Steve Fowkes on pH Tracking for Inflammation, Sleep, and Mental Performance

Today’s breakout session preview for the upcoming QS conference comes from Steve Fowkes, a QS regular. Here is Steve describing his session “pH tracking for learning about inflammation, sleep, and mental performance:”

——

I like to see QS people distill down self quantification to fundamental aspects of wellbeing.  Cognitive performance and sleep, for example, go to the core of self, the mind-brain aspect of wellness.  But beneath that is the cellular dynamic, the metabolism of the body’s and brain’s many cells, which oscillate on a 24-hour basis to create specialization of energy metabolism during the day and peak healing/sleeping at night.  This creates a tidal pH in tissue and in urine that can be tracked to verify that this basic biological rhythm is functioning and robust.  And if not, these data can be used to evaluate interventions intended to repair and restore this rhythm.

Inflammation is one way this rhythm is broken.  Purposefully.  Inflammation from infection is potentially catastrophic, so the body defers healing/sleeping processes (i.e., the “alkaline” circadian phase) in favor of energy production and immunity (i.e., “acidic” processes).  This is highly adaptive when the infection goes on for two days or a week, but maladaptive when the time course is months, years and decades.  The loss of alkaline metabolism, and the deferred repair/healing of body infrastructure, is devastating to the body, the brain and the mind when it accumulates over extended periods of time.  In our modern age, as we depart further and further from our “natural” roots, inflammation is becoming the endemic normality.

Inflammation from non-infectious processes causes these same effects.  But it is probably much more common.  Allergic foods (triggering IgA, IgM and IgG-mediated reactions) cause deferred healing of the intestine and colon, which leads to leaky-gut and irritable-bowel syndromes, and can develop into celiac and Crohn’s diseases.  Early symptoms include fatigue (which can become chronic fatigue syndrome), increased sensitivity to pain (which can become fibromyalgia), sleep disturbances (shallow sleep, difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep, apnea, and not feeling rested in the morning), brain fog (particularly mid-day, 12-hours opposite your deepest sleep), increase of compulsive behaviors, increased obsessive ideation, increased emotional volatility and borderline depression.  Weight-gain, too.

Sequential urine pH testing is a pain-in-the-ass way to assess such aspects of wellbeing.  When used as a biofeedback device, it can change your health for the better.  So if you are sufficiently motivated to employ a lifestyle-invasive health technique (testing your urine pH every time you pee for 2-5 days at a time), come join the discussion.

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22 Responses to Steve Fowkes on pH Tracking for Inflammation, Sleep, and Mental Performance

  1. danbk99 says:

    From what I’ve heard, PH in your urine doesn’t reflect the PH in your blood, which would be the source of inflammation. I’ve also heard most people, unless they have kidney problems, don’t vary that much in their blood PH.

    • swfowkes says:

      You heard right about the blood pH being unrelated to the urine pH. Very true. But while blood pH is of critical interest to health and wellbeing (and survival and reproduction), it is of relatively minor interest to me. First, it is exceedingly difficult to measure. When blood is drawn, the pH rapidly begins to shift in ways that make interpretation of subsequent pH values very difficult. While it is true that blood drawn directly through a pH meter (1 second lapse between drawing and measuring) is reliable regarding pH, the utility of the pH reading remains unknown. There is too little data (as far as I know) connecting this to medical and health issues.

      Blood is to tightly constrained. Precise blood pH changes between the lungs (alkaline) and the deep tissues (acid) drive an active binding-release mechanism in hemoglobin for oxygen and CO2. This is way important. As a consequence, blood buffering systems are strong and deep. We don’t have easy access to this data.

      But blood PH stresses are easy to see, and measure. The kidneys are a primary mechanism and defend the blood-buffering mechanisms by dumping pH stresses into the urine. This is why urine pH is so useful to track. Venous blood pH changes need to be measured with 0.01 pH unit accuracy, while urine changes are useful for biofeedback therapy with 0.5 pH units accuracy. Blood pH is constrained to a 0.05 window, while urine pH fluctuates by 2-3 pH units.

