Battery acid and oatmeal

Ever notice the warnings on your car's battery? "Danger: Sulfuric acid. Protective eyewear advised. Serious injury possible."

Sulfuric acid is among the most powerful and potentially harmful acids known. Get even a dilute quantity in your eyes and you will suffer serious burns and possibly loss of eyesight. Ingest it and you can sustain fatal injury to the mouth and esophagus. Sulfuric acid's potent tendency to react with other compounds is one of the reasons that it is used in industrial processes like petroleum refining. Sulfuric acid is also a component of the harsh atmosphere of Venus.

Know what food is the most potent source of sulfuric acid in the body? Oats.

Yes: Oatmeal, oat bran, and foods made from oats (you know what breakfast cereal I'm talking about) are the most potent sources of sulfuric acid in the human diet.

Why is this important? In the transition made by humans from net-alkaline hunter-gatherer diet to net-acid modern overloaded-with-grains diet, oats tip the scales heavily towards a drop in pH, i.e., more acidic.

The more acidic your diet, the more likely it is you develop osteoporosis and other bone diseases, oxalate kidney stones, and possibly other diseases.

Here's one reference for this effect.

Comments (38) -

  • Sly

    3/23/2011 8:21:12 AM |

    I wonder what is the best/healthiest way to alkalize your body?
    Removieng grains, of course, but what else?

  • Anne

    3/23/2011 8:42:01 AM |

    Dear Dr Davis,

    I understand that oats give an acid load to the body, but please can you explain how they are a source of sulphuric acid.

  • Kris @ Health Blog

    3/23/2011 12:18:13 PM |

    I've been reading Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston Price, a dentist who travels around the world sometime around 1930-1940.

    He notices how awful the teeth of modernized people eating sugar and white flour are compared to the more "primitive" populations who don't eat those things.

    He does notice that the people who still eat a lot of rye or oats are in excellent health, while those eating sugar and wheat are awful and have very damaged teeth.

    After reading this I've put a bit of a question mark on banishing all grains, since wheat seems to be the primary culprit here. Apparently populations can live very healthy with oats and rye as a large part of their calorie intake.

    I wonder about this Oat and sulfuric acid thing, do you think this has any real consequences for us?

  • JC

    3/23/2011 12:29:06 PM |

    Alkalizing you body can lead to all kinds of problems such as yeast overgrowth.You need stomach acid to inhibit dangerous pathogens.Its a mistake to jump on the old Cayce idea of alkalilizng the body.

  • Jenny

    3/23/2011 12:44:22 PM |

    The article you cite is not a study, just a rehash of current belief. In fact, the argument that eating protein leaches calcium away from bone is one of the old wives tales used to discredit the low carb diet that hasn't stood up to actual research.

  • Peter

    3/23/2011 12:49:05 PM |

    I used to eat loads of oat bran (your suggestion), became anemic, then read someone's opinion that oat bran blocks iron absorbtion.  So I stopped eating oat bran, and the anemia went away.  Maybe coincidence, maybe not.

  • Anonymous

    3/23/2011 2:15:17 PM |

    Dr Davis:  Now that oat and oat products are off the table,and you remain in the anti sat fat camp, it would be interesting to hear what daily diet recommendations might be since you also think Omega 6 should be minimized and fruit intake watched to make sure blood sugar is not to high. What then do you recommend the diet be?  Hard to exist on just veggies, and a few nuts( to many bad for Omega 6 levels)

  • Geoffrey Levens

    3/23/2011 3:20:05 PM |

    "I wonder what is the best/healthiest way to alkalize your body?
    Removieng grains, of course, but what else?"

    The best and really only way to alkalize your body long term is to load w/ alkalizing minerals via non-starchy veg esp leafy greens.  And yes, avoid acidifying foods esp junk food, processed foods, refined carbs.

  • Dr. William Davis

    3/23/2011 3:52:24 PM |

    Commenter Geoffrey Levens, I believe, provided the right response to what foods to eat to maintain a net alkaline bias in the body.

    Most of the effects of an overly acidic lifestyle do not reach conscious perception. The calciuric effect of wheat and oats, for instance, generate no symptoms.


