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Snake Oil


One of the things that came up in regard to that last post was the idea about blood being acidic or alkaline. I don’t think that most people outside the medical sciences realize how much effort the human body expends on these matters. Those of us who keep up with these topics could do some good by letting people know how robust this stuff is.
To listen to most quack nutritionists, your body is in perpetual danger of flying apart. This thing is out of balance, that thing over there is running low, all these other things are set totally wrong. You need. . .herbal supplements! Of the kind that I happen to sell! Fix you right up! Of course, if you stop taking them, your physiology might well just start wobbling around again, so you’d better play it safe. . .and it so happens that we offer discounts on a yearly supply. . .
Now, it’s not like things can never get out of whack, but a lot of metabolic energy goes into keeping that from happening. Biologists, MDs, and medicinal chemists are always getting surprised at just what sorts of abuse a living system is capable of absorbing without breaking down. Homeostasis is what I’m talking about. That concept applies to a huge number of living processes, but we’ll stick with one dear to Kevin Trudeau’s alleged heart: acidity and alkalinity.
The pH of the blood is held steady around pH 7.4 by several systems, not all of them well characterized, but all acting at the same time. The amount of carbon dioxide that the lungs exhale (or retain), the actions of the kidneys, and the circulating blood proteins are all involved. (Buy why it’s pH 7.4 and not some other value is one of those very good questions that no one has a very good answer for.)
One of the main places that your body can go acidic is in muscle tissue during exercise. That’s due largely to the buildup of lactic acid from anaerobic metabolism, and can send the interstitial fluid between muscle cells down to pH 7, much lower than blood gets under the same conditions. (There seems to be something about the capillary wall that excludes the excess acid, which is yet another control mechanism.)
Going alkaline is usually a sign that something’s off with your breathing or with your kidneys. (You’d better hope that it’s the former, because you can stop hyperventilating a lot easier than you can stop kidney trouble.) In either case, it takes a lot to overload the various pH controls, and if you do manage to – in either direction – you can be headed for serious trouble and even death.
This should illustrate why the “alkalinity causes cancer” theories from the likes of Kevin Trudeau are nonsense. The blood of people who get cancer is at pH 7.4, like everyone else, and that number (if it fluctuates at all) moves around according to whether or not that person just took the stairs, rather than whether they’re drinking “coral calcium water” or whatever damn thing. pH changes in your stomach aren’t reflected in the blood – if they were, we’d be dead as soon as we smelled lunch.
But all you have to do is Google any combination of “blood” “acid” and/or “alkaline”, and you’ll step off into a swamp of people who are trying to convince you otherwise. It’s a simple, appealing theory, which if it were true it would explain a lot and immediately suggest ideas for treatment. But it’s wrong, and it’s been known to be wrong for a very long time. The only utility it has is as a prybar to separate people from their money.

18 comments on “pHooey”

  1. PsychicChemist says:

    I am not big on medication (except for the occasional aspirin or ibuprofen). But if someone want to believe idiots like Trudeau then it is just a matter of time that their gene pool will become extinct. Perhaps some of these people should be nominated for the Darwin Awards. If you ask me, eat in moderation and exercise a little. Your body has a wonderful way of rewarding and taking care of itself. But if I were to develop a serious health condition, I would put my money on modern medicine to put me back on track.

  2. NYChemist says:

    I’m always amazed when I read about the incredible complexity that goes into maintaining seemingly “simple” balances in the biochemistry of life. Every biochemical process that I have studied has several “backup” redundancies in case the primary process breaks down. Frankly, it’s an engineering marvel. Why is it that most scientists believe that such a marvel came about by chance?? It seems that of all professions, biologists would be the MOST likely to identify the clear hand of a “designer” in the complexity and redundancy of the process of life.

  3. Monte Davis says:

    “Why is it that most scientists believe that such a marvel came about by chance??”
    They don’t. They believe, instead, that a billion billion biochemical and physiological arrangements came about by chance — and the ones we see are those comparative few that proved “marvels” of resilience.
    IOW, mutation is random. Selection isn’t.

