No, alkaline diet can't cure cancer

Apple cider vinegar and red apples over rustic wooden background. [Photo: Standard]
There is so much contradicting information surrounding cancer and diet, making it hard for those undergoing treatment and care givers to separate fact from myth. This is especially true when it comes to alkaline diets which encourage people to avoid acidic foods and instead ensure their diet is majorly alkaline.

The premise of this diet is based on the theory that cancer cells thrive in acidic environments; low pH, and not in alkaline environment; high pH. pH is a measure of alkalinity or acidity and ranges from 1 to 14. Seven represents a neutral pH while anything below 7 is acidic and anything above it is alkaline. Different foods are considered acidic or alkaline depending on their pH value.

Experiments have shown that cancer cells thrive in acidic environments. However, this is not as easy as it seems. These are cells grown in petri-dishes in the lab but not in the human body. Normal body cells can‘t survive in acidic environments. Naturally, cancer cells are able to create conducive environment for their growth and proliferation. The cancer cells create an acidic environment. It is not the acidic environment that creates the cancer cells.

Supporters of the alkaline diet believe that the food you eat can alter the pH of your body which in turn affects your cancer risk, proliferation of cancer cells and risk of recurrence. Animal based foods including meats, eggs, milk and milk products and some plant based foods like beans and some green leafy vegetables are discouraged as they are believed to lower the body’s pH creating an environment that encourages cancer growth.

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The fact is, the human blood is slightly alkaline with a very narrow healthy pH range of 7.35 to 7.45 that is tightly regulated. This shows that diseases can develop and survive just as fine in alkaline environments. This regulation is done by the kidneys, lungs and buffers found in the blood. Any variation from this range can cause major health problems and can be fatal if not corrected immediately.

Food can’t affect the blood’s acidity or alkalinity. Your blood and body cells don’t become more acidic or more alkaline because of eating some specific foods. The only time your blood’s pH can be affected is if the processes that are meant to regulate this balance aren’t working properly.

There are situations where too much acid builds up in the body, a condition called acidosis. This can happen when one is not able to breathe in enough oxygen or remove excess carbon dioxide due to chronic airway conditions like asthma, chest injury or anything that makes breathing difficult. Acidosis can also occur in individuals with poorly controlled diabetes, a condition known as diabetic acidosis. Another form known as lactic acidosis occurs when too much lactic acid accumulates in the body. This could happen due to excessive alcohol use, heart failure, cancer and organ failure.

Regardless of what you eat, what enters your stomach takes up the pH of your gastric secretions which has an acidic pH of 1 to 4. From the stomach, the food moves into the duodenum where the acid is neutralised giving the food a pH of 6. The food then moves into the small intestine where it is alkaline with a pH of 7.4. Most of the nutrients are absorbed here. In the rectum the pH drops again to around 6.7

Foods considered alkaline are usually from plant sources such as vegetables and fruits and are naturally high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients and fibre which all play a big role in maintenance of health.

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They are also good sources of prebiotics that nourish the good bacteria in your gut which helps improve overall health, strengthens the immune system and reduces inflammation which helps reduce chronic illnesses like cancer.

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