    I am not in "the anti sat fat camp." Saturated fat is part of the Track Your Plaque diet, unless you are apoprotein E4.

    By the way, the entire diet, saturated fat, wheat-free and all, is articulated in a total of nearly 100 pages of discussion on, as well as the new Track Your Plaque book, version 2.0 (online now; hard copy coming in the next 2 weeks).

  • Amy

    3/23/2011 5:49:21 PM |

    I am pro-paleo and fairly anti-grain (especially wheat) -- but I have to say I take issue with your reasoning here.

    I assume you are specifically referring to Table 2 of this review article (written by a nutritionist). It lists milliequivalents of potential acid generated per 100 g of protein from the food. Oats are highest at 82.2, closely followed by eggs at 79.6; wheat is 69.4. According to your logic it would be better by far to eat wheat instead of eggs -- and I'm sure you wouldn't advise that.

    Also it is useful to think of the quantities required to obtain 100 g of protein from each food. I might easily eat 3 eggs at a meal, but I would be unlikely, if I ate oatmeal, to eat the nearly 4 cups required for the same amount of protein.

    I'm not defending oats. But as a scientist I find this particular argument against them to be weak.

  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    3/23/2011 7:37:42 PM |

    pH ranges in "normal" health is tightly controlled. Phrasing like acid/alkaline "load"/"balance" should be referenced to spot measures of the kidney dynamic. We don't have sulfuric acid sloshing against our cells.

    Cells use a lot of oxygen and kick back CO2, which we breath out. Yet, before it gets out of the cell and into blood circulation that CO2 is doing things.

    CO2, being a gas with no valent electrical charge, moves freely inside and outside our cells. We use an enzyme (carbonic anhydrase) to make it soluble (ie: so body can shift it in way body needs to). In solution it is in the form of H2CO3, carbonic acid.

    Carbonic acid is what the cells use, both inside and outside, to get ion charges (+ and -) to quickly adapt to pH fluctuations. As metabolic processes occur they naturally engender pH reactions. These pH reactions use H2CO3 (carbonic acid) to get H+, HCO3- and/or CO3-- ions, which have + and/or - interactive potential.

    It's an absolute necessity for our bodies ability to use pH to make things happen. Example: to maintain an ion neutral state for molecules needing to use a cell membrane ion channel. Membranes are designed not to let + or - charged molecules pass for good reasons; polarization and de-polarization must be regulated.

  • Helen

    3/23/2011 10:59:10 PM |

    You're killing me, Dr. Davis.  Despite your anti-oat stance and my status as a diabetic, I've found oats to be gentle to my blood sugar and, because of a number of other food intolerances, and a lack of tolerance for fat (vis a vis my blood sugars), oats make up a big part of my diet.  Now I find that I'm consuming battery acid.  

    Is there really any study correlating oat consumption per se with the diseases you mention?  I find again and again in nutrition advice (not just here) the idea that "because this contains this, it should be good/bad for you," while food and the body have such complex interrelationships it's really hard to make conclusions soley based on a food's containing a certain substance.

  • Helen

    3/23/2011 10:59:32 PM |


    The review you cite finds that there is insufficient evidence to suggest an upper limit for protein based on its presumed tendency to cause greater calcium excretion and that many dietary factors must be considered vis a vis urinary calcium and bone metabolism.  I think the term "not sufficiently unamibiguous" applies to your post's case against oats.

    BTW, improperly prepared oats can indeed lead to anemia.  They have to be soaked in a warm medium overnight with a phytase-containing substance (I use buckwheat flour), water, and yogurt to allow the mineral-binding phytate to get broken down.  It also allows the *phosphorous* to become bioavailable, as it is in animal sources of protein, which may mitigate the calcium-leaching effect of the oat proteins. although phosphorous is one of those things I hear contradictory things about.  One of the many.

  • steve

    3/24/2011 12:05:41 AM |

    hi Dr Davis:  I note your response that sat fat is ok except if you are Apo E 4.  Other than a blood testhow can you know?  In my case following the recommendations of this blog and others in my last NMR my LDL particle count was 64o and my small LDL was <90! Two years ago it was 1795 all small following diet of grains(plenty of oats and whole wheat and fruit). Particle size has increased from Now, eggs, meat fish,some cheese,  veggies, some potato or rice. Dark chocolate 85% and above only sweet) HDL directly measured was 64 and direct LDL was 54.  I do take Crestor and Zetia, but understand that if am Apo E 4 not likely for me to achieve these numbers even on a Statin.  Is this so?

