Acid Balance in the Body and Cancer


You may have heard that having an “acid environment” in the body can encourage cancer cells to grow. This idea comes from a misunderstanding about the connection between cancer and acid in the body. It’s true that cancer cells can create acid. This can make the small area in and around cancer cells more acidic. But this does not make the entire body more acidic.

In other words, extra acid in the body does not cause cancer. It is just the opposite: cancer cells create extra acid. But remember that even though the small area around cancer cells can be acidic, this does not make the body more acidic as a whole.

Better Nutrition For Better Acid-Base Balance

Even though cancer cells can create acid, this does not change the acid balance in the body as a whole. Furthermore, the body controls acid balance very tightly. Tiny changes in acidity can occur, but the body cannot become significantly more acidic without serious side effects and illness. However, it certainly can’t hurt to focus on keeping the acid balance in our body healthy. And fortunately, the exact same foods that fight cancer in other ways also happen to make the body less acidic.

The same foods that make the body less acidic also protect cells from damage, encourage damaged cells to die (rather than to keep multiplying), provide vital nutrients that control normal cell growth, and enhance cell-to-cell communication. In a nutshell, these same foods protect the body against many steps in the cancer process.

Power of Plants

One of the best ways to decrease acidity in the body overall is to follow a plant-based diet. In general, plant foods (vegetables, fruit, and legumes) make the body less acidic. Meat and protein foods tend to make the body more acidic. This even can be measured in the urine. In fact, studies tell us that vegetarians (people who do not eat any type of meat, including beef, chicken, fish, pork, and lamb) have less acidic urine than people who eat meat.

Again, this may not change the acid around cancer cells, but we do know it’s good for the body in other ways.

Putting It Into Practice

The bottom line is that one of the best ways to decrease acidity in the body is to follow a plant-based diet. Plant foods, especially vegetables and fruit, tend to make the body less acidic. Proteins and meats make the body more acidic.
Also, don't be fooled by the acidity of the food itself. Some very acidic foods, such as oranges (citric acid) and other citrus fruit make the body less acidic. Due to complicated body chemistry, acid food usually does not create acid in the body.

Keep in mind that you do not need to be a complete vegetarian to obtain benefit from eating more plants. You simply need to eat more vegetables and fruit and eat a little less meat. As a general guideline, try to have two-thirds to three-quarters of your plate covered by vegetables, fruit, and legumes (beans). The other one-quarter to one-third of the plate can contain your meat, chicken, or fish. See our information on plant-based eating for more tips and ideas on how to squeeze more healthy plant food into your diet.

Summing It All Up 

Currently, there is no research evidence suggesting that having a more "acidic environment" contributes to cancer starting or growing in the body. Fortunately, the same foods that make the body less acidic also happen to fight cancer in many other ways. For this reason, you should include more of these foods in your diet whenever you can. These great cancer fighters include vegetables, fruit, and legumes. Eat more of these foods each day for better health.

This content was last reviewed August 15, 2010 by Dr. Reshma L. Mahtani.
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