Tag Archives: PRAL

PRAL, Mortality Risk, and Lifespan

Within the body, meat, grains, and nuts are generally acid-forming, whereas vegetables and fruits are alkaline-forming. Is the distinction between whether your diet is acid- or alkaline-forming important for optimal health and lifespan? In an earlier post, I discussed the importance of PRAL (potential renal acid load) by correlating it with serum bicarbonate and mortality risk (https://michaellustgarten.wordpress.com/2016/02/07/using-diet-to-optimize-circulating-biomarkers-serum-bicarbonate/).

More recent data (a 15-year study of 81, 697 older adults; average age ~61y; Xu et al. 2016) has examined the association between PRAL with risk of death from all causes. In women, acidic PRAL values ( > 0) were associated with a significantly increased risk of death from all causes, as were alkaline PRAL values (< -5.6). In addition, very acidic (~40) and very alkaline (-30) PRAL values were associated with the highest risk for all-cause mortality:


Similarly, in men, when compared with a PRAL = 0, both alkaline (PRAl < -5.6) and acidic (> 29.8) values were associated with increased all-cause mortality risk.


While this data suggests that eating too much meat, grains, and/or nuts may not be optimal for health, it also suggests that eating too much alkaline-forming food, including veggies and fruits, may also not be optimal! My high veggie-based diet yields a very negative PRAL, ~-120 (~ -0.05 PRAL units/calorie), which would seem to put me at increased all-cause mortality risk. To further investigate, I decided to look at the PRAL values of long-lived societies.

The PRAL formula, as reported by Remer and Manz (1994) is:

PRAL = (0.49 * protein intake in g/day) + (0.037 * phosphorus intake in mg/day) – (0.02 * potassium intake in mg/day) – (0.013 * calcium intake in mg/day) – (0.027 * magnesium intake in mg/day).

Life expectancy for Seventh-Day Adventist women is 85 years, a value that is the highest in the world (Fraser and Shavlik 2001). What’s the average daily PRAL value for that population?

  • Average daily dietary data in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian Seventh-Day Adventist women (average age, ~72y) has been reported (Nieman et al. 1989). For vegetarians, total calories = 1452; protein = 47g; phosphosphorus = 889 mg; potassium = 2628 mg; calcium = 628 mg; magnesium = 283 mg. These values yield an alkaline PRAL = -33.2. Because higher amounts of these nutrients can result from an increased calorie intake, it’s important to divide PRAL by the average daily calorie value, thereby yielding  PRAL/calorie. For vegetarian Adventists, this value = -0.02.
  • In non-vegetarian Adventists, total calories = 1363; protein = 55g; phosphosphorus = 892 mg; potassium = 2342 mg; calcium = 633 mg; magnesium = 228 mg. These values also yield an alkaline PRAL = -25.5, and PRAL/calorie = -0.019.

Life expectancy for those who live on the island of Okinawa is among the longest in the world (Miyagi et al. 2003). What’s the average daily PRAL value for Okinawan older adults?

  • The average daily dietary data for 75-year old Okinawans  has been reported (Willcok et al. 2007): total calories, 1785; protein, 39g; phosphosphorus, 864 mg; potassium, 5200 mg; calcium, 505 mg; magnesium, 396 mg. These values also yield an  yield a very alkaline PRAL value = -87.4, and PRAL/calorie =  -0.049. Interestingly, these values are very close to my very alkaline PRAL values of -121, and PRAL/calorie = ~-0.05!

My goal is not just to get to 75 in great health, but to live past 100 (and far beyond). What’s the data in centenarians? Unfortunately, I could only find 2 studies that included dietary data for that age group.