      So with urine pH measurements, we can derive pH-stress “tides” and momentum.

      The overall message is 1) you are right in your view, and 2) the pH data that I/we would most want is (a) urine, (b) tissue (interstitial fluid) and (c) cellular (cytoplasm). My experience is mostly with urine. But salivary pH reflects tissue-level pH changes. Is there anybody with salivary pH experience who would like to join me in this breakout session?

  2. Sammy says:

    I am doing this at present with an inexpensive Ebay pH meter (that tested accurate with a lab bench meter on 2 samples). My personal readings are quite acidic and do not follow the typical published circadian curve. I also am not sleeping well. The curve I found to be normal is a morning alkaline high, falling into the acidic range as the day progresses then recoving at night. If you have a reference for the circadian rhythm, please post a link here or mail it – I have lost the paper I am recalling these normative values from. The paper I read had a study group that was distinctly more acidic than the controls but I don’t recall what disorder was being studied. My personal pH values seem chronically backwards leading me to suspect a possible disturbance in light/melatonin circadian rhythm. Recently found a light box but have not yet experimented with it.

    Tentatively I feel that high Stress goes along with low urine pH in general no matter what time of day.
    One supplement I’ve been trying, Theanine (amino acid known for relaxation response) seems to go along with a robust delayed rise in pH (several hours later). Buffers have at best a modest alkalizing effect (e.g., bicarb, magnesium citrate).

    • swfowkes says:

      A warning to potential posters. If the CAPTCHA code fails, your posting is permanently deleted and does not remain in memory. This is a WordPress glitch. You’ll have to type it all out from scratch. So take a second before clicking on “post comment” to copy your post to memory (highlight and hit Ctrl C), so that you can paste your posting (Ctrl V) instead of having to retype it.

      Sammy, first, quite acidic means pH readings of < 4.5. The "normal" pH for urine is 6.0 or 6.2, which is acidic by comparison to the "neutral" pH of 7.0 for water. Furthermore, the normal pH for daytime metabolism in a healthy person is roughly 5 (5.5 to 4.5). Since my preferred pH measurement tool is nitrazene test papers, I do not see any readings more acidic than 4.5, but I know people who have used wide-range test papers and have heard reports of transitory urine pH readings as high as 9 and as low as 3. So please do not be freaked out by readings of 4.5. In my opinion, this is not "quite acidic." This is a reading I would expect from a healthy person, during the afternoon, who just ate cranberries, drank vinegar or took fish oil.

      • Sammy says:

        Steve, Thanks for listing typical pH values. Also of help would be a bibliography that’s central to your concerns so we might be privy to where you’re comming from. I’m just finding my web-legs on QS so I hope I didn’t come accross as “freaked-out” on my post. I have never had a pH value under 5.0, but what concerns me is how shifted my 24 hour curve is from typical values I found in a published study. In time I’ll find that study, and share anything of interest here.

    • swfowkes says:

      Second, the circadian pH for urine is urine readings of 5 during the day and 7 at night (plus or minus a half point or sometimes an entire point). With circadian phase-retarded people (night owls), the alkaline phase is not seen in the evening, but rather in the morning. The greater the phase-retard, the greater the evening acidic urine that is blended into the night-time alkaline urine, and the more likely it is that the second urination of the day shows the greatest alkalinity. (That’s assuming that you do not get up and pee during the night.) Larks have a phase advanced circadian pH pattern in which they see alkaline urine before going to sleep. Some larks wake up with alkaline urine, too. But in some larks, their acid momentum is sufficiently high that their urine is acid by the time they get around to their first voiding. Their second urination is more acidic.

