Why Body Must Maintain Acid-alkaline Balance
( Originally Published 1936 )
People talk a great deal of being acid. And like to alkalinize them-selves to counteract this.
Whether there actually is much acidosis is open to question. Certainly every case of disturbance of the acid-alkaline balance of the body must be rapidly corrected or very serious consequences ensue.
We have very delicate chemical methods of determining the exact reaction of the blood and tissues of the body. We can tell to a nicety whether they are even ever so slightly acid or not. Of course, acids are harmful, but so are their opposites—the chemical substances which react in an alkaline fashion. An extreme example is caustic soda which will destroy animal tissues. So what we want to strive for is neither acidity nor alkalinity, but a condition of neutrality.
And this is exactly what the body strives for desperately all its life—and manages to maintain to a nicety by a most ingenious set of chemical reactions, carried on by the buffer substances of the blood.
EXAMPLE OF ACIDITY
An example of acidity in the body frequently seen is the exhaustion that follows extreme muscular effort. We saw when we were examining the chemistry of muscular exercise a day or so ago, that one of the first chemicals to be formed in the body as a result of muscular contraction, is lactic acid. It is formed in considerable quantities, and unless plenty of oxygen gets to the muscle to correct it, it brings about cessation of contraction, and fatigue through its accumulation in the tissues. With our comparatively inadequate method of supplying oxygen to the muscles—as described in the article this week on muscle functioning—this condition comes to every man as a result of more or less violent exertion. When it does arrive, as in the case of the distance runner after a race, he is in a condition of acidosis, and as can be seen from his violent breathing, it is a quite uncomfortable state to be in. Unless enough oxygen is pumped to the muscles to reduce the lactic acid, indeed death will result.
In disease conditions, acidosis is frequently seen, but is usually so serious as to constitute an emergency. Thus, in diabetes, the patients may become sluggish and go into coma, unless they are getting enough insulin. This coma is the result of the accumulation of the ketone bodies which come from the fatty acids, incompletely reduced in the diabetic state.
Under most conditions, however, the body is fully able to compensate for any disturbance in its acid-base balance.