    For me oats are for horses!
    look forward to buying your book.  Alert us when it is available.  Maybe have an Amazon link

  • Vladimir

    3/24/2011 1:12:54 AM |

    From Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language:

    Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people.

  • Dr. William Davis

    3/24/2011 2:07:01 AM |

    Hi, Helen--

    This was not meant to indict meat. This was only about oats.

    Perhaps the confusion comes from the fact that meats yield a net acidic effect. However, the effects of animal products extend beyond acid-base effects and may impact on such things as IGF-1alpha that may blunt any pH effect.

    Some of the worst postprandial glucoses I have ever seen have been after consuming oats--no sugar, non-diabetics. This is not true in everybody, but in enough people that I've removed it from our list of foods to eat.

  • Dr. William Davis

    3/24/2011 2:07:58 AM |

    Hi, Steve--

    Great results!

    I suggest testing apo E only when you fail to obtain the results you desire. I do not consider apo E genotype testing as a "first line" test.


    That's great!

  • Anonymous

    3/24/2011 2:21:21 AM |

    Don't we want some foods in our diet which are acidic. Is the goal to strive for 100% alkaline food consumption? I have cut down wheat dramatically but because of my active lifestyle I consume organic steel cut oats to give me a good dose of carbohydrates.

  • Jeremy

    3/24/2011 5:17:47 AM |

    Does this apply to things like apple cider vinegar as well? I understand that adding vinegar to food decreases the overall GI of the meal, so sometimes I take some apple cider vinegar with meals. Is this actually over-acidifying my diet?

  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    3/24/2011 5:28:42 AM |

    Sulphur in proteins comes from the amino acids cysteine and methonine. These sulphur aminos, along with the ammonium ions foster faster kidney filtration.
    When urination carries away positive ion rich calcium the pH can drop toward acidic.

    Sulphur (S) in the body does other things that are important. When the cells are doing "housekeeping" by internal recycling, auto-phagy (not apotosis or programmed cell death) S binds  copper, iron, mangenese & "Fenton" active metals so they can't cause problem reactions (ex: hydroxyl radicals)during auto-phagy. Oat's sustaining power from S can be applicable in this context; the battery keeps going and going....

    The amino acid cysteine's nitrogen atoms become relevant to the type of metabolic process called nitro-sylation. Sulphur(S) is the way the body moves these molecules around as a complex molecule. Cysteine protein has to shed 1 electron per each sulphur atom it has to undergo nitro-sylation.

    One way that incipient tumors are stopped is by blocking S-nitro-sylation in the cell. Some people suspect meat nitrogen acidifies the body and thus is a risk factor for cancer; it's more likely due to an amino acid trans-nitrosation propensity than the pH. If the body can get that cysteine back it's 1 electron per sulphur atom then nitro-sylation is reversable (ex: spontaneous remission reported from following some "special" regimen).

    Insulin molecules have di-sulfide(S to S) linkages; some of which join insulin's A-chain to it's B-chain. The body clears insulin by breaking it down; first step  is by exposing the di-sulfide bonds for reaction. Insulin Degrading Enzyme (IDE) does this preparatory degradation, but IDE still leaves the insulin break down in a reversible phase.

    Insulin's function of decreasing protein degradation inside the cell is one reason for the body to hedge on it's (insulin's) clearing (ie: hold at reversible phase). A cell might be moving toward auto-phagy (ex: protein recycling) and have to hold off the process due to a life-threatening development. (Protein di-sulfide isomerase enzyme is what can finish the process and put insulin's trichloracetic acids into  irreversably soluble particles.)  

    Human genetic variants of splicing IDE are involved in hypo-glycemia  and hyper-glycemia. Those individuals can't regulate insulin and have their post-prandial blood sugar respond "normally". Doc mentions (above) variable response to oats he's dealt with.

    Type II diabetics have chronic inflammation and this leads to the molecule S-nitroso-glutathione formation. Elevated circulating free fatty acids are another activator of s-nitoso-glutathione; and as such can also inhibit insulin clearance.

