Our bodies are finely tuned in order to function as efficiently and healthily as possible. This includes maintaining a stable temperature, proper nutrient/vitamin/mineral balances and a healthy pH level.
When the blood pH level (the measurement of acidity or alkalinity in the blood) goes too high or too low, it causes significant health problems in the body. A high pH level is called "alkaline" or "basic." If our blood pH level is too high, it can lead to muscle twitching, nausea, confusion, coma and other negative health effects.
What Is pH?
The pH scale stands for the "potential hydrogen" in a certain solution. It measures the concentration of hydrogen ions in a solution and assigns it a number. The higher the concentration of hydrogen ions, the lower the pH level. Similarly, the lower the concentration of hydrogen ions, the higher the pH level.
pH is measured on a scale from 0 to 14 where 7 indicates a neutral pH. pH levels under 7 are considered acidic, and pH levels above 7 are considered alkaline or basic.
Normal pH of Human Body
The normal blood pH level in humans is slightly above neutral, or slightly alkaline. According to MedicineNet, the normal pH of human body blood is 7.35 - 7.45.
Anything above or below that would be considered abnormal and could have negative effects on our health.
High pH and How It Happens
A pH imbalance in people that skews a blood pH above normal levels is called alkalosis. A high pH can occur in the body for a few reasons, including abnormal kidney/liver function, digestive problems, medication effects and problems with the lungs.
Respiratory alkalosis results when the levels of carbon dioxide (an acid) are too low in the body. This could be a result of lung disease, altitude sickness and liver disease. The lack of this acid will decrease the amount of hydrogen molecules in the body, which leads to a high pH.
Hypokalemic alkalosis results when the kidneys function abnormally. When you have a potassium deficiency or a sudden shift in the amount of potassium in the blood, this causes the kidneys to respond in a way that decreases hydrogen in the blood, resulting in a high pH.
Metabolic alkalosis is also the result of abnormal kidney function. Usually caused by kidney disease, this results in too much bicarbonate (a base) in the blood, which increases pH to abnormally high levels.
Hypochloremic alkalosis occurs when you are deficient in the amount of chloride in your body. This often occurs as a result of digestive issues and after extensive vomiting.
Alkalosis can also be caused by infection, medications like diuretics and aspirin, fever, hyperventilation, anxiety, adrenal malfunction and extreme loss of fluids (usually after vomiting or diarrhea).
High pH: Why It's Bad
No matter how a pH imbalance occurs in the body, it can result in negative health effects. These are the common symptoms of an abnormally high pH of human body blood (alkalosis):
- Muscle cramping/twitching.
- Numbness/tingling in the limbs.
- Confusion that eventually leads to a comatose state.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
Going too long without treatment can lead to heart attack, heart arrhythmias, coma, electrolyte imbalances, seizure and difficulty breathing.
The good news is that alkalosis, once diagnosed, is very treatable. The treatment will depend on the root cause of the alkalosis.
Oxygen therapy and fluids to replenish electrolytes and nutrients like chloride and potassium are the most common treatment methods. Breathing into a paper bag is a common respiratory alkalosis treatment because it allows you to increase your carbon dioxide levels, which can lower your blood pH level.
More serious causes like kidney disease and infection may require more in-depth treatments.
About the Author
Elliot Walsh holds a B.S in Cell and Developmental Biology and a B.A in English Literature from the University of Rochester. He's worked in multiple academic research labs, at a pharmaceutical company, as a TA for chemistry, and as a tutor in STEM subjects. He's currently working full-time as a content writer and editor.