If you keep up with health trends, you’ve probably heard of alkaline and/or ionized water. Effectively, this is just water which has had its pH raised into the alkaline range, used with the aim of reducing the body’s acidity. Proponents of alkaline ionized water claim that drinking this form of water has a huge range of health benefits – like with most snake oil, they don’t even bother to reign in their claims of its benefits, proudly advertising alkaline ionized water’s ability to do everything from helping manage cancer treatments to assisting with weight loss.
For people looking to improve their health by any possible means, stumbling on the news of alkaline ionized water might seem like having a great truth revealed: a healthier form of drinking water? It might even be enough to encourage a particularly health-conscious individual to buy an absurdly expensive water ionizer machine which can run hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Yet the truth is that despite the fact an entire industry has sprouted up creating and selling these machines and overpriced bottles of alkaline ionized water, there remains absolutely no evidence of any benefit to drinking alkaline ionized water.
It is a huge scam. Let’s find out just what is going on.
Why There Are No Health Benefits to Alkaline Ionized Water
Right away when we first came across the idea of alkaline ionized water years ago, it set off our skepticism meters on first contact. A few cursory Google searches showed that we were not alone. In fact, there is no shortage of people calling out the alkaline ionized water trend for what it is: a deceitful attempt to sell some very overpriced machines.
When looking for information on alkaline ionized water, it isn’t hard to find lots of people with real credentials tearing it apart: in this article published in the Wallstreet Journal, several accomplished scientists have some rather harsh words on the subject of alkaline ionized water:
“There is no basis for any health claims at all” – Dr. John Petrini, gastroenterologist
“Rubbish” – H. Eugene Stanley, Professor of Physics, Boston University
“Nonsense” – Roberto Car, Professor of Physics, Princeton University
So what is it that makes a medical doctor or a physicist so confident that they can dismiss the ionized alkaline water fad with just a single word of condemnation? It turns out all you really need to debunk this unfounded health craze is a bit of simple chemistry.
The Chemistry of Alkaline Ionized Water
While many of these so-called “water ionizing” devices refer interchangeably to “ionized water” or “alkaline water,” there is an important scientific distinction. The term “ionized water” is not one found in science and is effectively a meaningless term. An ion is a molecule which does not have the same number of electrons and protons. Pure water does not have a tendency to ionized on any meaningful scale, and there is no device which is capable of actually producing any substantial amount of true ionized pure water. Despite this confusion, the term “ionized water” is often used instead to refer to water passed through a water ionizer device, the goal of which actually being to produce alkaline water.
On the other hand, “alkaline water” is a much more useful and well-defined term. In case you slept through high school chemistry, alkalinity is the opposite of acidity on the pH Scale. While pure water is considered neutral with a pH of 7, any aqueous solution (which is what all of your drinking water is) will have a varying pH depending on the concentration of H+ and OH– ions. According to the proponents of alkaline ionized drinking water, raising the pH above 7 into alkaline levels can help combat heightened acidity in the body, bringing with it a range of health benefits.
But before we even get to actually drinking this stuff we run into some problems with the science. In this exceptionally well put together article by Stephen Lower, a retired faculty member from the Department of Chemistry at Simon Fraser University, Lower lays out all the facts in a simple and easy to understand way. According to Lower’s analysis of the chemistry, water ionizers are not effective at alkalizing your water and actually create a solution chemically identical to extremely diluted bleach.
Lower also takes the time to pick apart a lot of the claims of the alkaline ionized water industry and shows them to be scientifically false. He explains that the conductivity of potable water is too low for real electrolysis to occur, showcases the fallacy of the claim that ionized water behaves as an antioxidant, and explains the real science behind alkaline water.
If you want to learn a lot more about the chemistry behind alkaline ionized water be sure to visit Mr. Lower’s page linked above. It really does a fantastic job of examining the issue from a very informed scientific perspective.
