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10 Uses of Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda) + Side Effects

Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:

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Sodium bicarbonate already aids you in your daily life, and you may not even know it. Some know it as baking soda through its popularity in oral hygiene products and baked foods. Keep reading to discover its potential health benefits and possible side effects.

What Is Sodium Bicarbonate?

Sodium bicarbonate is commonly referred to as baking soda, which is a popular food ingredient, medicine, and household product.

Its neutralizing ability can relieve stomach conditions, such as acid indigestion and heartburn. For this purpose, sodium bicarbonate is commonly sold as an OTC antacid medicine [1].

Some kinds of toothpaste contain sodium bicarbonate for its ability to fight tooth decay and remove odors. Sodium bicarbonate works well with fluoride to protect teeth, kill bacteria, and improve overall dental health [2].

Sodium bicarbonate is also a popular ingredient for cakes and bread. While providing texture in foods, sodium bicarbonate can also reduce acidity, and act as a raising and leavening agent [3, 4].

Sodium bicarbonate also has household uses. You can use it for pest control, odor control, and even as an emergency fire extinguisher [5, 6, 7].

Components

As the name implies, sodium bicarbonate is a salt composed of sodium and bicarbonate [8].

These two ions (electrically charged atoms) break apart from each other when dissolved to interact with nearby components, such as free hydrogen [8].

Mechanism of Action

Excess hydrogen increases the acidity in liquids and can cause digestive issues and, at high levels, a severe condition called acidosis. Sodium bicarbonate can remove excess hydrogen from its environment to reduce acidity. Each sodium bicarbonate molecule can bind to 3 hydrogen molecules [8, 9, 10].

Sodium bicarbonate can also release its sodium ions, thus providing an excellent source of this electrolyte. Sodium is necessary to control cell volume, maintain bodily fluid acid levels, and transmit nerve impulses [8, 11].

Snapshot

Proponents

  • Approved for some types of metabolic acidosis
  • Helps with mild acid reflux
  • May improve exercise performance
  • May improve oral health
  • May prevent chronic kidney disease from worsening

Skeptics

  • Insufficient evidence for some benefits
  • May cause some adverse effects at normal doses
  • High doses or continuous administration may cause metabolic disturbances
  • May interact with several drugs
  • Not safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women

Health Benefits

Effective

Metabolic Acidosis

Metabolic acidosis is a condition in which the blood becomes too acidic due to increased acid production or bicarbonate loss in the body. The main types of metabolic acidosis include [12, 13]:

  • Lactic acidosis: excessive production or decreased use of lactic acid
  • Ketoacidosis: high blood levels of ketone bodies, often due to poorly managed diabetes
  • Kidney failure: since they increase blood bicarbonate and lower acid levels
  • Poisoning with substances such as ethylene glycol, methanol, and salicylate
  • Excessive bicarbonate loss (through diarrhea, fistula, laxative abuse)
  • Excessive blood potassium (hyperkalemia)

An injectable solution with 4.2-8.4% sodium bicarbonate is approved for people with metabolic acidosis from chronic kidney disease, hyperkalemia, or excessive bicarbonate loss. It also seems to help with acidosis caused by amitriptyline overdose. However, it is ineffective and may even worsen the condition in people with lactic acidosis or ketoacidosis [14, 15, 16].

Possibly Effective

1) Acid Reflux

Acid reflux occurs when the stomach acids flow back into the esophagus and irritate its inner lining. Antacids such as sodium bicarbonate provide quick relief by neutralizing stomach acids [17].

Sodium bicarbonate is found in many OTC remedies for acid reflux. For instance, Gaviscon is an antacid containing sodium bicarbonate that provides relief from acidic stomach fluids. In a clinical trial on almost 300 people with acid reflux, this antacid eliminated heartburn for 24 hours [18].

Histamine receptor blockers (such as ranitidine, cimetidine, and famotidine) and proton pump inhibitors (such as omeprazole and lansoprazole) are also available over the counter. Although their effects on stomach acids are slower than those of antacids, they are also stronger and longer-lasting. In fact, a systematic review found that sodium bicarbonate added to omeprazole wasn’t more effective than omeprazole alone in managing acid reflux [17, 19, 20].

