The body is a wonderfully intricately efficient machine with backup systems to respond perfectly to each situation under the normal conditions it was designed for. When these systems are continuously overburdened with acidic stressful multitasking lifestyles, toxic thoughts, environmental carcinogens, and excessive animal protein (especially conventional) in accordance with far too few alkaline fruits and vegetables, this fine-tuned buffering network begins to malfunction.
The body’s pH Buffer systems, that you are about to learn about, work to calibrate both excess acidity and alkalinity by resisting severe changes in pH. However, other than disease induced clinical situations where swift changes in pH can result in death, our main focus is on neutralizing and eliminating accumulated acids, as latent acidosis has developed into a nationwide epidemic and beyond! So, let’s dive in.
So basically, there are two different major buffering systems that will be discussed, as well as many other buffers in the body that work in conjunction with these networks, including water, fats, hormones, and minerals like electrolytes. These buffering systems need a healthy balance of minerals to work efficiently. When there is insufficient mineral intake from the food you consume and/or if you have poor absorption, these pH balancing mechanisms will not function properly. The chemical buffers which include the carbonic acid-bicarbonate, phosphate, ammonia, protein, and hemoglobin buffers, are the first line of defense in intracellular and extracellular fluids, including the blood plasma, and work cooperatively.
However, as chemical buffers work hard to immediately resist changes in pH, like within seconds, they cannot remove the alkali, or in most cases excessive acids from the body. This is where the physiological buffering system comes in. This system includes the lungs or respiratory, which is the second line of defense, and the kidney or renal mechanism representing the third line of defense, and to a lesser extent, but still very important, the skin.
Over-working these systems does come with a price. Non-clinically, when these buffer systems are delayed from an excessive acid load the body will protect itself by precipitating acids out of solution into solid crystal and salt form materializing as kidney stones, uric acid crystals in joints and extremities, and gallstones and arterial plaque with cholesterol crystallization. The harder the body must work in its attempt to clear excessive acidic waste, the faster the body ages, simple!
This system is only able to buffer volatile acids, and the only one is carbonic acid which is exhaled in gas form from the lungs.
The respiratory system is the first line of defense because it can correct changes in pH in minutes to hours.
The lungs are responsible for regulating the amount of CO2 in the extracellular fluids to keep plasma pH in its tight range. Even though the lungs need to work harder and more intensely to eliminate excess carbonic acid they can still function at full force and aren’t as directly affected by diet like the kidneys.
The body has to remove an astonishing 30 L of carbon dioxide a day. Depending on the efficiency of the respiratory system, whatever cannot be expelled through the lungs in (CO2) gas form will be retained in the blood in the form of carbonic acid which needs to be neutralized by available alkaline minerals and the remainder is discarded by the kidneys.
For this system to function optimally and prevent more work for the kidneys it becomes VERY important to focus on taking full deep breaths. Besides being conscious of your normal breathing patterns, aerobic and deep breathing exercise can be very helpful in maintaining the functioning of this system, as well as the overall pH balance of the body!
The kidneys provide extremely powerful buffers but are still the second line of defense because they are a great deal slower than the lungs and can take up to 2 days to correct changes in pH.
While the lungs keep CO2 levels in check, the kidneys are responsible for monitoring the amount of HCO3- or bicarbonate by excreting it, or in most cases reabsorbing it to maintain pH balance of the blood.
The renal system has the daunting task of processing strong, fixed, or non-volatile metabolic acids from protein catabolism and nucleic acid metabolism like sulfuric, phosphoric, uric, keto, and even excess lactic acids, and removing them from the body.
Keeping your acid levels in check through diet and lifestyle is IMPERATIVE for optimal functioning of the kidneys! The non-volatile residual effect a particular food or beverage has on acid-alkaline balance is estimated by the protein and mineral content, and strength of the acid, which go hand in hand. When those foods are metabolized it is reflective in the person’s urine. When urine pH registers too high or too low it is indicative that the invaluable kidneys are under stress.
In order to efficiently and safely remove excess metabolic fixed acids from the body the kidneys need adequate amounts of organic sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium in the right balance in order for these buffer systems to function as they were designed. These alkaline minerals combine with fixed acids to form salts which are eliminated when the kidneys are ready to. The body forms neutral salts which prevents the kidneys from being burned if the acids were eliminated on their own in free form. For example: Sulfuric acid, a strong acid produced from metabolizing proteins, can be neutralized by magnesium to form a salt called magnesium sulfate, which can safely enter the bloodstream for elimination.
When left unchecked, acids can get stored in the joints, soft tissues, and arteries as acid salts when the kidneys and other elimination channels are overwhelmed. They may be in the form of sodium urate crystals, calcium phosphate crystals, calcium urate, and calcium oxalate etc., leading to kidney, liver, gall stones and degenerative conditions like arthritis and arteriosclerosis.
