When you drink fresh alkaline water, you'll notice it feels better. It doesn't sit in your stomach and make you feel full or sloshy. You'll probably experience improved and more frequent bathroom activity. Athletes say they recover quicker, cramping and soreness is less. Once you drink it for a while, you'll very quickly notice the difference if you are without if for very long. Tap and bottled just don't do it for you.

The water gives every impression it's more hydrating.

But why?

Micro-clustered and Structured

One of the most common answers given to why alkaline water is so beneficial is that it is structured differently than tap or bottled. That those waters have large clusters of 13-15 water molecules bonded together and because they are larger in size, have a harder time getting into the cell. Therefore, if the clusters can be made smaller, with 4-6 molecules being the magic number, the water travels into the cells quicker and hydration improves.

This is often illustrated via tea bag diffusion tests and cherry tomato soaks. The tea diffuses quicker in the higher pH water and the tomatoes seem to lose their waxy coating faster as well. In other instances, graphs from Nuclear Magnetic Resonance tests are shown to compare surface tensions. Lower surface tension again being explained as smaller clusters of water molecules.

But is that really the cause? Does hydration depend on cluster size? Are there other factors that matter?

Cellular Hydration Understanding

Science is never settled. There are always new theories, findings, studies, etc and one always builds on another. It's constantly progressing. Old understandings give way to new data and more capable technology allows us to analyze and view details like never before.

With respect to hydration, the understanding of both extra and intra cellular hydration has grown steadily over the last 15 years. The most common narrative up into the early 2000s was that cells were hydrated via osmosis. Cellular membranes were porous and would allow fluid to seep in and out based on the mineral concentration of minerals in the water inside the cell versus the concentration of minerals on the outside.

This gave rise to an understanding of hyper-, hypo- and iso-tonic environments. Too high of external solute concentration (hyper-) and the cells are squashed. To low (hyper-) and they rupture. When there is a balance (isotonic) all is good and water flows as it's supposed to. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tonicity

This process is what undergirds “electrolytes” and much of the sport drink marketing. Replenishing minerals, especially salts, are necessary to ensure water can pass across the membrane. It's also why when one visits the ER for dehydration, they are given an IV of saline, not distilled (demineralized) water.

Electrolytes are needed for hydration.

But by the early 2000s, scientists started noticing some cells behaved differently. That their intracellular volume didn't change the way the pure osmotic understanding of hydration predicted.

There was something else at work.

Nobel Prize

In 2003, Dr. Peter Agre was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery and modeling of what are now known as Aquaporins. They are water channels within the cellular membrane that accelerate the osmotic process. Water doesn't seep through evenly at all points across the membrane, the channels control the flow and accelerate how quickly water gets in and waste gets out.

They do so by aligning the molecules up single file and use electrical charge to pull the water in as well as push it out.

This is important because no matter how large the cluster of molecules is, it must be broken up into single molecules to reach the cell's interior. There are mechanisms in the body to do so and those mechanisms might be helped by lessening the work they must do, but the idea that 6 molecules pass through the membrane better because it's a smaller cluster than other waters is false.

Those who continue to use the micro-clustered or structured water narrative are about 15 years behind the times.

How this Idea Spread

The idea of micro-clustering got it's start around the year 2000, very close to when electric water ionizer sales began in earnest in the US. Enagic was the biggest sponsor of this idea, but there were other small time operations that tagged along. Some had similar multi-level business models, some just leveraged Enagic's work and sold less expensive systems.

MLMs like Enagic often get lumped into the “snake oil” sales discussions. But often this is less the products being sold and more about the people doing the selling.

Most training is done via conference calls or local meetings and it's done by people who aren't more educated in science, but they are better at sales and persuasion. They look for simple ideas to answer questions. Things that are easy to remember and push down the line.

They myth of micro-clustered water is the result of a flawed (or at least old idea) regarding hydration getting pushed from the top influencers and then flooding the downlines. Which built websites, wrote blogs, emailed recorded calls, etc.

It became a herd of cats.

A better hydration answer

A good starting point for explaining the better hydration qualities of alkaline water (by this we mean water made with an ionizer and consumed shortly thereafter) is to admit we don't know everything. Some things we just can't explain yet. We've noticed an interesting trend within the alkaline water industry over the few 7 years.

They tend to jump to the newest and flashiest thing quickly... often using it as the silver bullet explanation or reason for purchasing. We've watched it progress from pH to ORP to micro-clustering with the initial stages now beginning around molecular hydrogen. More on that later.

The 2nd point to stress is that hydration isn't based on 1 factor. It's a combination of mineral (electrolyte) concentration, electrical charge and how well other surrounding processes of the body are functioning.

It's very possible the lighter feel and quicker stomach emptying rate is due to the higher pH level. Maybe it's more due to some energetic frequencies which we know very little about. The tea diffusion tests and surface tension graphs can also be explained as simply due to a higher pH. The fancy graphs you often find are pulled from a paper that even attributes changes to pH!

At the end of the day, we're OK admitting we don't yet know what causes the water to be more hydrating. We trust science will someday tell us definitively, although that might be a long ways off as natural products like ours don't get much attention or funding. Until then we are OK saying we don't know why, we just know it does.

Other things are more easily proven and can have a more direct answer. But hydration is murkier and we don't think we need to make it more so.

Just drink the water.


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