  • In a study of 30 Chinese centenarians (average age, 103y), daily dietary values of 1220 calories, 39g protein, 603 mg phosphorus, 1433 mg potassium, 482 mg calcium, and 355 mg magnesium were reported (Cai et al. 2016), thereby yielding an average daily PRAL value = -20.3, and PRAL/calorie = -0.017.
  • Similarly, in a larger study of 104 Japanese centenarians (average age, 100y), daily dietary values of 1137 calories, 44g protein, 676 mg phosphorus, 1695 mg potassium, 414 mg calcium, and 154 mg magnesium were reported (Shimizu et al. 2003), thereby yielding an average daily PRAL value = -16.3, and PRAL/calorie = -0.014.

In contrast to the data of Xu et al. (2016), these data suggest that an alkaline diet may indeed be optimal for lifespan.

So what’s your dietary PRAL value?


Cai D, Zhao S, Li D, Chang F, Tian X, Huang G, Zhu Z, Liu D, Dou X, Li S, Zhao M, Li Q.  Nutrient Intake Is Associated with Longevity Characterization by Metabolites and Element Profiles of Healthy Centenarians. Nutrients. 2016 Sep 19;8(9).

Fraser GE, Shavlik DJ. Ten years of life: Is it a matter of choice? Arch Intern Med. 2001 Jul 9;161(13):1645-52.

Miyagi S, Iwama N, Kawabata T, Hasegawa K. Longevity and diet in Okinawa, Japan: the past, present and future. Asia Pac J Public Health. 2003;15 Suppl:S3-9.

Nieman DC, Underwood BC, Sherman KM, Arabatzis K, Barbosa JC, Johnson M, Shultz TD. Dietary status of Seventh-Day Adventist vegetarian and non-vegetarian elderly women. J Am Diet Assoc. 1989 Dec;89(12):1763-9.

Remer T, Manz F. Estimation of the renal net acid excretion by adults consuming diets containing variable amounts of protein. Am J Clin Nutr. 1994;59:1356-1361.

Shimizu K, Takeda S, Noji H, Hirose N, Ebihara Y, Arai Y, Hamamatsu M, Nakazawa S, Gondo Y, Konishi K. Dietary patterns and further survival in Japanese centenarians. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2003 Apr;49(2):133-8.

Willcox BJ, Willcox DC, Todoriki H, Fujiyoshi A, Yano K, He Q, Curb JD, Suzuki M. Caloric restriction, the traditional Okinawan diet, and healthy aging: the diet of the world’s longest-lived people and its potential impact on morbidity and life span. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2007 Oct;1114:434-55.

Xu H, Åkesson A, Orsini N, Håkansson N, Wolk A, Carrero JJ. Modest U-Shaped Association between Dietary Acid Load and Risk of All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality in Adults. J Nutr. 2016 Aug;146(8):1580-5.

Using Diet to Optimize Circulating Biomarkers: Serum Bicarbonate

In an earlier post, I wrote about the association between biomarkers of systemic acid-base balance (serum bicarbonate, the anion gap, urinary pH) with all-cause mortality risk (https://michaellustgarten.wordpress.com/2015/08/28/serum-bicarbonate-and-anion-gap-whats-optimal/). Based on these data, systemic acidity may not be optimal for health and longevity, when compared with more alkaline values. Can circulating acid-base biomarkers be optimized through diet?

One way to optimize serum bicarbonate is with a low dietary PRAL (potential renal acid load). For a given food, PRAL is a measure of how much acid or base that the kidney will see. In subjects with normal kidney function (or with chronic kidney disease, CKD), a low dietary PRAL (alkaline-forming) is associated with high serum bicarbonate, whereas a high dietary PRAL (acid-forming) is associated with reduced serum bicarbonate (Ikizler et al. 2015):

bicarb pral

So how can we achieve a low dietary acid intake (low PRAL), with the goal of increasing serum bicarbonate? The answer is to abundantly consume foods with a low PRAL (vegetables), while minimizing foods with a high PRAL (animal products, grains). Let’s have a look at the PRAL values for several food groups (Remer and Manz, 1995):

All of the meat and meat products shown below have acid-forming, positive PRAL values:

