pH and Bacterial Growth

Here’s a question an answer segment taken from the US Department of Energy – Office of Science, on how bacterial growth is affected by pH levels. Scientists explain that different strains of bacteria have evolved to thrive in certain pH conditions. For example, the bacteria in our stomach thrive in acidic pH levels while bacteria in the skin thrive in a slightly basic 7.4 pH level.

An introduction of a highly alkaline pH level to your underarms (via Travel Water) will stop the growth of bacteria. In fact, we have had numerous people as well as myself confirm that Travel Water works in counteracting Body Odor.

I use around 15 drops on each armpit and let it air dry. I usually do this before I shower or after a hard work out.

Can you describe in detail how pH affects bacterial growth, and what pH level allows minimum or maximum growth?

Replies from participating  Scientists:
Bacteria need a physiological pH inside their cells, just like all other living organisms. Their ability to survive in extreme pH (either high or low) depends on their ability to correct for the difference between inside and out. One example of a bacterium that can live in acidic environments is Helicobacter pylori which lives in the stomach. It produces high amounts of urease which is an enzyme that degrades urea, and by doing so decreases the acidity (raises the pH). Imagine the bacteria produce a ‘cloud’ of neutral pH around them to protect them from the acidic environment.

There are other bacteria that are specialized to live in basic pH, for instance near black smokers, geological fountains of minerals that shoot highly alkaline minerals into the ocean. In conclusion, which pH is lethal for the bacteria depends on the species. Their defense is to keep the protons or OH- ions out. Would they not succeed, then their proteins would rapidly denature. That is the lethal toxicity of non-physiological pH.

Trudy Wassenaar

This would take about a thousand pages to give some of the details. VERY briefly, the pH affects the ionization and therefore the binding and interaction of a myriad of molecular processes…this includes very basic things such as nutrient availability. For example, depending on the pH certain metals will take on different ionization states and therefore will or will not be able to be utilized. PH also affects the solubility of many sunstances that bacteria need. There is also no certain pH level for maximum growth for bacteria in general since they all differ slightly in their evolution. Some grow in a very acid environment eg. H. pylori while others do many Pseudomonas. Species… nothing is simple in science. 🙂

Peter Faletra Ph.D.
Office of Science
Department of Energy

pH affects bacteria the same way it affects all living things. Extremes of pH affect the function of enzyme systems by denaturing them. However, bacteria become adapted over time to their surroundings. Just like we have enzymes that are adapted to the pH of our stomachs (very acidic) or to the small intestine (basic), bacteria that live in acid conditions are adapted to them. If they are moved to an environment that is neutral or basic they will probably die. So my point is, it depends on the bacteria and what its natural environment is. Bacteria that are human or animal pathogens are generally adapted to a pH of about 7.4 which is slightly basic.