      Another way to get a clue re your circadian rhythm is the afternoon-nap sleepiness that is sometimes described as brain fog where you really, really would like to take a nap. This is usually 12 hours out of phase with the nighttime sleep. So if you get afternoon sleepiness at 4 PM, you are phase retarded. And if you get it just after lunch, you are phase advanced. Some people do not get sleepiness and can’t use this symptom as a clue.

      Since you seem to show a phase-retarded pattern, let me describe possible strategies to change this.

      Dave Asprey, for example, uses “bulletproof coffee” as his AM-wakeup strategy. He blends grass-fed butter and MCT oil into hot coffee, which is his breakfast. The high fat, and beta-oxidizabile fat, kick-starts his energy systems which (a) increases his acid-generating systems, and (b) increases his acid momentum.

      I use coconut oil or fasting (not eating breakfast) as a similar strategy.

      The worst strategy for a phase-retarded individual is to eat fruit and/or vegetables for breakfast, which actually further delays the morning acidification process. Larks can eat fruit and vegetables for breakfast and thrive on it, because their acid momentum is already fully developed and slowing it down slightly extends their circadian cycle from 23.5 hours to 24 hours.

      At the end of the day, vegetables (or fruit) become ideal for the night owl. They facilitate the alkalinization transition from day-time metabolism to night-time metabolism.

      Although this might be a side track, you mention “stress” as a factor for you. Night owls have a tendency to “push through” the dusk-triggering metabolic changes that prepare people for sleep. Cortisol and epinephrine are acidifying influences and sabotage the alkaline transition into sleep. This is especially troublesome in hypothyroid and hypometabolic individuals who are already using adrenal hormones to compensate for their low basal metabolism, so it is very easy to increment adrenal influence without special effort. Normally, cortisol is lowest at dusk and rises to its peak at dawn. This aspect of the circadian system is a direct response to dark-adaptation stress, which impairs the efficiency of electron transport in oxidative phosphorylation. Which brings me back full circle to examples of adaptive strategy.

      I use AM red light exposure (including near-infrared frequencies) to terminate the dark adaptation stess, which notches up mitochondrial efficiency. Several of the mitochondrial complexes are absorbers of long-wavelength light. And ordinary incandescent (tungsten filament) flood lamps are quite rich in the red and near-infrared wavelengths. So I “bathe” myself in such light after waking up in the AM. I have clamp-lamps attached to my shower-door frame. It’s cheap and effective. (Assuming that the spray from the shower does not hit the hot bulb surface and shatter the glass.)

    • swfowkes says:

      Meat and grains are acidifying foods and make good breakfasts for people with phase-retarded circadian rhythms. Their acidity stems mostly from their higher fat content. This is, I believe, a reason for the popularity of bacon-egg-and-hash-browns breakfasts in our predominantly phase-delayed population. So if you eat oatmeal for breakfast and you want to amplify this effect, you can add 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil to your breakfast oatmeal. Oatmeal is loaded with carbs and suppresses beta-oxidation, a primary acidification mechanism. But if you stir in 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil, this enhances beta-oxidation from the high MCT content of the coconut oil, and it diminishes the suppressive effect of the carb by slowing down the speed of carb digestion and assimilation.

      Dave Asprey’s breakfast is fat, MCT fat and caffeine (a thermogenic agent which enhances mitochondrial uncoupling of the energy systems).

      So if you are tracking yourself with http://www.quantified-mind.com tests or ZEO sleep testing, try these different breakfasts and observe the effects. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how fast you can feel greater wellbeing from such minimal lifestyle changes. —Steve

  3. morgan says:

    Can you recommend an affordable ph testing device that isn’t a piece of junk? those things are typically very pricey for a good one…

    • swfowkes says:

      If you are in the bay area, go to Lab-Pro in Sunnyvale and buy a roll of nitrazene pH test papers. They are roughly $5 and you get 300 tests per roll. If you are elsewhere, look for a chemical supply store in your area. This roll is smaller than a cell phone, fits in your pocket, and does not need batteries or an outlet. I suggest that this is generally more convenient than a laboratory pH device, which may require regular cleaning and calibration to stay useful. Furthermore, the dramatically greater accuracy of pH meters is not really needed. With pH swings of 2-3 pH units per day, 0.5 unit accuracy is fine. With my personal color sense, I can see 0.25 unit color differences. This is more than sufficient for this kind of use.

