Acid–base homeostasis is the part of human homeostasis concerning the proper balance between acids and bases, also called body pH. The body is very sensitive to its pH level, so strong mechanisms exist to maintain it. Outside the acceptable range of pH, proteins are denatured and digested, enzymes lose their ability to function, and death may occur.
Acid–base imbalances that overcome the buffer system can be compensated in the short term by changing the rate of ventilation. This alters the concentration of carbon dioxide in the blood, shifting the above reaction according to Le Chatelier's principle, which in turn alters the pH. For instance, if the blood pH drops too low (acidemia), the body will compensate by increasing breathing thereby expelling CO
2, and shifting the above reaction to the left such that fewer hydrogen ions are free; thus the pH will rise back to normal. For alkalemia, the opposite occurs.
The kidneys are slower to compensate, but renal physiology has several powerful mechanisms to control pH by the excretion of excess acid or base. In response to acidosis, tubular cells reabsorb more bicarbonate from the tubular fluid, collecting duct cells secrete more hydrogen and generate more bicarbonate, and ammoniagenesis leads to increased formation of the NH
3 buffer. In responses to alkalosis, the kidney may excrete more bicarbonate by decreasing hydrogen ion secretion from the tubular epithelial cells, and lowering rates of glutamine metabolism and ammonium excretion.