spectrum antibiotics, often destroys the friendly intestinal flora.  This allows other bacteria, viruses, yeasts and parasites to grow in the intestinal tract.  A far worse problem with antibiotics is that small amounts remain in the liver and elsewhere for years, and can exert harmful effects on a person for many years as a result.  These residues are removed on a nutritional balancing program, but the process takes months to several years on a properly designed program.  Many medical and over-the-counter drugs interfere with digestion or stomach acid production, or irritate and damage the digestive tract.  These include acid-blockers, pain killers, anti-inflammatory drugs such as Paracetomol and Aleve, and hundreds of others.

Some fevers can kill the healthful flora, as can illnesses that make the body too cold.  Parasitic infestation can irritate the intestines very badly in some cases.  Diseases that deplete one’s vitality like cancer and diabetes can also alter the flora in a few cases.  Even severe grief and sadness may damage the intestinal flora.

Mental upset and tension, and incorrect eating habits can seriously affect one’s digestion in some cases.  For good digestion to take place it is necessary to eat slowly, eat sitting down, and chew thoroughly.  These simple habits can assist digestion and assimilation and actually help keep the bowel flora normal and healthy.

The health of our bowels, and thus the overall health of our bodies, is intimately affected by our mental and emotional well-being. It is widely felt by naturopaths that the microbial culture created in our intestinal tract reflects the totality of our personality and our physical, mental and spiritual being.

 Having an alkaline environment in the body is preferable for many reasons e.g.:
1. Acidification of the medium around the cells cause hydrogen ions to enter the cells and minerals to be lost.
2. Too much acid cause the cells take up acid to “help out” the rest of the body and this causes disturbance in the cells mineral balance (H+ increased so Na+ and K+ in cell is lost, first the Na+ and then the K+).
3. Potassium can be replaced with sodium, worsening the situation as Na+ attracts acid.
4. For every 3 Potassium ions leaving the cell, 2 Sodium + Hydrogen enter the cell.
5. Excess acidity leads to demineralization of bones, thus an acidic system can lead to the softening of bones.

Foods that can reduce the acidity levels in the body.

The most important cause of poor health today is an incorrect diet.  Maintaining the correct pH balance in your body is very important to the maintenance of overall health. Most people eat too much salt, sugar, grains and red meat in their diet, these together with coffee, chocolate and alcohol are some of the most acidifying foods. Eating predominantly foods that produce alkaline chemicals decreases the amount of acidity in the body. If the body’s pH is highly acidic most of the time, there is an increase risk of a variety of diseases.

Acidity and alkalinity are measured in pH (potential of hydrogen). The pH scale goes from 0 to 14, with 0 the most acidic, and 14 the most alkaline. The pH of stomach acid is 1, wine is 3.5, water is 7 (neutral), venous blood is 7.35, arterial blood is 7.4, sea water is 8.5, and baking soda is 12. Ideally, our pH should stay on the alkaline side: between 7.35 and 7.45. A pH balance of 0 to 6 is acid, a pH balance of 7 is neutral, and a pH balance of 8 to 14 is alkaline. Keeping our acidity and alkalinity balanced means regulating the hydrogen ion concentration in our body fluids.[2] The natural healthy state of the body is to have an alkaline “inner” environment and an acidic “outer” environment. Outer environment refers to the inner digestive tract and to the outer skin. Healthy and “friendly” bowel flora thrive in a slightly acidic environment whereas in a more alkaline environment the “unfriendly” bowel flora dominate. As the body constantly works towards a state of balance one will find that when the body is acidic the colon will be alkaline and vice versa. An acidic balance will decrease the body’s ability to absorb minerals and other nutrients, decrease the energy production in the cells, decrease its ability to repair damaged cells, decrease its ability to detoxify heavy metals, make tumour cells thrive, and make it more susceptible to fatigue and illness.  A blood pH of 6.9, which is only slightly acidic, can induce coma and death. To maintain good health of the body-mind-spirit it is important that we learn how to achieve the correct pH within the body.

