During Chinese New Year, my family and I went back to Malaysia to visit my relatives. We visited one of my aunts had undergone surgery to remove a small cancerous growth. Besides ensuring us that she would make a complete recovery soon, my aunt also told her plan of improving her health. Part of that plan involved the purchase of a water-ionizer machine. When we asked her what was the function of the water-ionizer, my aunt told us that she purchased the machine after seeing it on a television advertisement. The advertisement claimed that when the body becomes “too acidic”, it encourages the growth of cancer cells and other diseases such as obesity. The solution to this problem would be the water-ionizer. The advertisement claimed that the water-ionizer would ionize drinking water using electrolysis, producing “alkaline water” and “acidic water”. By drinking the alkaline water, the advertisement claims that the alkalinity would reduce the acidity of the body. The advertisement also claimed that the water acts as an anti-oxidant. (Snyder et al., 2008)
Convinced by my aunt, my parents bought a water-ionizer to ring back to Shanghai. At first, I myself had no doubts about the “benefits” of the water-ionizer. When we started our unit on acids and bases, I decided to see if the water-ionizer was really beneficial. To my dismay, the many claims that the water-ionizer company made were scientifically wrong.
Many water-ionization companies claim that by drinking alkaline water, it will neutralize the acidity of the body. Firstly, the intake of alkaline water does not affect the ph of the body. If alkaline water is drunk, the acids in the stomach will neutralize the basic nature of the alkaline water. The body has its own system of regulating the ph levels of the various parts of the body, such as blood and urine. For example, in the blood, the bicarbonate buffering system keep’s the blood’s ph at a constant level.
CO2 (g) + H20 (l) <=> H2CO3 (aq) <=> H+ (aq) + HCO3- (aq) (Frey et al., 2008)
The CO2 in the blood , when mixed with water, produces carbonic acid. The carbonic acid in turn can disintegrate into hydrogen ions and the basic bicarbonate. Hence, drinking alkaline water has no effect in changing the body’s ph level.
“Ionized water” is a misleading term. In chemistry, pure water has a neutral ph of 7, meaning that there are no ions in pure water. Water that is not pure water, such as rainwater, is already ionic, since they contain ions present in it, such as Sodium. Therefore, the term “ionized water” does not describe anything.
Secondly, the water-ionizer is supposed to turn water into alkaline water by “ionizing” the water through electrolysis. However, significant electrolysis cannot occur in pure water due to the lack of ions. The water-ionizer is a machine with 2 metal plates that are normally made out of inert metals such as stainless steel, separated by a membrane. They serve as electrodes, which are electrical conductors that conduct electricity to a non-metallic part of a circuit, in this case, the water. When connected to the power source, one of the plates becomes negatively charged while the other becomes positively charged. (Lower et al., 2008)
The negatively charged plate releases electrons. Hydrogen ions than bond to these electrons to produce hydrogen gas and OH-
2 H2O(l) + 2e− → H2(g) + 2 OH–(aq)
Based on Bronsted-lowry theory, the excess OH- ions make that side of the machine alkaline.
and the positively charged plate, oxidation takes place, producing oxygen gas.
2 H2O(l) → O2(g) + 4 H+(aq) + 4e-
Based on Bronsted-lowry theory, the excess H+ ions make that side of the machine acidic.
However, the H+ and OH- ions eventually recombine to form water, and the final equation reveals that the final product is hydrogen and oxygen gas, which does not affect ph.
2 H2O(l) → 2 H2(g) + O2(g)
Therefore, significant electrolysis can only occur when the water is ionic. However, most tap water is alkaline in order to prevent the disintegration of water pipes. Slightly acidic water, such as water from mountain glaciers and streams, is safe to drink. (Dunning et al., 2009)
Lastly, I also found out that the claim that cancer cells grow better in acidic environment is actually a misinterpretation of the fact that cancer cells release acids. (Mathani et al., 2010)
So, what were the implications of this research? I believed that this research was very important. By understanding the complete process of the electrolysis of water, I was able to see that the water-ionizer’s claim of being able to raise the ph of pure water was false. I was also able to realise that the misuse of Bronstend-Lewis law could be used as convincing ways to trick people. Most importantly, this research shows that many health products will not only misinterpret and misuse scientific data to give their claims false credibility. This research also highlights the practicality of studying chemistry, since a basic understanding of chemistry can helps us deduce whether these claims are false. In conclusion, I feel that this research warned me to guard myself against false scientific claims and to apply my previous knowledge in chemistry to real world settings.
Dunning, B. (2009). Kangen Water: Change Your Water, Change Your Life. Skeptoid: Critical Analysis Podcast. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4139
Lower, S. (2012, November 20). “Ionized” and alkaline water: snake oil on tap. “Ionized” and alkaline water. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from http://www.chem1.com/CQ/ionbunk.html
Mahtani, R. L. (2010, August 15). Acid Balance in the Body and Cancer – Caring4Cancer. caring4cancer. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from https://www.caring4cancer.com/go/cancer/nutrition/questions/acid-balance-in-the-body-and-cancer.htm
Snyderhealth (n.d.). cannotParse. snyderhealth. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from http://www.snyderhealth.com/water_ionizers/how_does_a_water_ionizer_work.html
University of Washington (n.d.). pH Buffers in the Blood. Department of Chemistry | Washington University in St. Louis. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from http://www.chemistry.wustl.edu/~edudev/LabTutorials/Buf