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007: Concerns about long-term bicarbonate supplementation and other suggestions for raising pH.

Masterjohn Q&A Files Episode 7


Helen Donnell says, "Your post on urine pH and exercise tolerance was a game-changer for me, but anytime I miss a dose of bicarb, I'm right back to 5. Any long-term concerns with taking bicarb two to three times a day, any suggestions for other ways to get my system pH up?"

Well, I will say in my case that I stopped taking the bicarbonate when I figured out that I had a zinc deficiency. So, for people who don't know the backstory here, Google "Masterjohn urine pH" and you'll probably get that blog post to come up. It's called "How Normalizing My Urine pH Helped Me Love Working Out Again". 

The backstory in brief is, when I was going through the mold and barium toxicity crisis of turn of 2016 into 2017. I got to the point where it would take several days to recover from one workout. I couldn’t afford to be laid out like this

I realized while looking at some lab tests —  a Genova ION Panel —  had some findings that suggested pH imbalance problems. The only thing abnormal in my ION Profile was that my glutamine-to-glutamate ratio. The glutamate was really high, and the glutamine was really low. 

First thought; sounds like a pH issue. I was talking with a friend of mine that led down the same rabbit hole, maybe the reason the workout is tanking me is because my system can't handle the lactic acid.

So, I started measuring my urine pH, and my urine pH was very, very low. Less than 5. 

I just kept taking bicarbonate at ¼ teaspoon increments. It just wasn't going anywhere until at some point, all the sudden I shot up out of bed, and I was like I want to work. I felt amazing. I went and measured my urine pH, and it was 6. 

It was like it just went nowhere until I got enough bicarbonate in. Once that happened it crossed the threshold getting into 6, and all the sudden I felt amazing. That was the first big clue. Then I replicated things over time, and found that it was a consistent effect.

What turned things around for me was when I realized that my zinc was low. That was because bicarbonate allowed me to work out consistently and gain more muscle mass. Gaining muscle made me get patches of dry skin. 

Well, what do patches of dry skin mean?

It’s the earliest sign of zinc deficiency. Resistance training increases muscle mass and that requires more zinc to sustain the new tissue. 

What does zinc have to do with pH balance? Well, zinc is a cofactor for carbonic anhydrase, which is one of the main enzymes in regulating pH. 

I started supplementing zinc and tested my plasma zinc. Even though I had been taking zinc for three days, my plasma zinc was at the level I associate with a deficiency — which is around 70. Once I started supplementing zinc, the pH problems went away. 

So, zinc is definitely something I would look into. If zinc isn’t your issue, I would keep going down the rabbit hole and do a comprehensive analysis like I do with Testing Nutritional Status: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet. 

Harms of bicarbonate: alkalinizing the stomach is the main one. To avoid complications you want to take it as far away from food as possible. I do think that excessive chronic use and alkalizing the stomach could lead to a lower ability to kill pathogens in the stomach and lead to overgrowth of bacteria in the stomach or small intestine. I would feel more comfortable about using it as a bridge to get from point A to point B and fixing the underlying regulatory problems as the destination.

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The Masterjohn Q&A Files
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Chris Masterjohn, PhD