Supposed Health Benefits
When researching the validity of any product’s health claims, the first step should be consulting the medical literature. Unfortunately, if you try to take a look into verifying alkaline ionized water through this method, you will find absolutely nothing of substance. The only real quality study published in peer-reviewed publication is the paper “Potential benefits of pH 8.8 alkaline drinking water as an adjunct in the treatment of reflux disease” which looks at treating acid reflux disease with some help from alkaline water. This makes sense, and is perhaps the only claim to efficacy the alkaline ionized water camp can use factually.
But this study is no revelation. It is an extremely basic principle that you can treat heartburn by adding an alkaline solution to the stomach. What this study verifies is that alkaline drinking water is basically a much less effective and much more expensive form of good old Alka-Seltzer.
If we take a look at this $2,000+ alkaline water ionizer from Bawell (pictured above right,) we find some interesting language:
“Connecting this machine to your kitchen faucet or to the water line below your sink will allow you to make ionized alkalized water with medically research potential health benefits listed in the US National Library of Medicine Database. People wonder what exactly is alkaline water and what are its health benefits. There are many different ways to make alkaline drinking water, but only alkaline ionized water made by electrolysis has been researched and found to have antioxidant properties due to its negative Oxidation Reduction Potential and slightly higher ph.”
Doesn’t this seem a little confusing? Because there are no verified or scientifically recognized health benefits to these machines, here we see the sales person fumbling over their wording trying to advertise what this device does. Yet despite their efforts to make the language as evasive as possible, they still have made a false claim. If we actually take the time to look through the US National Library of Medicine Database we can’t find any of these “medically researched [sic] potential health benefits” which they claim exist but can’t be bothered to direct us to, with the exception of the one study about reflux disease we linked above.
A Campaign of Misinformation
Although the companies which manufacture and sell these water ionizer devices or alkaline water itself can’t legally make health claims themselves, there is no shortage of nebulously sourced and scientifically questionable proponents of the trend who attribute all sorts of health benefits to the devices. These are often the product of extremely bad research and out-right lies.
Take for example this terrible article from Underground Health which is currently at the top of a Google search for “alkaline water health claims.” Their first claim is that alkaline water helps to “detoxify” (another word that means nothing – see our article on “Detox Water”) and as evidence for this claim they link the same study included above about using alkaline water to treat reflux disease! It is clear the author of this piece has absolutely no understanding of the materials they are working with at all. The article goes on to list other health benefits including “hydrating your body,” (isn’t that why you were drinking water in the first place?) “oxygenating / anti-oxidant” (something debunked above in Lower’s article,) “enhance your immune system,” (a vague and specious claim if there ever was one,) and “alkalizing your body’s pH” (they don’t bother specifying which part of the body.)
Con Artists Preying on Cancer Patients
Everything about this article from Underground Health is terrible and pretty much entirely wrong. This is a poor attempt at deceit, but unfortunately there are websites endorsing alkaline ionized water which at least put up a much better front. Take for example this article: “Ionized Water Treatment For Cancer.” Published on a site called “Cancer Tutor,” the article is the work of author Webster Kehr, known for his anti-science and anti-medical claims, along with his many ridiculous fringe theories.
He has a rather unflattering Wikipedia page (UPDATE: looks like someone deleted his Wiki page) which addresses this, and it is easy to see why Mr. Kehr’s attempts to decieve and mislead cancer patients could be quick to upset many people.
While a little bit of context about its author reveals it to be an extremely poor source, at first glance “Cancer Tutor” appears to be a legitimate website. In the article on ionized water, Kehr introduces us to the line of psuedo-scientific nonsense which is often used to advance the false claims of ionized water proponents. As a good example of this kind of psuedo-scientific rationalization, Kehr writes the following with absolutely no source or indication of how this information was acquired:
“Water molecules in our body do not individually float around, they exist in clusters of water molecules. Ionized water clusters are significantly smaller than normal water cluster. A water cluster generally consists of about a dozen water molecules. Because the cluster is so big, the water clusters cannot penetrate many places in your body. By making clusters half that size, in terms of the number of water molecules per cluster, the clusters (i.e. the water) can penetrate into more places in the body. The shape of ionized water clusters (a hexagon) also helps them get into places regular water cannot go. These things are called making “wetter water.””
