The pH of the blood needs to be around 7.4 to ensure health. Because of key biological processes that depend on blood pH and due to its logarithmic nature, even seemingly minor deviations can be medically serious or even potentially deadly. However, the body has multiple systems that regulates pH and keep it in check. The bicarbonate buffer system balances hydrogen ions against carbon dioxide that can be exhaled, proteins can bind or release hydrogen ions, the affinity of hemoglobin to bind to hydrogen ions depends on carbon dioxide levels, phosphates make up another buffer system and kidneys can excrete hydrogen or carbonate ions to help regulate body pH.
Quacks who promote alkaline diets or other forms of pH quackery are often willfully ignorant about this. Instead, they claim that diseases are caused by, for instance, eating too much acidic food. They also believe that the cure to virtually all diseases (including infectious diseases and cancer) is to ingest or inject substantial quantities of baking soda or other alkaline substances. In reality, that will only make your pee somewhat more alkaline. It is in many ways reminiscent of quacks who constantly hammer on about mysterious and unnamed “toxins” when anyone with a liver and kidneys can handle a ton of different environmental challenges. In the same way, your body can regulate pH just fine on its own using the mechanisms that are already there unless you are really, really sick with very precise conditions. The alkaline diet and pH quackery is, to put it simply, pseudoscientific bullshit.
This issue has recently cropped up in news media with the airing of a new Horizon documentary called “Clean Eating: The Dirty Truth” on BBC that cover the chilling story of how a pH quack scammed a dying and desperate woman into doing one of his fake “treatments” for cancer for the excruciating price of over 77 000 USD. Naima Houder-Mohammed was an officer in the British Army in the late 2000s. Sadly, she got breast cancer that she initially beat down with science-based medicine. However, it came back and this time it was so severe that the game was up. Real doctors could not do anything other than to offer her end-of-life care. Like many desperate people Houder-Mohammed turned to quacks in an effort to find anything that just might work. She came into contact with Robert O. Young, the man behind the alkaline diet and one of the world’s leading proponents of pH quackery. He told her that she needed intravenous infusions of alkaline baking soda.
This ineffective fake treatment would not be cheap. Young mentioned that it would cost Houder-Mohammed 3000 USD per day. Yes, you read that correctly, 3000 USD per day. Most people who are healthy would probably instantly notice that this had all the signs of a scam, but this is very difficult when you are sick, vulnerable and your life hangs on a thin thread. Predictably, the treatment did not work and Houder-Mohammed experienced sustained pain for several weeks. Young then told her, like many quacks do, that the pain was just a sign that the “treatment” was working (“pain is acid and acid is pain”). This is a common trick because it is a way to exclude the possibility of being wrong. If the patient becomes better, it is a sign that a treatment is working. Is the patient gets worse, then quacks will often claim that it too means that it is working. They refuse to admit that possibility of error or failure.
After spending about three months with Young and paying more than 77 000 USD, she became much sicker and taken back to the United Kingdom where she died. The money they had gotten from using savings from the family and various kinds of fund-raising and charity money. When Young was interviewed for a critical television program, he did not seem to so any problem because he said that he “wasn’t selling her anything”, that he “didn’t force her to come here, it was her decision.”
Since 2005, he has played this horrific game with over 80 people that he invites to his large “pH Miracle” ranch. Young is also a germ theory denialist, insisting that as the blood becomes acidic, red blood cells magically morph into bacteria. He genuinely believes that “All sickness and disease can be prevented by managing the delicate pH balance of the fluids of the body.” Of course, Young would probably not agree to have disease-causing pathogens injected into his body even if he injected himself with alkaline substances. This is where their ideology falters and disintegrates under the immense pressure of reality. A similar observation has been noted for the HIV/AIDS denialist Peter Duesberg who refuses to inject himself with HIV despite wrongly believing it to be nothing more than a harmless passenger virus. Like the many HIV/AIDS denialists who have died from AIDS, Young must certainly understand that something is wrong because his patients keep dying despite his supposedly effective treatment.
Thankfully, the tide has started to turn against Young. He was convicted of practicing medicine without a license and has served at least some time in jail. However, it is likely a short period and with the success he has had with book sales, selling fake treatments and products, he is more than wealthy enough to manage it. However, it looks like he continues to find himself in legal trouble. Robert O. Young and the case of Naima Houder-Mohammed was critically covered in a Horizon documentary called Clean Eating: The Dirty Truth presented by Dr Giles Yeo that was shown on the evening of January 19, 2017.
Was is especially interesting with this is that a major news website, the BBC, is now starting to connect the problems with pseudoscience with the overarching theme of “post-truth”. This designates an era where what is factual and real no longer matters, but only rhetoric and propaganda. If mass media of the world would wake up to the nightmare of pseudoscience and fight it just as much as they fight other things, it might help to prevent many similar tragedies in the future. This is because lies and deception knows no bounds and will not stay neatly within specific areas, but spread everywhere, like dumping toxic sludge in a water reservoir. It is high time that the media stopped engaging in vapid clickbaiting, fact-free ideological narratives and disingenuous false balance where science is put on the same level as batshit nonsense.