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Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is ubiquitous in households thanks to its versatility. It is a white, powdered, non-flammable and non-odorous substance. It is used as a multipurpose cleaner, deodorizer, air freshener and weed killer and also used for many health purposes. Most commonly, it used to ease indigestion, acid reflux and eliminate body odour. 

Read more: Home remedies for sweating and body odour

Baking soda is made of sodium bicarbonate which is activated on contact with water. The compound is broken down into its constituents sodium and bicarbonate, increasing the pH of the solution and making it more alkaline. This is the basis of its use as an antacid - it is able to neutralize gastric juices to soothe painful acid reflux and to neutralize acid that leads to indigestion. 

Read more: Acidity

There has been some research suggesting that self-treating with baking soda can have harmful side effects. Over-the-counter antacids are generally safe and will not cause adverse side effects but taking baking soda in large amounts without medical consultation can lead to dangerous changes in electrolyte levels and can cause the stomach to rupture. Further, it is not recommended for those with hypertension, those with high sodium levels and those with iron deficiency (anemia)

(What should you eat or not eat if you have anemia?)

Baking soda may interact with some drugs as well and alter their therapeutic effects. You should consult your doctor about using baking soda if you are on other medications. 

Overall, however, baking soda is unlikely to be unsafe when taken in recommended amounts. Here is a list of health benefits and side effects

  1. Baking Soda benefits for hair health
  2. Baking Soda for the skin
  3. Baking soda for body odour
  4. Baking Soda for the teeth
  5. Baking Soda for acidity
  6. Other health benefits of baking soda
  7. Side effects of baking soda

It has been suggested previously that diluting baking soda in water is a worthy alternative to using commercial shampoos. The reasoning behind this is the aversion to the high amounts of synthetic chemicals added to shampoos that may be damaging in the long term.

However, studies on whether baking soda is good for hair in the long term are limited. Most evidence is based on personal testimony that ranges from positive to negative. 

What baking soda can do is benefit those with oily hair and scalps since it has a drying, and cleansing effect. However, its overuse can damage the hair in the long run. According to one study, alkaline pH (which is created by baking soda which has a pH of greater than 8), increases negative electrical charge and friction between hair fibres which could lead to cuticle damage and fibre breakage. Since baking soda has a drying effect as well, the essential oils of the scalp can be disrupted, leading to itchy scalp, irritation and potentially more hair fall.

Those with dry hair and sensitive skin and therefore not recommended to use this method. If you have oily skin, washing with baking soda could be beneficial in small doses, but discuss the effects with your dermatologist. A prescribed shampoo and conditioner may be the best choice for you depending on your situation.

Read more: Dry hair

There is limited evidence to suggest that baking soda is good for the skin. However, the compound has mildly disinfectant properties and studies have shown that it has an effect on certain types of fungi.

Read more: Fungal infections

It can also relieve itching and burning associated with other dermatological issues such as eczema and poison ivy reactions. It may also relieve some of the symptoms of psoriasis, UTIs and itchiness caused by chickenpox and diaper rash. More studies need to be conducted, however. Broadly speaking, alkaline solutions are not recommended for use on the skin since they can cause burning and itchiness. However, baking soda baths have been received well and have been likened to bathing in salt water, which is supposed to have restorative effects. Even if this is placebo, warm, soothing baking soda baths can ease muscle tension and lower stress. Here is how to make a baking soda bath: 

  • Fill up the bathtub to the desired level. 
  • Make sure the water is warm, but not so hot that it is uncomfortable.
  • You can add up to 2 cups of baking soda to the bath. 
  • Mix the bath so the salts dissolve. 
  • Let it sit for around 20 minutes. 
  • Bathe for around 45 minutes.

Baking soda is used in the household to mask odours around grocery bags, rotten food or refrigerators. Studies have suggested that it has antibacterial properties that can eliminate unpleasant odours. 

Its use as a deodorant for the body is more limited. Body odour is caused not by sweat, but by bacteria breaking down the constituents of sweat; the byproducts produce odours. Baking soda can neutralize the acidic byproducts and overpower the bad odour. 

Remember, though, that some people with sensitive skin will react badly to baking soda because of its alkaline properties.

Read more: Skin allergies

Test the baking soda solution on a patch of your skin before using it as deodorant - if there is no rash or reaction after a day of application, you should be fine to try it. Here is how to make baking soda deodorant: 

  • Mix ¼ teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water and stir until it becomes a paste. 
  • Apply liberally to the underarm.

Using too much can have a drying effect on the area, so check with your dermatologist about regular use.

Baking soda is commonly touted as being effective at cleaning and whitening teeth and useful in maintaining oral health. 

Many toothpastes do indeed contain baking soda for these purposes. Baking soda has abrasive properties meaning that it can physically cleanse the teeth and limit staining - at least in the short term. Further, it neutralizes the acidity of the mouth and also has mild antiseptic properties, all of which promote oral health. 