    The cysteine protein loses 2electrons for every sulphur atom it has in order to glutation-ylate. In order to reverse S-nitroso-glutathione those 2 electons have to be restored to the cysteine wing of the molecule. Then the glutathione is free from the sulphurous nitrogen amino acid.

    With higher levels of free glutathione the body increases the solubility of insulin. Which is why Type II diabetics who eat lots of  vegetables (as opposed to tubers and grains)see some benefit; the veggies provide electrons to donate to and reverse the excessive glutathonylation. It's not about veggies "fixing" pH - that's done in cells via CO2 and carbonates, etc .

  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    3/24/2011 5:47:03 AM |

    typo errors alert for:
    methionine, glutathione, glutathion-ylate, glutathion-ylation, S-nitroso-glutathione

  • CarbSane

    3/24/2011 10:10:03 AM |

    Aww c'mon Doc!  

    2 large eggs contain 140 cals and 12g protein = approx 9.6 mEq SAA

    A 140 cal serving of plain oatmeal contains just under 5.5g protein = approx  4.5 mEq SSA.

  • revelo

    3/24/2011 4:21:37 PM |

    Johnson: "Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people."

    Boswell: "And that is why England is renowed for her horses and Scotland is renowned for her men."

  • Dr. William Davis

    3/24/2011 6:52:34 PM |

    It sounds to me like acid-base issues require an entire separate series of discussions all of their own.

    An issue for the future.

  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    3/24/2011 11:49:43 PM |

    (Sulfphur = S) S-nitroso-glutathione inhibits insulin degradation and impedes the insulin degrading enzyme (IDE) doing it's job. However, there is a "weak" acid that can partially annul that effect of S-nitroso-glutathione; that acid is ascorbate (commonly called vitamin C).

    Type II diabetics have notably low levels of ascorbate in their blood. There was a lot of 1990s
    European research indicating vitamin C gave diabetics better blood sugar control; and some researchers got no beneficial results.

    For each 1 mol of Ascorbate it was calculated there was +/- 0.5 mol glutathione increase. The more glutathione free from S-nitroso-glutathione molecule there is more of insulin's tri-chlor-acetic acid (from the insulin A-chain) made soluble.

    2007 data after 16 weeks for  43 adults(24 men & 19 women), aged +/- 52 year old, with Type II diabetics of +/- 7.5 years diagnosed as having diabetes who supplemented 1000 mg/day vitamin C (average for both sex):
    insulin before = 16.91 +/- 3.1 uU/ml
    insulin after  =  8.77 +/- 1.3 uU/ml
    HbA1c % before =  8.82 +/- 1.3
    HbA1c % after  =  7.66 +/- 1.3
    fasting blood sugar (mg/dl),
            before = 169.33 +/-34.03
    fasting blood sugar (mg/dl),
            after  = 144.80 +/-33.44

    A seperate comparable group of 41subjects, who supplemented with 500 mg/day vitamin C for 16 weeks, showed no benefit in the same parameters. So insulin, Hb1Ac and fasting blood sugar had no statistically significant improvement with the lower dose.

    There is however evidence, from other investigations, that some diabetic individuals who take supplements of vitamin C have their blood sugar actually go up even higher. I suspect this is related to individual genetics; and another indication diabetes is not a uniform disease awaiting one single cure.

  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    3/25/2011 4:43:20 AM |

    Acidity inside the cell is sometimes necessary. At the onset of auto-phagy  sulphur (S) keeps metals from reacting  dangerously. It temporarily "stashes" them in one of the vacuole compartments inside the cell.

    Acidic pH is instigated by the protein Vascular Regulatory Subunit 1 H (V1H; a.k.a. Nef binding protein 1) and is powered by ATP energy. This takes the form of an enzyme called V1H-ATPase; it's action is to lower (acidify) the pH inside the auto-phagy cell.

    This function of V1H makes it possible for things to shift around inside that cell and mediate the steps whereby components get "stashed" (endo-cytosis). This extends to the damaged proteins  slated for recycling; they get processed in a "safe" compartment inside the cell.

