Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a chemical compound that helps treat high levels of acid (acidosis) in the body. It is used to treat heartburn and acid indigestion and may also have health and performance enhancing properties.
Baking soda is a household product commonly found in pantries for baking and in refrigerators to absorb food odors. Beyond these uses, baking soda may earn its place in medicine cabinets.
When taken as a supplement, sodium bicarbonate can increase serum levels of bicarbonate (normally produced by the kidneys) and consequently safeguard the body against acid production. It is believed to be beneficial when treating chronic mild acidosis (commonly seen in metabolic ailments or as kidney function slowly declines due to aging), and in exercise-induced acidosis.
Sodium bicarbonate may improve exercise performance. Muscle acidosis has long been linked to muscle fatigue during intense exercise. During high-intensity exercise, muscle cells produce metabolic byproducts such as lactic acid. While most acid is naturally buffered, sometimes some remains, creating an acidic environment. Increased acidity lowers pH levels, which causes muscles to “burn” and feel fatigued.
In a recent study, researchers found that intake of sodium bicarbonate in trained young men prior to high-intensity intermittent exercise, helped buffer the acids by binding to them. In turn, acid pH levels were maintained at neutral levels, allowing the muscles to operate more efficiently (1).
In another study, researchers evaluating the effects of sodium bicarbonate on high-intensity endurance performance in cyclists found that cycling time to exhaustion was improved in those who ingested it prior to cycling.
Ingestion resulted in an increased bicarbonate concentration and pH before, throughout and after exercise testing modes (2).
Some studies, however, fail to find any significant benefit of supplementation. In one study, the ingestion of sodium bicarbonate before a 2000m rowing sprint test did not enhance the performance of the rowers.
More research is needed to understand sodium bicarbonate’s role in exercise performance.
Sodium bicarbonate helps reduce teeth staining. Teeth stains are among the most common cosmetic dental complaints addressed by dentists. Stains and discoloration can be caused by certain foods and beverages (coffee, red wine, colas, cherries and blueberries), tobacco use and even certain medications.
In a four-week study, participants who chewed gum containing baking soda (twice a day after meals) saw a significant improvement in stains compared to baseline (3).
In another study, 85 participants with measurable teeth stains saw a 51 percent improvement after four weeks of chewing gum with baking soda. These results were achieved by chewing the gum once daily following a meal (4).
Sodium bicarbonate may help treat certain cancers. Limited, preliminary evidence shows that sodium bicarbonate may help chemotherapy drugs work more effectively.
Acid pH has been shown to stimulate tumor cell invasion and once cancer cells begin to grow, they produce an acidic environment that encourages malignant growth. Some cancer cells are difficult to target because the area around them is acidic, while inside they are alkaline.
The goal of many researchers is to decrease the acidity of that environment so that the cancer cells are not able to thrive.
A 2009 study published in Cancer Research found that injecting bicarbonate into mice slowed the progression of metastatic breast cancer.
Sodium bicarbonate may help treat chronic kidney disease. Chronic metabolic acidosis is a common complication of advanced chronic kidney disease.
In one study, oral sodium bicarbonate supplementation in patients with advanced stages of chronic kidney disease was able to slow the rate of decline of renal function and the development of end-stage renal disease (5).
In a study of patients with pre-dialysis advanced chronic kidney disease, bicarbonate supplementation slowed the rate of decline of renal function in stage 4 chronic kidney disease (there are five stages of kidney damage, from very mild stage one to complete kidney failure in stage five).
In addition, supplementation improved the nutritional status of patients 6,7. This is an important finding as patients with chronic kidney disease are at substantial risk for malnutrition, characterized by protein energy wasting and micronutrient deficiency (8).
Sodium bicarbonate may help treat destructive inflammation. Medical College of Georgia scientists report in the Journal of Immunology that sodium bicarbonate can encourage the spleen to promote an anti-inflammatory environment that could be therapeutic in treating inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (9).
Sodium bicarbonate helps treat canker sores. Canker sores are small, shallow lesions that develop on the soft tissues in the mouth. They are painful and can make eating and talking difficult.
Rinsing with one teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in half cup of warm water can help relieve painful symptoms (10).
Sodium bicarbonate may cause stomach problems such as nausea, bloating, gas and diarrhea, especially when taken at higher doses.
Dietary sodium bicarbonate can increase dietary sodium intake (there is 616 mg of sodium in each half teaspoon). It is inadvisable for people on a sodium-restricted diet or those with blood pressure issues that are deemed to be salt sensitive.
As with any supplement, it is best to always seek the advice of a medical professional before starting use.
Sodium bicarbonate is taken one to four times a day, depending on the reason for use.
If being used as an antacid, it should be taken one to two hours after meals, with a full glass of water. Do not take sodium bicarbonate on an overly full stomach.
Dissolve sodium bicarbonate powder in at least four ounces (120 milliliters) of water. Measure powdered doses carefully using a measuring spoon.
Do not use sodium bicarbonate for longer than two weeks unless instructed by a physician.
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a chemical compound that helps neutralize high levels of acid (acidosis) in the body. It is commonly used for the treatment of heartburn and stomach discomfort and may also have several other health benefits.
Some studies show that when taken before high-intensity exercise it helps muscles operate more effectively and improves performance. Supplementation also may slow the rate of decline of renal function in patients with chronic kidney disease.
Sodium bicarbonate has the potential to help chemotherapy drugs work more effectively and can be therapeutic in treating inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.