      Ultimately, I’d like to see highly accurate data collected on a minute by minute basis. This would require an implantable pH system in a ureter between the kidney and bladder. But in the absence of such placement, the minute-by-minute data is being “averaged” by mixing of different urines from different times. So the value of highly accurate pH measurements is minimal. —Steve

    • Sammy says:

      This Ebay link shows what I have been using, and as I pointed out, it corresponded very closely with a bench meter at our regional water service.

      http://www.ebay.com/itm/PH-009-LCD-Digital-0-14-Pocket-Pen-Type-Aquarium-Pool-Water-Meter-Measure-Tester-/330780109095?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item4d0407e927

      (This may or may not be the exact merchant I purchased mine from.)

      I find it disconcerting to match uncertain shades of color tape against a color chart. So the main advantage isn’t so much that you get 0.1 accuracy, although that’s great, but rather that it’s very convenient, has digital clarity, and is very fast, lowering the cost in time of actually using it. It very convenient to use (at home). The meter was 0.1 off on arrival before callibrated with the reference solution.

  4. Michael says:

    Urine and blood pH do not succinctly line up. But urine like saliva pH can be used to assess various functions of physiological activity. For example, a high urine pH (>6.0) typically indicates increased anabolism. Conversely, a low urine pH (<6.0) tends to reflect increased catabolism. Ideally, anabolism and catabolism should be monitored with urine specific gravity and urinary surface tension if possible.

    • swfowkes says:

      Very true. That’s a highly astute observation.

      But the correction of urine pH data by specific gravity calculations is relatively minor. Ultimately, in the ideal system, one could simultaneously collect pH data, dilution data (osmolality or conductivity?), surface tension, creatinine levels and redox data. While we’re at it, let me dream of a gas chromatography system that could also separate and quantify the top 100-300 urine components.

      Urinary surface tension is strongly correlated with the relative dominance of anabolic-alkaline-anaerobic and catabolic-acidic-aerobic metabolic systems. One way or another, this data would be essential to collect.

      For those QSers interested, this subject is discussed in several modern books on “metabolic balancing” and in a very old book (1961) by Dr. Emanuel Revici (which I won’t bother to title because it is the most difficult to read and understand book I have ever read. Even after reading it four times, it is difficult. —Steve

    • swfowkes says:

      One more point. I have done a small amount of saliva pH testing, and it rarely correlates with urine pH. I believe that salivary pH provides at least some information about tissue-level metabolic process. Whereas urine pH reflects blood pH stresses.

      I’d love to see these two pH data streams analyzed with respect to each other.

      I don’t like salivary pH testing because of the inconvenience of collecting a spit sample for testing. The indicator chemicals are toxic and the pH papers should not be placed in direct contact with your lips, cheeks or tongue. I suppose that you could spit into the palm of your hand, test, and then wash your hand.

    • Sammy says:

      “For example, a high urine pH (>6.0) typically indicates increased anabolism. Conversely, a low urine pH (<6.0) tends to reflect increased catabolism. Ideally, anabolism and catabolism should be monitored with urine specific gravity and urinary surface tension if possible."

      Any web-primer on this you might recommend (if Revici is costly & impenetrable). (My understanding is crude at this point, something like catabolism bad, anabolism good. :)

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  6. I don’t think blood pH will be a useful biomarker for the QS community, esp. given risks of handling blood. Even if you could easily measure both arterial and venous pH (and so calculate the gap, which is also medically significant). Urine pH is abnormal in some conditions but not usually due to either the food allergies or Crohn’s that Steve described.

