Are you on Acid?




Over the years, I have had many patients ask me about acid/alkaline diets and if acidic foods  can affect their health.

New research published in Nutrition and Metabolism, reviews evidence that there is a relationship between diet-induced acidosis and health, specifically the promotion of cancer from subclinical acidosis.

In addition, there are a number of studies that supposedly link higher protein diets (specifically red meat) to cancer.  After reading today’s blog, you will get a better understanding about the effects of a typical “Western- acid promoting diet” on health, as well as why eating too much meat could potentially, but not necessarily, adversely affect your health.

Western dietary lifestyles can alter one’s systemic acid-base balance over time.  These diets are typically high in animal protein, sugary, processed, energy dense foods and salt and low in fruits and vegetables, i.e. the Standard American Diet, aka “SAD”.

Dietary induced acidosis is not the same as metabolic acidosis.  In metabolic acidosis the body is unable to compensate for low pH changes due to some underlying disease process. This results in compensations by the kidneys and lungs in an attempt to buffer the excess acid.

Dietary acidosis is a subclinical or low grade state of metabolic acidosis, which can initiate or progress cancer as well as accelerate the aging process.

Cancer is triggered by genetic and epigenetic (see prior blog posts) perturbations (disturbances) in otherwise healthy cells.

While there are no studies showing a direct link between cancer and diet-induced acidosis, acid-base disequilibrium has been shown to have several molecular effects that can effect carcinogenesis or tumor promotion. These include:

  1. Increased  cortisol
  2. Increased insulin growth factor ((IGF-1)
  3. Elevated Lepin levels
  4. Elevated lactic acid and;
  5. Osteoclastic Activation

Increased blood cortisol concentrations

When blood pH falls, as a result of high consumption of meat, salt, sugar and fat and low intake of fruits and vegetables, the kidneys trigger cortisol production.

Studies have reported that cortisol may influence existing tumors, resulting in growth and proliferation.

The mechanism for this may in part be due to disrupted trypophan metabolism (an essential amino acid needed for immune function) and the promotion of insulin resistance. Chronically elevated insulin levels can cause normal cells to transform into malignant ones.

Increased insulin growth factor

Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) is mainly secreted by the liver in response to growth hormone. It is important for both the regulation of normal physiology, as well as a number of pathological states, including cancer.

High protein consumption over long periods (months to years) promotes a greater net acid production and subsequent low grade acidosis. This acid environment over time will increase the production of IGF-1.

IGF-1 has been shown to inhibit the process of apoptosis (the body’s natural programming of cell death). Defective apoptotic processes results in uncontrolled cell proliferation which can result in cancer.


Leptin is a hormone that plays a key role in regulating energy intake and energy expenditure, including appetite and metabolism.

Acidosis can indirectly influence cortisol activity through elevated cortisol signaling found in obesity.

Because leptin is derived from adipocytes (fat cells), leptin levels are positively correlated to body fat mass. Plasma leptin levels are on average 10 times higher in obese individuals compared to lean individuals.

Elevated leptin levels have been implicated as a functional component in breast cancer, prostate cancer, gynecological cancers, gastrointestinal cancers and leukemia.

Elevated lactic acid

Western diets producing a persistent low grade metabolic acidosis can also lead to the production of lactic acid.  This phenomenon over time can divert normal metabolic processes towards the production of free radicals. Free radicals have been implicated in a host of diseases as well as promoting ageing through oxidative stress

Oxidative stress can cause damage to cells as well as the mutation of DNA, which is generally accepted as a major mechanism behind carcinogenesis and cancer progression.

Osteoclastic Activation

An osteoclast is a type of bone cell that removes bone tissue by removing its mineralized matrix and breaking up the organic bone through a process known as bone resorption.

Osteoclastic resorption of minerals is a mechanism for buffering too much acid (Acidosis).

Stimulation of osteoclastic activity by diet induced acidosis activates various pathways that are known to promote tumor cells.


Dietary acidosis has the potential for cancer risk and tumor promotion. Although protein is a major factor in promoting acid production, reducing protein consumption should not be seen as a strategy for improving acid-base balance. Science supports the concept of alkali supplementation in the forms of fruits and vegetables, which can aptly neutralize excess acid production produced from protein metabolism.

My wife Stephanie (  and I promote the “healthy plate”, which could be used as a  general guide to organizing the food on your plate for acid/base balance.






Examining the relationship between diet-induced acidosis and cancer, Nutrition and Metabolism 2012,9:72.






About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin