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baking soda

What Is It?
Health Benefits
Forms

Dosage Information

Guidelines for Use

General Interaction

Possible Side Effects
Cautions

References
Evidence Based Rating Scale

 

What Is It?

Baking soda, a naturally occurring chemical formally known as sodium bicarbonate or soda ash, can do much more than rise bread. Enterprising homemakers have long relied on the versatile white powder for everything from cleaning and deodorizing to soothing minor aches and pains. In fact, the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) recognized the medicinal and self-care uses for baking soda more than 150 years ago.

Today many home chefs do not realize that baking soda is actually a component of the valuable leavening agent known as baking powder. When mixed into dough or batter, the components of baking powder--baking soda, starch, cream of tartar--when heated work together in a chemical reaction that creates gas bubbles that cause the mixture to rise.

Health Benefits

Baking soda possesses several properties that work in different ways to offer health benefits:

As a neutralizer. Many uses of baking soda stem from the fact that it's a chemical buffer--a pH-balancer. As a mild base (or alkali) itself, baking soda can neutralize most acid solutions; it can also work in the opposite direction to convert extremely basic solutions to ones that are less so.

As a cleanser. When dissolved in water, baking soda, a mild alkali, acts like soap and can help remove grease and dirt. Its mildly abrasive qualities make baking soda an effective scouring agent as well.

As a deodorizer. Baking soda can deodorize just about anything, from underarm and foot odors to kitchen sinks. In these situations, it works as a pH-balancer, bringing acidic (think sour milk) and basic (think old fish) odors to a neutral, more odorless, state.The same deodorizing actions are at work when a box of baking soda is placed in a refrigerator to absorb odors and keep it smelling fresh.

As an anti-itch agent. Baking soda is a natural antipruritic, or anti-itch, treatment. Combining baking soda and water to make a paste has a long history of use for easing the itching and burning sensation of minor skin wounds, such as bee stings.

Specifically, baking soda may help to:

Ease heartburn and indigestion. For years, baking soda was recommended because of its antacid effects, mainly to neutralize stomach acids that can cause heartburn, acid indigestion, and related discomforts. As it mixes with the hydrochloric acid in the stomach, baking soda triggers a chemical reaction the products of which are salt (NaCl, or sodium chloride), carbon dioxide (CO2), and water. The water is harmless, and the carbon dioxide is released as a gas, producing a familiar burp once the acid is neutralized. The considerable amount of salt produced, however, is problematic, particularly for people with high blood pressure or heart failure.

Several studies have shown that antacids containing baking soda-- specifically, Liquid Gaviscon and Gastrocote--relieve symptoms of heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). (1-4) In a 1980 study in 44 patients with reflux, treatment with Liquid Gaviscon (a mixture of sodium bicarbonate, calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate with gelling agents such as alginic acid and aluminum hydroxide) relieved symptoms within 15 minutes in 68% of patients, and the beneficial effects lasted for more than four hours in 75% of them. (1) A 1988 study on heartburn treatment comparing the use of Gastrocote (a mixture of sodium bicarbonate, alginic acid, aluminum hydroxide gel, and magnesium trisilicate) and cimetidine (Tagamet), a medication that reduces the production of stomach acid, found that taking Gastrocote boosted the neutralizing effects of cimetidine. The combined therapy was more effective in treating heartburn than either treatment alone. (2) A 1999 study found that when adding sodium bicarbonate and monosodium citrate (another neutralizing salt) to ranitidine (Zantac), the resulting effervescent tablet provides quicker relief of symptoms than a standard tablet. More than 80% of patients reported symptom relief within 60 minutes of taking this rapid-release ranitidine. (5) A 2000 review of studies affirmed that sodium bicarbonate, when added to products such as Liquid Gaviscon, helps to neutralize acid without interfering with the activity of conventional medications and provides rapid and long-lasting relief of heartburn and acid reflux symptoms. (6) A 2010 multi-center study involving 148 patients with GERD found that 14-day treatment with Gaviscon forte (suspension) provided relief of symptoms in 84.5% of patients and led to improvement in their general state and quality of life. (7)

Combat bad breath and other odors. The cleansing properties of baking soda make it effective for polishing teeth (without scratching the tooth surface) and for fighting bad breath. Numerous commercial toothpastes, gums, and lozenges for bad breath feature baking soda. A 1997 review of controlled, double-blind crossover studies found that using a toothpaste with a high concentration of baking soda (20% or greater) reduces halitosis, or bad breath. (8) A 1998 review of three studies found that toothpastes containing at least 20% baking soda significantly reduced odor-causing compounds (volatile sulfur compounds, or VSCs) in the breath and led to a significant odor-reducing benefit for up to three hours. (9)

Reduce tobacco dependence. Baking soda is believed to reduce nicotine cravings by increasing the elimination of nicotine in urine with higher pH levels. In a small study of seven smokers, taking 50 to 75 mg/kg of sodium bicarbonate orally decreased the number and frequency of cigarette puffs by 10% to 15%. However, taking baking soda resulted in little or no change in the number of cigarettes smoked. (10) In a study of 72 smokers, a group given 3,900 mg of sodium bicarbonate daily surpassed a placebo group (treated with 1,500 mg of ascorbic acid daily) in week-to-week smoking reduction and in total daily cigarette reduction after five weeks. Nevertheless, the groups did not differ in the number who achieved total abstinence. (11) However, these preliminary studies are more than two decades old. More research is needed.

Soothe sunburn, insect stings, and skin irritations. When baking soda is added to bath water, sunburn sufferers often experience a notable reduction in pain. Such a bath will soothe the pain without the stinging sensation of a shower. Baking soda can be used in cool (but not cold) bath water to soothe skin irritations and decrease itching associated with prickly heat, bee stings, and other minor skin irritations. A paste placed on an insect bite or sting and allowed to dry is a time-tested approach that is believed to draw out and neutralize poisons. Scientific research in these areas, however, is lacking. Research is needed to confirm or refute these traditional uses of baking soda.

People with skin allergies who tend to react to commercial laundry detergents might find washing clothing and bedding in baking soda is less irritating.

Forms

  • powder

  • tablet

Dosage Information

For bad breath: Sprinkle a little baking soda on a toothbrush and brush teeth and tongue.

For heartburn: Drink a cocktail of 1 to 2.5 tsp. of baking soda dissolved in 8 oz. of cold water after meals, up to 5 tsp. daily.

For insect bites and bee stings: Create a paste by combining baking soda with enough water to get the desired consistency. Spread a thick layer on an insect bite or sting and allow to dry.

For sunburn: Place 1 cup (8 oz.) of baking soda under the running bath faucet so it dissolves completely. Soak in a lukewarm tub for about 30 minutes.

For tobacco dependence: Drink a cocktail of 1 tsp. of baking soda dissolved in 8 oz. of water twice daily.

Guidelines for Use

Take baking soda one to three hours after meals or at bedtime for best results, unless otherwise directed.

General Interaction

Certain medications need the acids in the stomach in order to be absorbed effectively. It is probably best not to take baking soda internally along with any prescription medication.

Possible Side Effects

Baking soda is generally safe and well-tolerated. However, long-term use (more than two weeks) can increase the risk of side effects, such as increased thirst and stomach cramps.

Cautions

One of the great appeals of baking soda is its safety; it's completely nontoxic and is fine to use in cooking and around children and animals.

While gentle, baking soda is a salty compound, so avoid applying it directly to raw or tender skin (as a deodorant after shaving armpits, for example) because this will cause a temporary stinging or burning sensation. For the same reason, avoid baking soda baths in the presence of any open blisters or cracking of skin. 

People on a salt- (sodium) restricted diet should not use baking soda as an antacid. The considerable amount of salt produced when baking soda mixes with acid in the stomach can be problematic for people with high blood pressure or heart failure.  

References

1. Chevrel B. A comparative crossover study on the treatment of heartburn and epigastric pain: Liquid Gaviscon and a magnesium-aluminium antacid gel. J Int Med Res. 1980;8(4):300-2.
2. Eriksen CA, Cheadle WG, Cranford CA, Cuschieri A. Combined cimetidine-alginate antacid therapy versus single agent treatment for reflux oesophagitis: results of prospective double-blind randomized clinical trial. Ann Chir Gynaecol. 1988;77(4):133-7.
3. Uzan M, Uzan S, Sureau C, Richard-Berthe C. Heartburn and regurgitation in pregnancy. Efficacy and innocuousness of treatment with Gaviscon suspension. Rev Gynecol Obstet. 1988 Jul-Sep;83(7-9):569-72.
4. Smart HL, Atkinson M. Comparison of a dimethicone/antacid (Asilone gel) with an alginate/antacid (Gaviscon liquid) in the management of reflux oesophagitis. J R Soc Med. 1990 Sep;83(9):554-6.
5. Pipkin GA, Mills JG. Onset of action of antisecretory drugs: beneficial effects of a rapid increase in intragastric pH in acid reflux disease. Scand J Gastroenterol Suppl. 1999;230:3-8.
6. Mandel KG, Daggy BP, Brodie DA, Jacoby HI. Review article: alginate-raft formulations in the treatment of heartburn and acid reflux. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2000 Jun;14(6):669-90.
7. Lazebnik LB, Bordin DS, Masharova AA, et al. Restoration of the quality of life by eliminating and prevention of heartburn by alginate: results of multi-center study "VIA APIA". Eksp Klin Gastroenterol. 2010;(6):70-6.
8. Brunette DM. Effects of baking-soda-containing dentifrices on oral malodor. Compend Contin Educ Dent Suppl. 1997;18(21):S22-32; quiz S46.
9. Brunette DM, Proskin HM, Nelson BJ. The effects of dentifrice systems on oral malodor. J Clin Dent. 1998;9(3):76-82.
10. Cherek DR, Mauroner RF, Brauchi JT. Effects of increasing urinary pH on cigarette smoking. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 1982 Aug;32(2):253-60.
11. Fix AJ, Daughton D, Kass I, et al. Urinary alkalinization and smoking cessation. J Clin Psychol. 1983 Jul;39(4):617-23.

Evidence Based Rating Scale

The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies and what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice into a visual and easy to interpret format. This tool is meant to simplify the information on supplements and therapies that demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions.

 

Condition

Rating

Explanation

 

Bad breath

   

Several studies indicate efficacy of products containing more than 20% concentration of baking soda. (8, 9)

Heartburn  
Several studies indicate efficacy in relieving symptoms of heartburn. Safe and well-tolerated. (1-7)
Insect bites and bee stings  
History of use with good patient results indicates efficacy, but research is lacking.
 

Sunburn  


History of use with good patient results indicates efficacy, but research is lacking.

 

Tobacco dependence  
Preliminary evidence indicates potential efficacy to reduce nicotine cravings, but studies are outdated. More research is needed to confirm or refute efficacy. (10, 11)


Date Published: 04/18/2005
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