This passage is heavy on details and light on facts. There is no scientific or even rational basis for what is being said here: it is a completely vapid justification for people (cancer patients no less) to spend many hundreds or thousands of dollars on expensive machines and water which is no more beneficial than normal tap water. Naturally, the article concludes with Mr. Kehr encouraging users to purchase an ionizing machine and referring to several vendors while asking readers to “tell them “The Cancer Tutor” sent you.”
Fake Studies, Fake Doctors, Fake Websites, Fake Claims
As appalling as the works of the Cancer Tutor are, he is sadly only one of many people attempting to profit off faulty advice and manipulation of people in need. At every turn while researching the topic of alkaline ionized water, we find shady websites which are poorly put together yet make up for it in their incredible enthusiasm about alkaline ionized water. We find testimonials from supposed medical doctors with unverifiable credentials. We find studies published in non-peer reviewed journals or citations to publications in foreign journals we cannot locate or verify at all.
The claims made by the alkaline ionized water industry are usually intentionally vague and ambiguous – they promise things like increasing energy, improving hydration, boosting the immune system, and other statements which don’t rely on exposing the actual mechanism or function being performed. Yet despite the somewhat evasive nature of pinning down just what alkaline ionized water can do, it is always sold as something miraculous and massively beneficial. The marketing used to sell these devices has been specifically aimed to target people with medical conditions in need of the greatest help. It creates false hope and misleads them from researching or investing in methods which could actually provide them with real benefit.
You Can’t Really Change Your Body’s pH
One of the cornerstones of the alkaline water movement is the idea that alkaline water presents a sort of “antidote” to the modern diet. While it is true that modern diets can be extremely high in acidic foods, the ability for alkaline water to correct for this is dramatically overstated. Firstly, it is important to understand that other than temporarily impacting stomach pH, eating a diet which is acidic or alkaline actually does very little to change your body’s pH. To quote Dr. Melinda Ratini with WebMD:
“…nothing you eat is going to substantially change the pH of your blood. Your body works to keep that level constant.”
This process is called Acid-base Homeostatis and is a very important part of your body’s ability to maintain itself. Dr. Ratini’s statements are equally applicable to anything you drink. The only area of the body alkaline water or food stuff is going to have any impact on is stomach pH, which is naturally acidic for digestive purposes. This is why in the medical literature you will find alkaline water being regarded for only one purpose: lowering stomach pH in the treatment of heartburn, as in the study linked above.
Knowledge that the body’s ability to self-regulate its pH is very hard to tamper with is why the issue of your water’s pH is largely ignored by scientific and medical authorities. In the 500+ pages of the World Health Organization’s “Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality” there are no specific recommendations for the pH of drinking water, except the statement that a pH within the range of 6.5 to 8 is preferred to prevent the corrosion of plumbing.
You’re Probably Already Drinking Alkaline Water
As the WHO guidelines above indicate, water with acidic pH 6.5 and lower can cause erosion to pipes and other damage to plumbing. For this reason, tap water has its pH controlled and treated to keep it typically within neutral to alkaline ranges. Depending on where you live, there is a good chance that the water from your tap is already within the alkaline range. Part of water treatment is often the addition of sodium hydroxide in order to raise the pH and prevent damage to plumbing.
Just as an example, the Portland Water Bureau’s 2016 Drinking Water Quality Report indicates that the city’s tap water tends to have a pH of around 7.5-8.5, well within the alkaline range. The 2014 Drinking Water Supply Quality Report from New York City indicates an average pH of 7.3, just barely within the alkaline range.
More than likely, if your pipes aren’t corroding, your water is probably already alkaline enough. Even if the pH was high enough to cause damage to plumbing long-term, the water is still probably safe to drink, as the body can tolerate acidic water just fine for the most part.
While there will be some variation depending on where you live and how you get your drinking water, it is a safe bet to say the majority of people who will read this article already have access to alkaline water with a pH above 7 with no need to buy an expensive ionizer or do anything more complicated than turning on the tap. If you want to find out for yourself what the pH of the water you’re drinking is, grab a pH testing kit for a few bucks and find out for yourself.
Ionizing Alkalizing Water Bottles & the Tourmaline Scam
(UPDATE: Check out our new article “Alkaline Water Bottles Are Worthless.”)