Chloride and phosphorus are also important in maintaining this balancing act, but most people obtain adequate amounts of these minerals in their diet.
When the correct balance of minerals is not obtained through diet and adequate absorption, the body will borrow minerals like calcium and magnesium from the bones and muscles to act as a buffer agent, preventing the kidneys from being burned by the strong acids! When this process is allowed to continue your health can suffer IMMENSE consequences. It’s like driving with a spare tire for too long, and can create severe imbalances and disturbances if not corrected promptly. Consuming an anti-inflammatory pH balanced diet along with proper supplementation is the best way to minimize the stress on this critically important buffering organ.
As an additional backup system to remove H+ ions from the body, the kidneys will manufacture ammonia from urea, or worse glutamine from muscle tissue, to neutralize the acids (H+) Realize that ammonia is a toxic substance and can damage the kidneys and other organs like the brain, producing symptoms like brain fog, inability to focus, and fatigue. All protein contains carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen. Fat and sugar are made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The uniqueness of protein is nitrogen. When protein is broken down, the urea nitrogen is released as (NH2-). When the environment is acidic, the (NH2-) will combine with H+ to form ammonia (NH3) which is then discarded by the kidneys as best as they can into the urine. So, we can see, here is another mechanism.
CARBONIC ACID-BICARBONATE BUFFER SYSTEM
This system can work with the kidneys, the lungs, or both together, and is the most important extracellular buffer. This system can actually buffer up to 90% of the acid (H+) in the extracellular fluid!
The lungs excrete or hold onto carbonic acid or carbon dioxide (CO2 gas), and the kidneys eliminate or retain bicarbonate. Up to 75% of CO2 in the body is converted into carbonic acid (H2CO3), which can quickly (dissociate) or turn into bicarbonate when needed. The carbonic acid and sodium bicarbonate in this equation is in a ratio of 1:20. Because the body’s metabolic function is acidic by nature you need 20 TIMES more bicarbonate (HCO3-) than carbonic acid to keep the blood pH in normal range.
Organic sodium is the primary alkaline mineral that combines with HCO3 to form sodium bicarbonate, raising pH. When this system is working efficiently all of your physiological fluids would reach a pH of around 6.1. Without sufficient organic sodium, this system will not function as designed. Other minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium, in that order, will be next up at bat if organic sodium is not available. However, these minerals would then be neglecting other important physiological functions in the body to do so.
If adequate amounts of these minerals are not obtained through the diet, which is far more common than not, calcium will be extracted from bones, potassium will be displaced intracellularly and through the phosphate buffer, and magnesium will be taken from the muscle tissue to get the job done!
This system works with the Bicarbonate buffer to maintain extracellular fluids like blood pH. Hemoglobin works to prevent drastic changes in pH by acting as a buffer for red blood cells. Hemoglobin performs like a weak acid to sop up H+ (acid). 10% of the carbon dioxide is bound to the hemoglobin which is released as (CO2) gas when it reaches the lungs. When hemoglobin binds to the H+ ions to limit shift in pH, the newly manufactured bicarbonate is released from the red blood cell into the blood plasma in exchange for a chloride ion (Cl-) which is known as the chloride shift. This can get a little confusing, but the body is a complicated machine. When the blood gets to the lungs, the bicarbonate ion is transported back into the red blood cell in exchange for the chloride ion. The H+ ion separates from the hemoglobin and binds to the bicarbonate ion. This produces the carbonic acid, which is converted back into carbon dioxide through the enzymatic action of carbonic anhydrase which speeds up the reaction of CO2 in solution by 5000 times. The carbon dioxide produced is then expelled through the lungs when you exhale.
This system focuses primarily on the buffering of intra-cellular fluids, as its concentration in extracellular fluids is less than 10%. The phosphate buffer is directly linked to the kidneys assisting mostly in the buffering of strong fixed acids, and has the ability to raise fluid pH up to 6.8. This system uses dihydrogen phosphate (Na2HPO4), a weak acid and mono-basic phosphate (NaH2PO4), a weak base in a ratio of 4:1, using phosphate as a weak acid predominately to handle the bodies acid load.
This system kicks in when the kidneys need to handle EXCESSIVE amounts of acid! When the phosphate buffer is exhausted, and there are not enough alkaline minerals available for buffers to handle the acid load. As acidosis sets in, besides the kidneys holding onto ammonia the kidneys will breakdown glutamine from muscle tissue to produce ammonia. Ammonium excretion can be 10-fold if the condition progresses. That’s why when you go into a nursing home you can smell the ammonia from all the sickly acidic elderly residents.