Foods are classified as acid-forming or alkalizing depending on the effect they have on the body. An acid-forming food contributes hydrogen ions to the body, making it more acidic. An alkalizing food removes hydrogen ions from the body, making it more alkaline. This is based on the effect foods have on the body after digestion, not on the level of acidity or alkalinity of the food itself[3]. Many people use the term “residue” or “ash” to explain the effect of a food on the body. A food with an acid ash after digestion contributes hydrogen ions, making the body more acidic; a food with an alkaline ash after digestion removes hydrogen ions, making the body more alkaline. To achieve an ideal acid/alkali levels in the body, one needs to take in 80% alkali forming foods and 20% acid forming foods daily.

Common acid-forming foods include processed foods and those that are high in animal protein. Some common alkaline forming foods are most fruits, almonds, unsweetened yoghurt, most fruit and vegetables. Some neutral foods include cream, oils, rice, avocado and pumpkin seeds. Some of these neutral, swollen foods, such as rice, will absorb acidity from the body and help to remove it and so reduce body acidity and complete the cleansing picture, as well as helping to give the body a good hydration picture.  Foods which are acid-forming in the body include; salt, sugar, coffee, chocolate, alcohol, most grains such as wheat, barley, rye, all animal proteins, pulses and legumes. Eating the fast-growing foods and foods that are in season promotes cleansing, which in turn lessen body acidity.

Over 30 years ago, Edgar Cayce, in his book ‘Handbook for Health through Drugless Therapy’ recommends a diet which is focused on fresh fruits and vegetables and decreased meat intake, and promotes ‘food combining’ to achieve the correct acid/alkaline balance. He recommended specific diets for persons with particular problems, for example; individuals requiring nervous system regeneration were advised to follow a “nerve and body building” diet. The diet was to be mostly alkaline forming with a heavy emphasis on fresh vegetables that grow above the ground, meat in small quantities, with a preference for fish, fowl or lamb.

There are several versions of the Acidic and Alkaline form food chart to be found in different books and on the Internet.  The following foods are sometimes attributed to the acidic forming side of the chart and sometimes to the alkaline forming side.  The main focus should be to ensure that the majority of food that is consumed is alkaline forming. One alkaline/acid forming food chart example can be found at the link below:

http://www.rense.com/1.mpicons/acidalka.htm

 [1] Studies have identified that different bacterial genera in gut microbiota are associated with different nutrient intake. For example; gut microflora is mainly composed by three enterotypes: Prevotella, Bacteroides and Ruminococcus. The concentration of Prevotella is related with carbohydrates and simple sugars, indicating an association with a carbohydrate-based diet more typical of agrarian societies, while Bacteroides enterotypes is associated with animal proteins, aminoacids and saturated fats, components typical of a Western diet. That means that one enterotype will dominate over the other depending on the diet – those who eat plenty of protein and animal fats have predominantly Bacteroides bacteria, while for those who consume more carbohydrates the Prevotella species dominate.

[2] An acid is a molecule or ion (an ion is an atom that carries a positive or negative electric charge) that can contribute a hydrogen ion to a solution. An alkalising substance is one that contains a molecule or ion that combines with hydrogen ions to remove them from a solution; it neutralizes acids and acts as a buffer.

[3] For example; lemon contains citric acid in its juice which makes it very acidic but as citric acid is an organic acid the body can metabolize it to CO2 and H2O. In the whole lemon, negative charges on the citrate ions are balanced by positively charged metal ions, potassium and calcium. Once the citric acid has been metabolised, the potassium and calcium are balanced against negative ions, chloride or bicarbonate, instead of the citrate. This discourages the formation of H+ and therefore has an alkaline reaction. So although lemon itself is acidic, within the body it is alkaline forming.

Author: S. A. Wren

Interested? Read more about our Health Retreats.