More severe cases may require prescription-strength versions of these drugs, medication to tighten the esophageal muscles (e.g., Baclofen), and even surgical procedures such as wrapping the upper part of the stomach around the lower part of the esophagus (fundoplication) and wrapping this region with a ring of magnetic beads (Linx device) [17, 19].

To sum up, although sodium bicarbonate and other antacids have proven effectiveness in relieving mild acid reflux, they don’t help with gastroesophageal ulcers and may be ineffective in severe cases. Discuss with your doctor if sodium bicarbonate may help in your case and never use it in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes.

2) Exercise Performance

When muscles do not have enough oxygen, they switch to an alternative energy production process that produces lactic acid as a byproduct. The increased blood acid levels due to the buildup of this molecule interfere with energy supply to the muscles, resulting in increased fatigue and delayed recovery [21, 22, 23].

In a trial of 9 male tennis players, those who consumed sodium bicarbonate were less fatigued and had lower lactic acid levels [24].

In another trial on 10 amateur boxers, those who consumed sodium bicarbonate supplements landed more punches on their opponent [25].

In another trial on 23 people doing a judo-related exercise, sodium bicarbonate improved their performance, but increased lactate acid levels in some cases [26].

Sodium bicarbonate improved high-intensity endurance performance (time to exhaustion and total work done) in 2 clinical trials on 42 cyclists. It also reduced the time to complete 2000 m in a trial on 20 male rowers. However, it had no effect on power and endurance in another trial on 10 motocross cyclists [27, 28, 29, 30].

In another trial on 13 well-trained men, sodium bicarbonate increased performance in a high-intensity intermittent training by reducing fatigue perception [31].

Several meta-analyses concluded that repeated intake of sodium bicarbonate may slightly improve exercise performance. However, one of them noted that the effects were lower in well-trained people [32, 33, 34, 35, 36].

Taken together, the evidence suggests that sodium bicarbonate may help improve athletic performance. You may discuss it with your doctor if it’s a good idea to incorporate it into your training routine.

3) Oral Health

Cavities-causing bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacilli damage the enamel by releasing acids. Sodium bicarbonate oral products may help prevent cavities by neutralizing these acids, as seen in a clinical trial on 20 people using bicarbonate-containing chewing gum. In addition, they may have antibacterial activity. Toothpaste with sodium bicarbonate reduced the salivary counts of these bacteria in a clinical trial on 10 people [37, 38, 39].

In a clinical trial on 135 people with gum disease, toothpaste with 67% sodium bicarbonate was more effective at reducing bleeding and inflammation [40].

In 8 clinical trials, oral hygiene products containing sodium bicarbonate were better at plaque removal during tooth brushing [41, 42, 41, 43].

Sodium bicarbonate also polishes and removes stains from liquids such as coffee, tea, and wine from the teeth. Its teeth-whitening effectiveness is not only due to its abrasiveness, since bicarbonate toothpaste removed stains better than those with more abrasive substances such as silica in 2 clinical trials on almost 200 people [2, 44, 45, 46, 47].

Bad breath is usually caused by sulfur-producing bacteria feasting on bits of remaining food particles. Sodium bicarbonate not only helps kill these bacteria, but also eliminates foul odor [48, 5, 2].

All in all, the evidence suggests several benefits of oral healthcare products with sodium bicarbonate. You may discuss with your doctor if they are appropriate in your case.

4) Kidney Disease

In people with chronic kidney disease, the kidneys are unable to properly filter blood. Weaker kidneys cause a buildup of toxins in the blood. People with chronic kidney disease have increased blood acidity levels, which are in turn associated with increased progression of the disease [49, 50].

In people with chronic kidney disease, oral supplementation with sodium bicarbonate may slow down the progression of the condition, as seen in 2 clinical trials on almost 200 people and a meta-analysis of 14 clinical trials [51, 52, 53].