In addition to the extremely expensive machines, the alkaline ionized water industry has also moved into the world of water bottles with products that claim to “ionize” your water as well as raise the pH to alkaline levels. As we explored above, the term “ionized water” is at best a misnomer and at worst a complete lie. While these bottles do raise the pH of the water in them, they certainly don’t “ionize” them as that is a meaningless term. An example of such a product is the Ion Pod by Healthy Habits, a simple water bottle equipped with a mineral cartridge which raises the pH of water stored inside of it.
The IonPod is marketed with an air of being a hyper-modern scientific innovation – including the rather ridiculous image of a scientist and the outline of the bottle above and to the right. On the Healthy Habits website, we find a huge amount of psuedo-scientific nonsense with not a single source in sight. The company claims that by adding tourmaline to the IonPod’s mineral cartridge, they have found an effective method of “ionizing” water without any electricity required. The site goes on to talk about the “bio-current of your body,” and actually lists the benefits they believe their product can provide:
“Alkaline water will detoxify the active oxygen radicals; activate cells to support normal metabolism; assist to purify the blood; relieve fatigue; help balance the nervous system; improve resistance to disease; ease pain and nervous conditions; support allergy immunity; help prevent premature aging and promote health.”
As usual, the claims are vague, too good to be true, and offer no evidence or origin for the ideas. Though the IonPod’s mineral cartridge is capable of raising the pH of the water by depositing some additional minerals in it, nothing else Healthy Habits’ claims about the IonPod is even remotely true. Even the mineral cartridge is suspect, as Healthy Habits does not not disclose exactly what is in the mineral cartridge or what you are drinking, although they do state the mineral cartridge includes “high-energy biochemical ceramics and pumice mineral stone with potent rare earth.”
Products like the IonPod are the continuation of this scam, which is likely to take all sorts of forms before it has run its course. Any product which claims to ionize your water is an outright scam. It is a fake phenomenon created purely to market these products which do nothing and are extremely cheap to produce. Products which claim to alkalize your water may actually raise the pH and make it more alkaline, but there is zero medical evidence to support this being beneficial in any way. You probably don’t need either one of them.
Conclusion and Final Remarks
Since we’ve started Hydration Anywhere we have received dozens of questions about water alkalizing ionizers, about which ones we recommend, and suggestions from well-meaning readers for us to cover the subject. We have a recommendation: do not buy them. Boycott the companies which produce these products. Inform your friends and family that this is a scam. Do your research and consult a variety of sources.
The water alkalizing ionizer scam is one that has gone way too far. Manipulative marketing techniques, bad science, fake medicine, and a complete lack of ethics have combined into a perfect storm of con artists preying on the sick and needy, offering false hope and inaccurate advice. The devices being sold to alkalize and ionize water are at best useless and at worst potentially harmful to your health.
We caution everyone to avoid these devices.
- “Ionized” and Alkaline Water: Snake Oil On Tap – Stephen Lower, chem1.com
- Alkaline Water Systems: Change Your Water, Change Your Life – Brian Dunning, skeptoid.com
- The Positives and Negatives of Ionized Water – Laura Johannes, The Wall Street Journal wsj.com
- Acid-Base Physiology – Kerry Brandis, anaesthesiamcq.com
- Guidelines For Drinking-Water Quality – World Health Organiziation, who.int
- Alkaline Water Hoax – It is Simple Science – APS Water Services Corp, apswater.com
- Ionized and Alkalized Water: Ridiculous Health Fad Debunked – Kent Sepkowitz, slate.com
- Beware of claims that you can change your blood pH – Tammy Roberts, missourifamilies.org
- The $4,000 scam on alkaline water – Rafael Castillo, inquirer.net
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The Alkalinze Ionized Water trend has made a lot of marketers a lot of money - but has it helped anyone? We debunk the psuedoscience and expose the scam.
Jacob Hatch is the author and founder of Hydration Anywhere. He has been actively writing about drinking water since 2013. These days Jacob spends most of his time investigating water related news, studying environmental issues, reading health studies, and reviewing products like water bottles and water filters.