Baking Soda For Heartburn – Sodium Bicarbonate as a Reflux Remedy?

Baking soda is one of the most popular home heartburn remedies, but is it effective? More importantly, is it safe? We address both of these concerns in this below. You will definitely want to read the side effects section before you think about using this popular acid reflux remedy.


Baking Soda and Heartburn – Path of Action

Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate or NAHCO3, is an effective counter-agent to stomach acid, chemically known as HCl. The chemical interaction is as follows:

HCl + NaHCO3 → NaCl + H2CO3 → Na+ + Cl- + H2CO3

Most of the H2CO3 then dissociates into H2O + CO2

In simple terms:

Stomach acid and baking soda react to form table salt and carbonic acid, carbonic acid mostly dissolves in water to form water and carbon dioxide. The remaining carbonic acid is very weak compared to HCl (stomach acid).

In short, stomach acid is indeed neutralized by baking soda. This means that it can reduce heartburn symptoms, since stomach acid leaving the stomach is what causes acid reflux in the first place.


Side Effects of Baking Soda

While baking soda can indeed stop heartburn, the major problem with this remedy is that an in-depth look at the research shows that it may have some serious side effects, especially when used regularly.

Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, has not only a strong influence over the acidity of the stomach but the pH of the entire body. When ingested, sodium bicarbonate essentially exerts an alkaline effect on the entire body.

This can be a good and a bad thing. This alkaline effect is seem to have strong positive influences on those who may be at risk for some types of renal (kidney) failure. Many recent protocols have been established using sodium bicarbonate to treat certain types of to slow both chronic and acute kidney disease (1, 2).

How does this work? Sodium bicarbonate is thought to help bring potassium into the kidney for excretion and kidney failure can lead to high blood levels of potassium. Carefully regulated sodium bicarbonate intake (i.e. by doctors reading bloodwork) may be used to help control blood potassium levels.

However, this is a specialized treatment for a specific portion of the population. For the rest of us, chronic sodium carbonate usage may lead to hypertension (high blood pressure) and edema (excess fluid retention) (3). It may also significantly increase the risk of kidney stones (4).

In short, baking soda may interfere with a healthy individual’s ability to maintain appropriate electrolyte balance in the blood, which can culminate in impaired regulation of blood pressure and the retaining of body fluids. This could then lead to many undesirable side effects, such as heart problems.


What about Calcium Carbonate

Due to these realizations, calcium carbonate has become the main ingredient in most over the counter antacids. It seems to have less overall side effect risk than the use of sodium bicarbonate.

However, calcium carbonate also may be dangerous when used regularly. Regular usage of calcium carbonate can contribute to kidney stone formation (4). Also, persistent use of calcium carbonate may lead to hypercalcemia (or high blood levels of calcium) which in turn can cause kidney injury and metabolic alkalosis, a potentially life threatening-condition (5).


Baking Soda as a Heartburn Remedy

While baking soda does indeed relieve heartburn, if you are using baking soda regularly for this purpose you may be playing with the proverbial fire.

It is not very likely however that the occasional and careful use (i.e. doctor-recommended dosages) of either sodium bicarbonate or calcium bicarbonate will lead to problems in otherwise healthy individuals. For example, if you use a baking soda toothpaste, the small amount you may accidentally ingest it not likely to lead to kidney failure.

However, if you are taking antacids or baking soda on a daily basis, this may eventually lead to serious health problems.

For this reason, we recommend an alternative remedy like chewing gum; chewing a stick of non-mint gum can help produce saliva, improve digestion, and stop heartburn without all the life-threatening side effects.

If you experience heartburn twice a week or more, talk to your doctor about possible treatment options. Consider lifestyle changes as well, such as weight loss and dietary restrictions.

References

1. Motohiro, M., et al. A New Protocol Using Sodium Bicarbonate for the Prevention of Contrast-Induced Nephropathy in Patients Undergoing Coronary Angiography. Am J Cardiol. 2011 Mar 18. [Epub ahead of print].

2. Lim S. Approach to hyperkalemia. Acta Med Indones. 2007 Apr-Jun;39(2):99-103.

3. Hypertension corrected by discontinuing chronic sodium bicarbonate ingestion. Subsequent transient hypoaldosteronism. Am J Med. 1975 Feb;58(2):272-9.

4. Allie S., & Rodgers A. Effects of calcium carbonate, magnesium oxide and sodium citrate bicarbonate health supplements on the urinary risk factors for kidney stone formation. Clin Chem Lab Med. 2003 Jan;41(1):39-45.

5. Jeong JH, & Bae EH. Hypercalcemia associated with acute kidney injury and metabolic alkalosis. Electrolyte Blood Press. 2010 Dec;8(2):92-4.

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