PRAL meat

Similarly, fish have acid-forming, positive PRAL values:

fish pral

While PRAL values for milk, dairy, and eggs are generally acid-forming, there is a wider range, compared with meat and fish. For example, parmesan and cheddar cheese have high PRAL values (34.2, 26.5, respectively), whereas milk and yogurt have PRAL values ~1:

dairy pral

Grains are similar to animal products in terms of their PRAL values:

grain pral

In contrast, all of the vegetables on the list below have very low, alkaline-forming PRAL values. The All-Star for a low PRAL is spinach (-14):
veg pral

Similarly, most fruits have alkaline forming, low PRAL values. Although raisins seem to be the PRAL All-Star, their data (and all of the other foods on the list) are based on 100g (299 calories for raisins). For an equivalent amount of calories for strawberries, their PRAL equates to -20.6, which is similar to the raisin PRAL. Also included on the list are nuts, which contain a range of PRAL values from negative (hazelnuts) to positive (walnuts, peanuts):

fruit pral

What’s my dietary PRAL? To determine that, it’s first important to define the PRAL equation: PRAL = (0.49 * protein intake in g/day) + (0.037 * phosphorus intake in mg/day) – (0.02 * potassium intake in mg/day) – (0.013 * calcium intake in mg/day) – (0.027 * magnesium intake in mg/day; Remer and Manz, 1994). Using my latest 7-day average dietary data yields a very low, alkaline-forming PRAL, -121.9: (protein, 88g; phosphorus, 2038 mg; potassium, 9868 mg; calcium, 1421 mg; magnesium, 901 mg)! It’s important to note that the major contributor to my very low PRAL value comes from the potassium term. Because of my abundant vegetable intake, my potassium intake is very high, resulting in a highly alkaline PRAL. Considering that PRAL values of -40 were associated with serum bicarbonate values of ~28, my serum bicarbonate value of 31 on my last blood test (8/2015) may in part be explained by my very low dietary PRAL value, -121.9.

Another measure of dietary acid load is NEAP (net endogenous acid production). In subjects with normal (and reduced, CKD) kidney function, a high NEAP diet (acid-forming) is associated with reduced serum bicarbonate, whereas a low NEAP diet (alkaline-forming) is associated with higher serum bicarbonate values (Ikizler et al. 2015):

neap bicarb

NEAP is more easily calculated than PRAL-all you need to know are your dietary protein and potassium intakes: NEAP = (54.5 * protein intake in grams/day)/(potassium intake in mEq/day) -10.2 (Frassetto et al. 1999). To convert your daily potassium intake from mg to mEq, divide by 39.1. Using my 7-day average protein and potassium intake data yields a NEAP = (54.5 * 88)/(9868/39.1) – 10.2 = 8.8. Based on the plot above for NEAP vs. serum bicarbonate, that again puts me on the far left, which is associated with serum bicarbonate values greater than 28.

Collectively, eating more potassium-rich vegetables will reduce PRAL and NEAP, which is associated with systemic alkalinity, as measured by an elevated serum bicarbonate. Because high serum bicarbonate levels are associated with reduced all-cause mortality risk, this may be an important strategy for improving health and longevity!



Frassetto LA, Todd KM, Morris RJC, Sebastian A. Estimation of net endogenous noncarbonic acid production in humans from diet potassium and protein contents. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;68:576-583.

Ikizler HO, Zelnick L, Ruzinski J, Curtin L, Utzschneider KM, Kestenbaum B, Himmelfarb J, de Boer IH. Dietary Acid Load Is Associated With Serum Bicarbonate but not Insulin Sensitivity in Chronic Kidney Disease. J Ren Nutr. 2016 Mar;26(2):93-102.

Remer T, Manz F. Estimation of the renal net acid excretion by adults consuming diets containing variable amounts of protein. Am J Clin Nutr. 1994;59:1356-1361.

Remer, T. and Manz, F. Potential renal acid load of foods and its influence on urine pH. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 1995 ;95(7), 791-797.