Acid/Alkaline Balance—Just Hype or an Effective Osteopenia Treatment?

Research shows that alkalinizing your body is an effective osteoporosis and osteopenia treatment. But, what does this mean and how can this be accomplished using natural remedies?

First, you have to know why your body may be too acidic. A diet with too much meat, sugar, or processed grains increases your body’s overall acidity and is partially to blame for the increased rates of osteoporosis experienced by older men and women who eat a modern Western diet.

Modern-day diets are hurting our bones

While most conventional doctors would probably scoff at such a statement, researchers know better; they’ve been studying the effects of the high acid load imposed by a modern diet on bone health for years. Far from being just hype, as asserted even by some well-known integrative medicine practitioners, altering the acid/alkaline balance of your body with diet or supplements can significantly improve the strength and density of your bones.

Potassium balances your pH, benefits bones

So how can a person achieve a more alkaline state if they just not willing to give up some of their favorite foods? A 2012 study reveals a most intriguing solution to this dilemma. It shows that supplementing with potassium in order to reduce the acidity of the modern diet increases bone density and improves the health of bones, an effect which is predicted to reduce bone fractures in older adults.

Researchers from the University of California in San Francisco and the University of Basel in Switzerland teamed together to study the effects of a potassium citrate supplement on bone health and fracture risk. Previously, they found that supplementation with potassium citrate works as an effective osteopenia treatment in postmenopausal women. In this newer study, they looked at both men and women without osteoporosis symptoms and found that it works for increasing bone density in both sexes, even in those with no signs of osteopenia or osteoporosis.

What is potassium and how does it improve bone health?

Potassium is an essential dietary mineral critical for controlling the electrochemical gradient, known as the membrane potential, between the inside and outside of cells. This cell membrane potential is crucial for nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction, heart function, and more.

Potassium-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are also well-known for their ability to buffer acids in the body.

The modern Western diet tends to be relatively low in alkaline foods (fruits and vegetables) and high in acidic food (meats, cheeses, sugar, white flour). When the diet is too acidic, the body mobilizes alkaline calcium salts from bone in order to neutralize acids and maintain normal pH.

Including more potassium in the diet, by either increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables or taking certain supplements like potassium citrate, reduces the acidity of the diet. This can help preserve calcium in bones which might otherwise be mobilized to maintain normal pH.

Support for this theory was provided by the previously mentioned 2012 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 201 healthy men and women over 65 years of age. The subjects were given either 2,340 mg of potassium citrate per day, along with calcium and vitamin D, or placebo along with calcium and vitamin D, for two years.

The study results show potassium citrate improves bone density and bone quality and lowers fracture risk

At the end of the two years, those subjects who had taken the potassium citrate had a statistically significant increase in bone mineral density as was measured by DEXA scan of the lumbar spine compared to those in the placebo group. The study also used high resolution CT to examine the subjects’ bone density and bone quality. The results of the CT scan also showed statistically significant improvements in bone density and quality in the tibia and radius. Lastly, the researchers compared the subjects’ FRAX scores. FRAX is a diagnostic tool used to evaluate the 10-year probability of bone fracture risk by combining risk factors and bone mineral density. The potassium citrate lowered the fracture prediction score by FRAX significantly in both sexes compared to those in the placebo group.

Additional research shows potassium is effective for osteopenia treatment

This is not the first study to show benefit from potassium citrate supplementation on reducing fracture risk. In a 2006 trial, 161 postmenopausal women with osteopenia (low bone mass) were randomly assigned to receive, in double-blind fashion, 1170 mg potassium citrate or potassium chloride (a potassium salt that does not have the same alkalinizing effects) per day for 12 months. Compared with potassium chloride and compared to baseline, potassium citrate significantly increased mean bone mineral density in the lumbar spine and hip. The potassium citrate also significantly reduced compounds in the urine that indicate bone breakdown, meaning less bone was being broken down for its calcium to buffer the pH of the blood. Finally, the urine of those receiving the potassium citrate was significantly less acidic, signifying a less acidic state in the body. The decreased acidity of the urine directly correlated with the increases in bone mineral density.

As these studies demonstrate, potassium citrate is an alkaline compound that improves bone health by buffering the acid load from the diet, reducing the body’s need to pull calcium from bones. Other sources of supplemental potassium, such as potassium salts that are not alkaline (like potassium chloride) do not have this same buffering effect.

Take a potassium supplement or alkalinize your diet?

If you do want to try taking potassium as a supplement, make sure it’s potassium citrate or bicarbonate, both of which buffer acid, and aim for a total daily amount of at least 1200 mg . Of course, you can also increase the alkalinity of your diet by consuming more fruits and vegetables and/or avoiding excessive intake of animal proteins and grains, thereby achieving the same effect as that of potassium citrate supplementation. Supplementing with potassium and alkalinizing the diet are just two of several key osteopenia treatment remedies.

[1] Jehle S, Hulter HN, Krapf R. Effect of Potassium Citrate on Bone Density, Microarchitecture, and Fracture Risk in Healthy Older Adults without Osteoporosis: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Nov 15. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 23162100.

[2] Jehle S, et al. Partial neutralization of the acidogenic Western diet with potassium citrate increases bone mass in postmenopausal women with osteopenia. I Am Soc Nephrol. 2006;17:3213-3222.

Originally published in 2012, this blog has been updated.

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    Is there a relationship between body acidity/alkaline levels and osteoporosis? If yes, what is the best way to test ph and what number should we be trying to keep our ph at?

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