    (self-reported data from Crohn’s patients posted at
    http://www.ehealthme.com/cs/crohn's+disease/ph+urine+decreased
    shows urinary pH low in just one of over 55,000 cases!)

    Since I can’t get to SF meeting, let me throw out here that the level of
    carbon monoxide in exhaled breath (bCO, after a 20s. breathhold)
    is a more sensitive and non-invasive biomarker of mammalian stress
    response and systemic inflammation.

    CO is produced endogenously with a nice diurnal cycle, with healthy non-pregnant non-smokers usually peaking around noon, and lowest around midnight, in the 0-2ppm range. CO comes primarily from breakdown of heme protiens (Hb, Mb, Nb) by heme-oxygenase-1, the so-called “universal stress enzyme” because its activity (and your bCO level) increase quickly in response to stressors of all kinds (physical, mental/social, infectious, somato-sensory, even EMF and ionizing radiation)

    bCO has been found abnormally high in over a dozen diverse conditions (eg asthma, RA, shock) but it can also be too low (pre-eclampsia in late pregancy, when CO levels normally rise to prevent start of labor).

    In non-smokers, bCO is approx. 5-10x higher in many diseases and in women during PMS phase of menstrual cycle (when heme is being degraded to recover iron prior to onsent of menses). Note similarity of PMS and CO symptoms! Ironically smokers are habituated to such high levels of CO that they are less sensitive to other CO-inducing stressors (but only until they quit, after which they become more sensitive again to stressors of all kinds)

    All of the symptoms Steve attributes to Celiac and Crohn’s disease triggered by food allergies are also in the literature on CO poisoning. What distinguishes CO poisoning from other syndromes is that survivors becomes not just hypersensitive to pain as in FM cases but also to light, sound, touch, odor, heat, movement and sometimes even EMF.

    Any portable CO instruments that display accurately from zero ppm can be used to measure CO in breath, and in less than 60 seconds. Off the shelf options range from personal clip-on style detectors in the $125-250 range to FDA approved Class 2 medical devices at $500-1500 (with same $25 electrochemical sensors!)

    But home CO alarms are worthless even with display as they’re blocked from displaying below 10ppm (and most only start displaying at 30).

    Exhaled CO may include previously inhaled CO from one or more prior exposures to external CO, but to distinguish exogenous from endogenous CO sources requires invasive testing of both arterial and venous COHb with expensive blood gas analyzer (usually found only in hospital pulmonary labs).

  7. CindyB says:

    Urine specific gravity or solids dissolved in water can be made with a brix meter. One can be obtained that provides specific gravity in addition to degrees brix and is temperature corrected. This one, for example:
    http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/brix-specific-gravity-refractometer-w-atc.html
    It can be calibrated using distilled water.

  8. Any literature on this subject that you can recommend?

  9. Laura says:

    I’m curious about leaky gut etc. leading to compulsive behaviors. I have food allergies and CFS and have noticed this effect. What do you believe is the mechanism?

  10. Joel Hillman says:

    Please tell me the brands and dosage for your collagen/tryptophan cocktail. thanks, Joel jahnow@hotmail.com

  11. Joel Hillman says:

    Please tell me the brands and dosage for your collagen/tryptophan cocktail AND the best time to take it for someone who falls asleep easily, but wakes up after a few hrs and has difficulty getting back to a deep sleep (for many many years).

  12. Darien says:

    Hello,

    My ph rhythem is quite off of what you stated as normal. I am acidic in the morning (5.0-5.75), then there is a near linear trend during the day to maximum Alkalinity of 7 at 5:30PM, followed by a linear trend towards 5.5 before going to bed. I have stayed up late enough and have woken up frequently enough to be confident that I remain acidic throughout the night.
    IS this rhythm OK? Do you have any explanations for this type of rhythm, and do you have any recommendations on how to fix it?
    Thanks

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