Water is really good for you, no one is arguing that. But are certain waters better for you than others? Depends on who you ask. While plenty of people are content to drink plain old H2O, there’s a robust community of folks who swear by functional waters—basically, good old H2O with added special ingredients (like herbs, vitamins and antioxidants) that claim to bring health benefits.
One of the most prominent functional waters is alkaline water. Here’s a quick science lesson: Every food and drink has a pH level, from 0 (very acidic) to 14 (very basic, or alkaline). Normal drinking water, for its part, usually has a pH of 7. Alkaline water typically has a pH between 7.5 and 9. Proponents of eating and drinking more alkaline things believe that doing so will help keep your blood pH level as alkaline as possible. In turn, having more alkaline levels is thought to reduce your risk of developing a number of diseases, including cancer and arthritis, as well as increase energy levels, reduce inflammation and a host of other health benefits. Alkaline water may come from springs or artesian wells in areas where there is a large amount of dissolved minerals, but you can also make it yourself.
Some people believe that the more alkaline the body is, the less likely you are to contract certain illnesses and diseases. One 2016 study at Italy’s University of Padua found that mice who consumed alkaline water lived longer than mice that didn’t, though researchers admitted that more research would be necessary. Another study published in The Annals of Otology, Rhinology, and Laryngology found that drinking naturally carbonated artesian-well alkaline water with a pH of 8.8 might help deactivate pepsin, an enzyme that causes acid reflux.
Many experts, like nutritionist Jennifer Blow, say that it’s little more than a pseudoscientific fad. “Alkaline water that claims to alter body pH levels is, unfortunately, one of the trends that has caught on—hard,” Blow told us. “But don’t be fooled by this magic elixir. There isn’t any credible scientific evidence that backs this claim up, nor is it particularly useful to balance your body’s pH levels as your body will do that all by itself.” Melissa Kelly, MS, RD, CDN, is skeptical of the alkaline diet altogether. “Overall, the body tightly regulates blood pH levels, and it is not possible to affect it via diet,” she told us. “While the alkaline diet encourages fruits and veggies through a plant-based plan and restricts highly processed foods, the research is lacking.”
Whether or not you believe the hype, drinking more water is never a bad thing. If you’re interested in trying the whole alkaline water thing, there are ways to make your own instead of shelling out money for plastic bottles of the stuff. Here are four popular methods.
1. Buy a Water Ionizer
Unfortunately for your wallet, one of the most efficient ways to make alkaline water at home is also the most expensive. This ionizer from Aqua-Ionizer Pro, for example, is on the lower end at almost $500. Water ionizers work as water electrolyzers. Without getting too scientific, these babies create an electrochemical process that works by separating the negative and positive electrodes in water. The machine returns two streams of water: alkaline in one stream, and acidic in the other. The ionizer is highly effective in producing basic water. The icing on the cake is that it does so without introducing any substances into it. If you’re super committed to drinking alkaline water, ionizers are a cost-effective alternative to buying cases of alkalized water in the long term. They also reduce the need for plastic bottles, so they’re better for the environment.
2. Use Baking Soda
It’s not just for cookies and cakes, guys. With a pH level of 9, baking soda is one of the most popular—and easiest—ways to alkalize your drinking water. (You also probably already have it in your kitchen.) To try it, mix ⅛ tablespoon of baking soda into 8 fluid ounces of purified water. You’re going to want to stir or shake the mixture really thoroughly, so the baking soda dissolves completely before you drink it. One thing to keep in mind with this option, thought, is that baking soda is pretty high in sodium. So, if you’re watching your salt intake, you might want to try one of the other methods on this list.
3. Or Try pH Drops
While baking soda has tons of other uses, pH drops (like these from HealthyWiser) are specifically formulated to turn normal drinking water into alkaline water. These liquid drops are made with highly concentrated minerals and electrolytes, so you only need to add a couple drops to each glass of water to increase its pH. The liquids usually come in small handy bottles so you can carry them everywhere with you. In addition to using them with water, fans of pH drops also add them to acidic drinks—ahem, coffee—to offset acidity. Yes, they’re flavorless. These are another affordable option: Because you only need a few drops per glass of water, one $15 to $20 bottle will last a long, long time.
4. Buy an Ionizing Water Pitcher
These filters are similar to electric ionizers, but way more transportable and affordable. (This one from Invigorated Water, for example, is just $40.) To use it, you just pour water into the filter and let it sit for around five minutes. Alkaline filter pitchers do two things: First, the water is filtered to reduce chlorine and other toxins that may be present. Second, an alkaline pitcher will add some alkaline mineral hydrates to the water. Think of it as a normal Brita filter with a couple of extra steps and potential benefits.
According to registered dietitian Maryann Walsh, “It's usually a good idea to take any functional waters promoting 'detox' properties with a grain of salt.” If it helps you drink more H2O, then go for it, but don't expect any miracles. “If you have a healthy functioning liver and kidneys, then your body is detoxing just fine,” Walsh told us. In general, functional waters aren’t going to do your body any harm. But they’re not necessarily going to turn you into a glowing version of Gwyneth Paltrow, either. Hey, if some extra flavor or added ingredients help you drink more of the clear stuff, then by all means, give it a try—just don’t expect any miracles.