Previously we demonstrated that low grade chronic metabolic acidosis exists normally in humans eating ordinary diets that yield normal net rates of endogenous acid production (EAP), and that the degree of acidosis increases with age. We hypothesize that such diet-dependent and age-amplifying low grade metabolic acidosis contributes to the decline in skeletal muscle mass that occurs normally with aging. This hypothesis is based on the reported finding that chronic metabolic acidosis induces muscle protein breakdown, and that correction of acidosis reverses the effect. Accordingly, in 14 healthy postmenopausal women residing in a General Clinical Research Center and eating a constant diet yielding a normal EAP rate, we tested whether correcting their "physiological" acidosis with orally administered potassium bicarbonate (KHCO3; 60-120 mmol/day for 18 days) reduces their urinary nitrogen loss. KHCO3 reduced EAP to nearly zero, significantly reduced the blood hydrogen ion concentration (P < 0.001), and increased the plasma bicarbonate concentration (P < 0.001), indicating that pre-KHCO3, diet-dependent EAP was significantly perturbing systemic acid-base equilibrium, causing a low grade metabolic acidosis. Urinary ammonia nitrogen, urea nitrogen, and total nitrogen levels significantly decreased. The cumulative reduction in nitrogen excretion was 14.1 +/- 12.3 g (P < 0.001). Renal creatinine clearance and urine volume remained unchanged. We conclude that in postmenopausal women, neutralization of diet-induced EAP with KHCO3 corrects their preexisting diet-dependent low grade metabolic acidosis and significantly reduces their urinary nitrogen wasting. The magnitude of the KHCO3-induced nitrogen-sparing effect is potentially sufficient to both prevent continuing age-related loss of muscle mass and restore previously accrued deficits.