  4. Drew says:

    Don’t the ID-iots have enough forums to blather on? Can’t we leave just a few for (real) science alone?

  5. Tom Bartlett says:

    I heard you can eat all the fat and red meat you want and lose weight while doing it. OOPs that’s the Atkins diet….

  6. Puff says:

    “Now, it’s not like things can never get out of whack, but a lot of metabolic energy goes into keeping that from happening”
    I think you underestimate how much energy some of us less than normal humans spend keeping things in whack. I don’t buy the fancy stuff (arm and hammer works for me, and wal-mart’s supplements oddly enough seem more stable than the expensive vitamin hut kind), but its like water, some people must have the fancy label. For some studies on alkaline loading and short to moderate endurance performance see:

  7. Tom Bartlett says:

    “arm and hammer works for me” You going to sue Arm and Hammer when your blood sodium levels cause your blood pressure to spike? I ‘m sure you can find a jury in Texas that will award you 250 million.

  8. Puff says:

    Tom, or should I say, fucking asshole? Have you ever looked into the physiology of exercise, or do you just like to pretend that all sodium is bad? Just for your information a member of my family has been admitted to the hospital because of a psychotic episode caused by loss of electrolytes. To little sodium is just as bad as too much.

  9. Tom Bartlett says:

    Sorry. I wouldn’t have said anything if I knew you had psychotic episodes in your immediate family.

  10. Puff says:

    Ohhh, Toms got nothing but he’s still swinging like a fundamintalist. A bit of advice, “sodium is intrinsically bad” isn’t much of a belief, there are others out there that have better outcomes, 72 virgins springs to mind. “The dose makes the poison” , even water can kill you, and if you were as smart as you think you are you’d understand what the connection is.

  11. RKN says:

    Unfortunately, the genes belonging to the so-called idiots who believe Trudeau, will not be [de]selected because there’s no correlation between ignorance and reproductive success in modern humans. You and your partner can both be dumber than a pile of rocks and have lots of healthy children.

  12. paul jones says:

    I checked out that supplement watch site and could not find any references to any peer-reviewed articles (or ANY articles)regarding bicarb loading. While the site claims to be run by physicians etc… it would be nice to have a link to a something on pub med. I find the whole supplement/wholistic healing industry to be a little quackish. You rarely find references to credible (ie: peer reviewed) studies. And who knows what kind of QA/QC the companies have. You can rarely find dose/response data on things. I suppose that since it is “all natural”, it is good for you? Sound reasoning to me! Pass me the brevitoxin B!

  13. Industry Guy says:

    Pass me the Brevetoxin B LOL priceless!….we could only wish for these quackpots to reach for it.

  14. Derek Lowe says:

    Just make sure that it’s all-natural brevetoxin B, not that synthetic crap that K. C. Nicolau makes. Stick with Mother Nature’s holistic bounty of goodness and you can’t go wrong, y’know.

  15. Thanks, Derek Lowe.
    I changed the title of the post after reading your comment because I realized that I didn’t talk about patents at all.

  16. Chuck Darwin says:

    Psst. You guys need to stifle yourselves. Don’t let on that Brevitoxin B is one of those natural cures we don’t want the others to know about. You know, along with curare, saxitoxin, aflatoxin, ricin, botulinum toxin, amanitoxin, all-natural cures we’ve been keeping under our hats.

    Have you ever heard of anyone taking a good jolt of any of these and then getting cancer? Of course not. There ya go. But don’t tell anyone.

  17. paul jones says:

    So….. (puts on logic hat…)…if a “natural product” does not cause cancer, it cures it! “Get me a glass of frothy Red Tide! I am feeling healthy!”.

  18. utenzi says:

    The “Puff & Tom” show is quite entertaining.
    It is ridiculous how foolish people appear that tout natural products as being inherently safe. Don’t they realize that ‘natural organisms’ like plants are constantly producing toxic substances to compete with other plants and keep us animals away?

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