This is the most abundant and powerful buffer, working predominantly to keep the inside of the cell in balance, and can bump the pH up to 7.4. Protein buffers consist of hemoglobin and plasma proteins. The plasma proteins are buffers but their involvement is small in comparison to intra-cellular protein. The most important buffer groups of proteins are imidazole groups of histidine. I know you’re thinking isn’t protein what causes this acidity problem in the first place? Yes and no. Yes, acidic by-products from excessive protein intake, along with the lack of alkaline fruits and vegetables are definitely problematic. No, protein does not cause any excess acidity issues when in the right balance, and is extremely important for maintenance and repair of the entire structure of your body.
Proteins have many other functions in the body including immunity, carrying fats through the bloodstream like LDL cholesterol, and enzymes that are involved in basically every bio-chemical function in the body. In this case, protein acts as a very strong intra-cellular buffer. Without getting too scientific, bio-chemically speaking, protein molecules carry both basic and acidic groups, which have the ability to act as H+ acceptors or donors consequently, if H+ is added or removed.
HORMONAL BUFFER SYSTEM
Anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) takes part in the regulation of the water. When sensors in your hypothalamus or blood vessels detect an increase in sodium concentration, or a drop in blood volume from lack of water, ADH is released into your bloodstream. For instance, if you haven’t been drinking much fluid and/or been sweating a lot, a part of the brain called the hypothalamus notices that there is an insufficient amount of water in the blood. The hypothalamus then alerts the pituitary gland to release ADH and the hormones make their way through the blood to your kidneys which then reabsorb more water into the bloodstream to correct the issue, in turn making the urine more concentrated.
Aldosterone, a steroid hormone released by the adrenal glands, plays a crucial role in electrolyte balance and fluid homeostasis by regulating sodium and potassium balance, both of which has a direct effect on blood pressure. An over active adrenal gland brought on by high levels of stress (environmental toxins, prescription drugs, emotional and perceived stress) releases aldosterone into the blood stream causing large quantities of potassium to be excreted into the urine. Aldosterone also employs the excretion of magnesium into the urine to neutralize all the acidity from the stress. This scenario reiterates the vital importance of consistently replenishing electrolytes and keeping them in balance, especially the alkaline ones that get depleted so rapidly.
When one gets low on sodium bicarbonate due to unfavorable acidic conditions, aldosterone increases to boost sodium levels to manufacture much needed bicarbonate. When this happens, potassium is excreted from the cell and lost in the urine in exchange for the sodium needed for the bicarbonate, in addition to the excess H+ (acid) that needs to be eliminated. Magnesium will also be sacrificed in an effort to retain much needed sodium to balance body fluid pH. Remember, when intracellular potassium drops, blood pressure and water retention goes up.
Fat buffers protect the organs by storing this toxic acidic waste in fat cells. LDL (low density lipoproteins) latches on to acids and acidic toxins and packs them away in fat cells. Due to extreme quantities of accumulated acidic residues and heavy toxic exposure that is extremely commonplace in Westerners, the kidneys just can’t keep up.
Naturally, by adding water to a solution, the concentration of acid decreases. Water can act like a buffer if there is a quick change in pH. There are always a few H2O molecules hanging around that break apart and form H+ and OH-. These few dissociated or separated water molecules H+ and OH- give water its buffering ability. If we add an acid (H+), some of the free OH- ions will bind to the newly added H+ ions, which will limit the decrease in pH.
When the body begins to become overly acidic, fatigue is one of the first and most common symptoms that occurs. As acidic buildup worsens, so does fatigue, in conjunction with inflammatory conditions that promotes disease. In an overly acidic environment, your body’s blood supply of oxygen diminishes on a cellular level thus lowering normal aerobic cellular metabolic function. When the body’s cells lack oxygen and are forced to produce energy inefficiently through anaerobic glycolysis there is an oxygen debt. This is why you see acidic overweight individuals breathing heavier and faster. This is so the body can acquire more oxygen to buffer the acid. This acidotic state promotes an oxygen starved internal environment that is FAR from conducive to optimal energy production!
These methodical buffering systems are analogous to the standard gear shifting mechanism in a car. Even though you end up driving mostly in a higher gear, you certainly don’t start out that way. You work the gears from first, to second, to third, etc. With the buffer systems, the body starts out in low gear with the bicarbonate system shifting pH levels to 6.1, then a steady shift through the phosphate buffer bringing pH level to 6.8 and then finally into high gear to 7.4 pH via the protein buffer. All gears are necessary for the body to get where it needs to go when eliminating non-volatile or fixed acids.
In conclusion, buffering systems are standard apparatus for all body prototypes. When this very delicate intricate equipment is not properly maintained problems will inevitably ensue. If u dump too much acid into the system without a steady consistent replenishment of neutralizing compounds, the system will eventually malfunction and disease will gain a foot hold. You’re the owner and driver, so it becomes your responsibility to provide conscious maintenance of the remarkable machine you have been blessed with! It’s your health, so it’s your choice. Your body can only work with whatever you provide it.