Read more: Oral hygiene tips

However, the advantages end here. You can use baking soda now and then to reach places your brush is not able to, but studies have shown that overtime the strongly basic compound will damage the enamel - the hard outer part of the tooth. This increases the vulnerability of teeth as harmful pathogens can get inside more easily and cause infections and tooth decay. Eventually there will also be gum damage as well.

Read more: Gingivitis and dental cavities

The best way to maintain good oral health is to brush and floss regularly - as recommended by your dentist. 

Ask your dentist if you can use baking soda for your teeth occasionally - but do not overdo it.

A lot of commercially available antacids use sodium bicarbonate as their active ingredient. It is produced naturally by the body to neutralize stomach acids to prevent damage and ulceration. Sodium bicarbonate acts promptly as it is absorbed quickly. It can provide fast relief from gastric acid reflux, but there is also a chance that it can worsen symptoms after initial relief. 

Read more: Home remedies for acidity

For adults, the recommended dose is half a teaspoon mixed in a glass of water. It is advised to drink it slowly to reduce the risk of worsening symptoms.

Read more: Acidity and GERD

A study in 2009 showed that bicarbonate supplement could benefit those with chronic kidney disease and metabolic acidosis (this is defined as high acidic content in the blood due to acid-alkaline imbalance). As many as 134 patients were divided into a control and experimental group; the latter was given 600 mg of sodium bicarbonate three times a day for two years and the control group received standard treatment. It was found that those given the supplementation had lower creatinine levels and the disease progressed rapidly in only 9% of cases. In comparison, 45% of those in the control group had rapid disease progression. These findings inspire confidence in supplemental use of this low cost supplement, but more research is needed. 

Read more: Creatinine test

It has been incorrectly suggested that sodium bicarbonate may have anti-cancer effects. However, certain types of chemotherapy require alkaline environments which sodium bicarbonate provides well. 

There is also evidence to suggest that sodium bicarbonate increases exercise performance - specifically in high intensity, anaerobic exercises. When you exercise, the body releases lactic acid oxygen cannot be pumped fast enough across the body. This lowers the body’s pH (usually it is around 7.4), and once it goes below 7, the body begins to fatigue and performance is affected. Since baking soda is basic in nature, it can help nudge up the body’s pH and relieve some fatigue for a short period of time. This can help with endurance and help you work out longer. 

You should not take more than 200mg/kg as this can harm the body by dangerously altering electrolytic levels. Studies have also shown that the technique works best if the compound is taken an hour before exercising. You may take it even before that if you are more sensitive to baking soda.

There are a number of side effects associated with baking soda. Some people who use it topically may experience a worsening of skin issues such as itching, redness and irritation. It can also dry out the skin too much. For those who cannot tolerate the chemical even in small amounts should discontinue its use.

On ingesting the compound, gastric symptoms may occur. These include nausea, vomiting, acid reflux, stomach pain and diarrhea. In some cases there may be increased thirst as well. If side effects are severe and don’t settle down in some time, call the doctor. 

Those with preexisting conditions such as kidney disease, liver disease, hypertension, edema of the feet or legs and appendicitis will also likely be discouraged from using the compound. It is also not advisable for those who are pregnant and infants under the age of 6. 

Long term use of baking soda can also cause an increase in the production of stomach acid, and can worsen heart and kidney conditions. Further, those with high sodium and low potassium are advised to not take the salt.

It is also not recommended to take the salt after 2 years of taking other medication as it changes the pH conditions of the stomach which may affect the absorption of the drug. For example, it is known to interact with aspirin. Consult your doctor about any drug interactions before taking the salt.


Medicines / Products that contain Sodium bicarbonate

References

  1. NHS [Internet]. National Health Services; Baking soda for kidney patients
  2. D Drake. Antibacterial Activity of Baking Soda Compend Contin Educ Dent Suppl . 1997;18(21):S17-21;quiz S46.
  3. D Brunette. Effects of Baking-Soda-Containing Dentifrices on Oral Malodor Compend Contin Educ Dent Suppl . 1997;18(21):S22-32; quiz S46. PMID: 12017931
  4. N. Rajatanavin, et al. Baking Soda and Pruritus Lancet . 1987 Oct 24;2(8565):977. PMID: 2889903
  5. A Bayoumi, et al. Baking Soda Baths for Aquagenic Pruritus Lancet . 1986 Aug 23;2(8504):464. PMID: 2874451
  6. Leonard Milstone. Scaly Skin and Bath pH: Rediscovering Baking Soda J Am Acad Dermatol . 2010 May;62(5):885-6. PMID: 20398816
  7. M Nichols, et al. Baking Soda: A Potentially Fatal Home Remedy Pediatr Emerg Care . 1995 Apr;11(2):109-11. PMID: 7596870
  8. Adrienne Hughes, et al. Hemorrhagic Encephalopathy From Acute Baking Soda Ingestion West J Emerg Med . 2016 Sep;17(5):619-22. PMID: 27625729
  9. Maria Dias, et al. The Shampoo pH can Affect the Hair: Myth or Reality? Int J Trichology. 2014 Jul-Sep; 6(3): 95–99. PMID: 25210332
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