The injection of contrast media for MRI imaging procedures is a common cause of hospital-acquired kidney injury. While some meta-analyses found that hydration with sodium bicarbonate was better than a regular salt solution to prevent this complication, others pointed out the low quality and high heterogeneity of most studies with positive results. More recently, sodium bicarbonate was found ineffective at improving the outcome in people with hospital-acquired kidney disease [54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60].

Similarly, 4 meta-analyses found that sodium bicarbonate doesn’t reduce the incidence of kidney injury from heart surgery and may even increase ICU stay. However, one of them found it may reduce its severity and the need for dialysis [61, 62, 63, 64].

While its role in preventing kidney damage from medical procedures is, at best, unclear, the evidence suggests that sodium bicarbonate may help slow down the progression of chronic kidney disease by reducing metabolic acidosis. You may take it for this purpose if your doctor determines it may help you. Because chronic kidney disease is a serious condition, never use sodium bicarbonate in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes.

Insufficient Evidence

The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of sodium bicarbonate for any of the below-listed uses. Remember to speak with a doctor before taking sodium bicarbonate. It should never be used as a replacement for approved medical therapies.

1) Insulin Sensitivity

In 2 studies on 18 healthy postmenopausal women and 7 people with hyperparathyroidism, sodium bicarbonate reduced insulin resistance, suggesting it may help prevent diabetes [65, 66].

In a clinical trial on 145 people with chronic kidney disease, the correction of their metabolic acidosis with sodium bicarbonate also increased insulin sensitivity [67].

However, sodium bicarbonate did not improve insulin sensitivity or blood sugar levels in 2 clinical trials on almost 200 non-diabetic people [68].

A few clinical trials with mixed results don’t allow us to draw conclusions on the effects of sodium bicarbonate on insulin sensitivity. Larger, more robust clinical trials are needed to shed some light on this subject.

2) Skin Health

In a clinical trial on 96 people stung by a jellyfish (Chrysaora chinensis), topical sodium bicarbonate improved skin redness after 30 minutes [69].

Taking baths in overly acidic water can damage skin, causing a scaly appearance. For instance, public water in pools and spas is often acidic due to chlorine addition for safety purposes. Although this use is only supported by anecdotal evidence, some practitioners believe that bathing in water alkalinized with sodium bicarbonate may improve scaly skin [70].

Animal and Cell Research (Lack of Evidence)

No clinical evidence supports the use of sodium bicarbonate for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

Infections

Sodium bicarbonate reduced the growth of common disease-causing fungi (such as those causing athlete’s foot, candidiasis, and nail infections) in test tubes [6].

Streptococcus is the bacteria commonly known to cause strep throat. Sodium bicarbonate killed Streptococcus bacteria when combined with sodium dodecyl sulfate in test tubes [48].

Note, however, that these are very preliminary results that haven’t been replicated in humans and even in animals. Further research is needed to determine if sodium bicarbonate may be of any use in fighting the infections caused by these microorganisms.

Cancer

Below, we will discuss some preliminary research on sodium bicarbonate’s potential anticancer activity. Note, however, that many substances have anti-cancer effects in cells, including downright toxic chemicals like bleach. This doesn’t mean that they have any medical value. On the contrary, most substances (natural or synthetic) fail to pass further clinical trials due to a lack of safety or efficacy. Never use sodium bicarbonate to replace proven anticancer therapies.

Cancer cells have an overactive metabolism that produces high amounts of acidic waste products. Many anticancer therapies have difficulty reaching tumors due to the acidic barrier. Preliminary research suggests that combining chemotherapeutic drugs with alkalinizing substances such as sodium bicarbonate may enhance their effectiveness [71, 72].

In rats and mice, oral sodium bicarbonate reduced tumor growth and spreading [73, 74].

Limitations and Caveats

Many of the studies on sodium bicarbonate infusion to prevent hospital-acquired kidney disease had small sample sizes, low quality, and mixed results. Even after several meta-analyses, the effects are unclear.

The effects of sodium bicarbonate on insulin sensitivity have only been studied in a few, small studies with mixed results. The evidence to support the use of sodium bicarbonate in skin health comes from a single clinical trial and some anecdotal evidence. Larger, more robust clinical trials are needed to confirm these preliminary results.