    Once the inner endo-some &/or lyso-some compartment pH acidifies to a set ( pre-programmed) low the protease enzymes (protein cleavers) upregulate for action. The di-sulfide (S-S) bonds of damaged proteins cleave and those proteins open up their uniquely convoluted configuration (unfold).

    Unfolded proteins are then "digested" and their components recylced, into new and unblemished proteins. It's an economical saving of energy not to have to assemble a new cell and improve the efficiency of an existing cell whose proteins were "wearing" out.

    When auto-phagy is done, and new protein(s) made, that protein(s) is sent out into the same cell and the cell pH rises back to normal. Being integral to survival, this (auto-phagy) is not dependant on pH from foods in the diet of a relatively healthy person.

  • body lift

    3/25/2011 10:04:35 AM |

    Your information may be very useful for me. Oats consumption is perhaps one of the best natural remedies for eczema. Oats are rich in fiber, fats, saponins, proteins and polysaccharides.

  • Anonymous

    3/25/2011 7:49:17 PM |

    Dr. Bernstein recommends limiting vit c supplements to 250mg/day.

  • paul

    3/26/2011 1:15:14 AM |

    You sir .... are a fear monger, and after this article, I am UNSUBSCRIBING to your blog!

    I don't know what happened to you, but you seem to be over time developing paranoia, and now instilling it in your faithful readers ...

    Maybe you should consult with a chemist before publishing such a reckless article trying to demonize perhaps one of the most balanced foods for people with blood sugar or cholesterol problems.

    THIS DOCTOR IS A QUACK PEOPLE!!! Talk to a chemist about what kind of damage oats are doing to your body - not this tinfoil-hat-wearing fraud!!!

    Our bodies need to be not to alkaline, and not too acidic ... sulfates and sulfuric acid help to counter the effects of alkalinity, and are necessary in moderate amounts in our diets!!!  


  • meta

    3/28/2011 6:39:21 PM |

    Your post showed up on my google reader recommended reads. this article sounds so hokey and weird.
    I don't know what you learned in physiology class in med school.. or did you pay someone to do your assignments for you back then?
    So weird I won't even attempt to refute, there is no head or tail to the amount of wrong in your article. To compare acid in oats with acid in car battery?
    Are you intellectually handicapped as you are so unable to make a decent analogous example?

  • karl

    3/29/2011 3:31:37 AM |

    A bit over the top - Oatmeal is loaded with carbs, but many foods contain similar substances that are toxic - our digestive system has evolved to deal with the chemical arms race brought to us by the plant kingdom.

    I'm all for reducing carbohydrates but this borders on disinformation..

    Almonds contain a bit of cyanide.. etc..

  • microdermabrasion

    6/24/2011 2:59:21 PM |

    Interference and you may suffer fatal injuries in the mouth and esophagus. Strong tendency of sulfuric acid to react with other compounds is one of the reasons used in industrial processes such as oil refineries.

  • Dion

    9/1/2011 7:50:43 PM |

    I have been eating oatmeal/porridge for breakfast with honey and Brazil nuts for three months. My total cholesterol has droppped from 251 to 199, my triglycerides from 305 to 72. My HDL is 58 and my LDL is 127.  I don't know if these are good figures but my doctor was surprised by the drop. The only change in my diet was the oatmeal. I'm Irish and porridge was a traditional breakfast food when people were thinner.

  • Dr. William Davis

    9/2/2011 2:17:23 AM |

    Hi, Dion--While these are great changes, it does not mean that you have fully eliminated, or at least substantially decreased, small LDL. To know, it requires specific measurement.

  • Dion

    10/3/2011 11:02:01 PM |

    I'm following a wheat-free diet since reading your book but am still a bit unsure about stopping the oatmeal porridge. If I have a bowl at 8am, I don't feel hungry until 2pm. Surely this is not representative of a high carb food effect, at least for me?

  • Dr. William Davis

    10/4/2011 2:38:20 AM |

    Sure doesn't sound like it. You might be among the metabolically "gifted."

  • Ginger_gal

    10/19/2011 3:44:07 PM |

    The best way to alkalize is by eating vegetables and some fruits.  If not eating them, then make smoothies with greens in them....spinach, lettuce, etc.

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