When we hear of lactate, lactic acidosis, or lactic acid as it is more commonly known, we usually think of it as a side effect of physical exercise.
Activities such as sprinting and lifting weights are designed to increase speed, strength, and muscle mass, the goal of many athletes. Unfortunately, lactic acid buildup can leave us feeling quite the opposite, particularly after unaccustomed exercise.
Tight, tired, and painful muscles can hinder our movements for days until the circulation improves and the body has filtered out excess acids.
Why does the body produce lactic acid?
The answer lies in our muscles’ need for energy. To create this energy, our bodies need oxygen. If the body cannot get enough oxygen, it produces lactic acid, converting it into energy. However, if the lactic acid is not all used up, it will accumulate in the bloodstream, causing “acidosis” – too much acid in the body.
Sports coaches may say that athletes just need to learn how to manage their production of lactic acid, by creating what they need and using it all up, so acidosis doesn’t happen. This is not so easy to accomplish, especially for “weekend warriors” – if acid constantly builds up in the body and is not converted into energy, then the muscles are constantly tired, tight, and painful.
But, the story about lactic acid production and consumption does not end there, as we will see.
Exercise is not the only cause of lactic acidosis
When we look into it further, we find that there are two types of lactic acidosis: Type A and Type B.
Type A is the result of cells being deprived of oxygen. This is what, in essence, we have referred to above, but can also include anemia or even carbon monoxide poisoning.
Type B is where we begin to understand that there is another side to lactic acidosis – it has three subcategories – B1 to B3:
B1 occurs from ketoacidosis, lymphoma, leukemia, or AIDS.
B2 is caused by drugs or toxins such as heavy metals, HIV drugs, cyanide, excessive alcohol, metformin, and ACTOplus met.
B3 develops because of inherited enzyme defects.
As referred to above, Type B2 lactic acidosis can be caused by prescription drugs. The side effects can be serious. So how does this come about?
The treatment of kidney disease, liver disease, and diabetes can all lead to a lactate increase. The reason is due to a side effect linked to diabetes medications such as Actos. Two drugs used to treat diabetes — phenformin and buformin – have already been banned in the United States because of their deadly lactate side effects.
Anyone with liver, kidney, or heart problems should talk with their doctor about the possible side effects before taking Actos or metformin. Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs are medications used to treat HIV and AIDS), can also increase lactic acid levels.
How do you know whether you have lactic acidosis?
The symptoms of lactic acidosis include fast, shallow breathing; rapid heart rate, or an irregular heart rhythm; a general feeling of discomfort; muscle pain or cramping; and unusual sleepiness, tiredness, or weakness.
Lactic acidosis can also produce abdominal or stomach discomfort, decreased appetite, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting.
Chronic acidosis – the cause of many health conditions
Our kidneys regulate the acid-base balance in our body. An acid imbalance can be caused by lifestyle choices, such as a diet that is too acidic, a low water intake, or stress levels that are too high.
Diseases associated with excessive acidity in the system are arthritis, gout, osteoporosis, infertility, cancers, depression, anxiety, insomnia, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and skin problems such as psoriasis. Back problems and muscle pains are often caused or aggravated by an acid imbalance as well.
Many neurological conditions such as epilepsy, anxiety, irritability, schizophrenia, depression, tremors, Parkinson-ism and extra pyramidal syndromes show remarkable improvement with correction of the acid-base imbalance.
Acidosis attacks and weakens our immune systems
Acid-base imbalances adversely affect the white blood cells which form our immune system. Minor infections can become chronic problems because the immune system is not strong enough. Common chronic conditions associated with an acid base imbalance are sinusitis, bronchitis, candidiasis, urinary infections and the resultant kidney damage, viral infections like Epstein Barr virus, Lyme’s disease, HIV (AIDS) and toxoplasmosis. These infections often recur even after prolonged treatment with antibiotics unless the acid-base imbalance is corrected.
What is the body doing about acidosis?
The balance between acidity and alkalinity is so tightly monitored and controlled that even slight changes in your pH can have severe effects on many organs.
Your body is constantly monitoring and adjusting its internal balance of pH to confirm that you stay slightly alkaline. As stated earlier, acidosis, or too much acid, occurs when acid builds ups in the bloodstream faster than it can be removed, as in the case of heavy metal toxicity.
How can you help your body?
For those with exercise-induced lactic acidosis, the message is clear: “pace yourself.” Don’t go from being a couch potato to attempting a marathon in a week. You can build up your pace and distance slowly. Increase your exercise each week so your body can build up a tolerance. This increases your “lactate threshold,” making it less likely you’ll suffer from lactic acidosis. Make sure you drink lots of water to help rid yourself of any excess acid. For reversible chronic acidosis, you can help your body in another way as you will see below.
Getting the extra help you need
For chronic acidosis, the body may need external help in eliminating heavy metals and excess acids.
To learn about the importance of eliminating excess acids and heavy metals, see “Why clearing toxicity matters so much.”
For more about the effects of excess acidity, heavy metals, and toxic substances, visit our Health page.