You may not have heard of “Dr” Robert O. Young but this total arsehole has been preying on the vulnerable and desperate for years claiming his ‘alkaline water’ pseudoscience scam cures lupus, cancer and anything else that ails you – and all you need is a chequebook.

In a rare victory in the War on Woo this notorious quack has finally been arrested in the USA. About bloody time. There is a great report here on Young by Dr Gorski – an eminent oncologist wot writes far betterer than wot I does, innit.

Here in the UK the benefits of an ‘alkaline’ diet have been promoted by the BBC, the Torygraph and – natch – the Daily Mail as well as various D-List ‘slebs and soi-disant experts.

Just search the term on the Interwebs and you’ll find a veritable Wall of Woo. But what are the claims and what’s the science? I’ve taken the first two paragraphs from the first Google hit I found on the subject and for the avoidance of doubt my comments are in the [square brackets] – just in case you can’t tell.

“Our bodies are naturally a slightly alkaline environment [True-ish depending which bit]. Maintaining an overall blood pH of 7.36 is an essential part of leading a healthy life”

True – but pretty vital to life full stop; blood pH is 7.4 plus or minus 0.05 and if it varies more than that you can be pretty much – errrr – dead. Pure water is neutral (neither acidic nor alkaline) and has a pH of 7. A lower number than that represents an acid, higher is alkaline to a max of 14, so blood at 7.4 is everso slightly alkaline.

“Unfortunately the modern diet is increasingly rich in acid-forming foods, such as meat, dairy produce, grains and caffeinated drinks, all of which are acidic, and can adversely impact our bodies overall pH levels.”

SIC! WHERES THE SODDING APOSTROPHE? This is Utter, Utter Bollocks (µ²B): most foods are acidic but this has precisely zero impact on our blood pH due to a phenomenon called homeostasis – and the body is really, really good at it.

“Upsetting our delicate acid-alkali balance by consuming too much of these foods and inadequate amounts of alkaline forming foods can lead to a variety of problems.”

µ²B: you can’t upset this balance by eating too many ‘acid’ foods or too few ‘alkaline’ ones.

“Many leading experts in this field recommend that our diet consists of 80% alkaline residue foods and 20% acid residue foods.”

µ²B: no-one who understands basic biochemistry or physiology believes this, just people trying to sell µ²B to you and journalists who can’t understand or can’t be arsed to look up basic science.

“Unfortunately our typical western diet is probably in excess of 80% acid forming and 20% alkali forming.”

I think they might be referring to ‘ash’ in urine here but who knows? The metabolites of certain foods we don’t need (sometimes referred to as ‘ash’) are expelled in urine but – again – this is just homeostasis at work. The pH of urine can change if you eat or drink particular foods but this is completely independent of blood pH so µ²B again. Basically add the 80 and the 20 and you get the percentage µ²B contained in such a short sentence. Shame they couldn’t have worked harder and made it a haiku.

“Even a small deviation in blood pH towards acidity reduces the amount of oxygen being carried in our blood inhibiting our ability to properly oxygenate our cells.”

This is called the Bohr Effect, you silly twats, and without it we’d all die; this is the über-cool mechanism haemoglobin uses to pick up oxygen in the lungs and dump it where it’s needed.

Carbon dioxide lowers blood pH cos it forms carbonic acid. Which is – errrrrr – acidic. In an acidic environment haemoglobin is about as good at holding on to oxygen as the proverbial Essex Girl holding on to her knickers on a Saturday night. This is O Level stuff. Both the biology and the Essex Girl’s knickers.

“The result of this can often be tiredness, poor immunity and a general feeling of being below par

µ²B on sooooooo many levels.

More importantly, inhibiting cell oxygenation by acidifying our bodies encourages harmful micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi to thrive”

µ²B: no it doesn’t, ‘acidifying’ our bodies is meaningless but microscopic increases in blood acidity increase oxygenation – precisely the opposite of what these pillocks are claiming.

“These harmful microbes of which candida (thrush) is the best known flourish in the lower oxygen conditions, feeding on sugars etc and dumping their toxic wastes in your body, further increasing the acid load”

Aaaargh! I just read stupid and I think I might have caught it! Wasn’t there a song called “Blame Candida!” In the South Park musical?

‘Alkaline’ water has been recommended by the Woo Warriors for years (and it’s also µ²B) as are these spurious claims about an ‘alkaline’ diet. Most foods are acidic and claims that one must consume alkaline foods to neutralise the effects of acidic foods is nonsense; we get rid of excess acid by exhaling carbon dioxide.

Anything alkaline that you ingest (that is stuff containing ions that make it alkaline such as hydroxide (OH‾)) has its alkalinity quickly neutralised by the acidic gastric fluid in the stomach. This is mainly hydrochloric acid and has a pH of about 2-3 – for comparison this is about the same pH as good ol’ car battery acid. So everything you eat gets dropped into a bag of mineral acid far stronger (by hundreds or thousands of times) than the acidity in any food you eat.

And when the stomach contents enter the small intestine they are neutralised and made alkaline by bile from the pancreas — so everything you eat eventually becomes alkaline anyway.

The claims about any health benefits of an alkaline diet in and of itself are not supported by credible scientific evidence – yes, some of this diets recommended by airheads or dubious ‘experts’ may well be healthful but most likely because they involve eating some healthy stuff not because that stuff’s alkaline. They also claim alkalis have anti-oxidant properties; the slight flaw in this argument is that it is – again to keep to the proper scientific term (μ²B). Alkalis are, by and large, oxidising agents, precisely the opposite of an anti-oxidant.

Many of these claims that ‘acidic’ food is bad for you also refer to ‘body pH’ – this is also totally meaningless as different parts of the body have widely different pH values. The pH of your foods has zero effect on that of the blood or of the body’s cells.  If you really want to de-acidify your stomach and screw up your digestion then drink Andrews Liver Salts, Alka-Seltzer or Milk of Magnesia in volume. And if you want to increase your blood pH (make it more alkaline) you can do by hyperventilating and precipitating respiratory alkalosis. But not with woo diets.

Going back to “Dr” Young, these people who prey on desperate cancer and other patients with life-threatening illnesses need locking up. It’s bad enough having people like Stanislaw Burzynski being allowed to practice proving there are more than enough people with medical degrees who’ve lost the plot, we don’t need the total quacks as well.

During my treatment someone (who didn’t know me too well) recommended mistletoe because as an adjuvant to cancer treatment it is “very popular in Germany”.

In response, I observed that so were genocide and fascism for quite a while….