The potential role of sodium bicarbonate to fight infections and cancer has only been investigated in animals and cells, meaning there is no evidence that the results may be the same in humans.

Side Effects & Precautions

This list does not cover all possible side effects. Contact your doctor or pharmacist if you notice any other side effects.

Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. In the US, you may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088 or at www.fda.gov/medwatch. In Canada, you may report side effects to Health Canada at 1-866-234-2345.

Oral sodium bicarbonate is generally safe at normal doses. In rare cases, it may cause [75, 76, 77]:

  • Digestive issues (loss of appetite, bloating, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps)
  • Headache
  • Fatigue, nervousness, or mood changes
  • Increased urge to drink or urinate
  • Slow breathing
  • Leg swelling

Its rapid or prolonged intravenous administration may cause metabolic disorders such as metabolic alkalosis, high blood carbon dioxide levels (hypercapnia), low blood potassium (hypokalemia), calcium (hypocalcemia), and chloride (hypochloremia), and high blood sodium (hypernatremia) [78].

In people with chronic kidney disease, high blood bicarbonate levels for sustained periods are associated with an increased risk of heart failure [79].

Sodium bicarbonate does not seem to be effective for newborns with problems related to blood acid levels and sudden loss of heart function [80].

Due to the lack of safety data, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid sodium bicarbonate unless their doctors think that the potential benefits outweigh the risks.

People with a history of heart disease, kidney disease, or electrolyte imbalances should consult their doctors before taking sodium bicarbonate.

Drug Interactions

Supplement/Herb/Nutrient-drug interactions can be dangerous and, in rare cases, even life-threatening. Always consult your doctor before supplementing and let them know about all drugs and supplements you are using or considering.

Sodium bicarbonate is known to interact with many drugs. Contact your doctor before using sodium bicarbonate if you are on prescription drugs. Some of its known interactions include:

  • Acetazolamide (a drug that increases urine production) [81]
  • Aspirin [82]
  • Salicylate (an anti-inflammatory drug) [8]
  • Sodium channel blockers [8]
  • Enteric-coated tablets (pills that are not digested by stomach fluid) [83]

Supplementation

Forms

Sodium bicarbonate is available on the market in the forms of:

  • Baking soda
  • OTC antacid tablets, granules, powder, and liquid solutions

Dosage

The common oral dose for sodium bicarbonate used in human studies is 500 mg, 3x/day. Depending on the severity of the condition, experts recommend 325-2000 mg, 1x-4x/day. Discuss with your doctor which dose is most suitable to you based on your health status [84].

In people with metabolic acidosis, sodium bicarbonate is infused at doses of 50-150 mEq/L (moderate acidosis) or 90-180 mEq/L (severe acidosis) over 1-1.5 hours. Because infused sodium bicarbonate is only given in a clinical setting, your doctor will determine the best treatment regime.

User Experiences

The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of sodium bicarbonate users, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.

Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare providers because of something you have read on SelfHacked. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.

Most users used sodium bicarbonate for digestive issues such as heartburn and indigestion. They generally reported fast relief after 30 minutes, often followed by a painless bowel movement.

Many users complained about the unpleasant salty taste when sodium bicarbonate is mixed with water. In a few cases, the users reported not noticing any effects.

Some users applied sodium bicarbonate to improve skin Inflammation from insect bites and damage from sunburn. They generally reported good results in relieving the pain. Similarly, some people used shampoos with sodium bicarbonate to improve hair smoothness and moisture with generally good results.

About the Author

Carlos Tello

Carlos Tello

PhD (Molecular Biology)
Carlos received his PhD and MS from the Universidad de Sevilla.
Carlos spent 9 years in the laboratory investigating mineral transport in plants. He then started working as a freelancer, mainly in science writing, editing, and consulting. Carlos is passionate about learning the mechanisms behind biological processes and communicating science to both academic and non-academic audiences. He strongly believes that scientific literacy is crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid falling for scams.

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