Can Baking Soda Help Fight Cancer?

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) does not prevent or cure cancer, but some research suggests it may help boost the effectiveness of conventional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy.

Baking soda is an alkaline mineral that is effective at neutralizing acidity. Cancer cells flourish in acidic environments, and some believe it may help neutralize acidity in the body to help fight against cancer.

You should never stop or replace your doctor-prescribed treatments with baking soda or other complementary or alternative treatments. Consult with your healthcare providers before using baking soda for cancer. Your doctor will want to closely monitor the way your body responds, as there are risks to its use. 

What Is Baking Soda?

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is an alkaline white powder that has a wide variety of uses. This versatile mineral can be found in many homes and is often used for household uses and health benefits including:

  • Rising agent for baking 
  • Toothpaste ingredient (toothpaste that contains baking soda reduces plaque, fights gingival inflammation, whitens teeth, and reduces oral bleeding)
  • Ease heartburn when mixed with water 
  • Cleaning (e.g., laundry, pots and pans, scrubbing agent) 
  • Insect bite and burn relief when mixed with water and made into a paste
  • Deodorizer for removing smells from refrigerator and carpets
  • Performance aid for athletes (may increase endurance and ease muscle fatigue)
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) may be a complementary cancer treatment
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pH Levels and Cancer

The pH scale measures how acidic something is. pH levels range from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic (e.g., battery acid), 7 being neutral, and 14 being the most alkaline (e.g., liquid drain cleaner).

Baking soda has a pH of 9.5, and the human body has a slightly alkaline pH level of about 7.4. Your body works constantly to keep your pH levels within a normal, healthy range. Higher levels of acidity have been found in the tissues surrounding treatment-resistant tumors, ranging between 6.5 to 6.9.

Researchers have discovered the mechanisms behind this increased acidity. In some solid tumors (e.g., sarcomas), the cells deep within the tumors are hypoxic, meaning they are deprived of oxygen. To survive, the hypoxic cancer cells rely on glucose, rather than oxygen, as their primary source of energy.

Starved of oxygen, hypoxic cancer cells metabolize glucose (sugar) into lactic acid, which increases the acidity of the tumor and its environment. An acidic environment makes it easier for cancer cells to grow and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. 

An Aid to Cancer Treatment

Baking soda may improve the effectiveness of common cancer treatments, including:

  • Chemotherapy drugs are commonly used to attack and kill cancer cells. However, hypoxic cancer cells deprived of oxygen are chemotherapy-resistant and more likely to grow and spread.
  • Radiation therapy (radiotherapy) is another common form of cancer treatment. It uses high doses of radioactive energy to kill cancer cells. Hypoxic cancer cells are two to three times more resistant to radiotherapy than oxygenated cells.
  • Immunotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that helps the immune system recognize and kill off cancer cells. As with other treatments, hypoxic cancer cells are less responsive to immunotherapy. The more glucose a tumor consumes, the more acidic the environment becomes, making immunotherapy less effective.

Researchers are exploring how to identify hypoxic cancer cells prior to beginning treatment. The aim is to boost oxygen levels and decrease acidity in a tumor's environment to make cancer treatments more effective. Since baking soda can neutralize acid, some people believe that drinking a water/baking soda combo may reduce acidity in the body and help kill cancer cells.

Consult with Your Healthcare Provider

The use of baking soda to complement cancer treatment should be done under the guidance of your healthcare provider. 

What the Research Says

Most research on the effect of baking soda on cancer cells has come from laboratory experiments and animal studies. Until more clinical studies are performed on humans, it’s best to approach the use of baking soda with caution. Even then, use it only under the direction and supervision of your healthcare provider. 

Breast and Colon Cancer Study

A 2018 study examined breast and colon cancers in mice and found that cell activity in tumors increased when the mice were given water mixed with baking soda.

The researchers observed a reduction in acidity levels around tumors after the mice consumed sodium bicarbonate-infused water. Previously hypoxic cells were reactivated with oxygen after the mice drank the solution. This suggests that a combination of reduced acidity and reoxygenation of cancer cells will make them easier to target and more responsive to chemotherapy.

Transarterial Chemoembolization Trial

Transarterial chemoembolization (TACE) is often used to treat some types of kidney, liver, and neuroendocrine cancers when the tumors are too large for surgical removal.

A small 2016 clinical trial found that a local infusion of sodium bicarbonate mixed with chemotherapy drugs may be effective for patients with large liver tumors. In the study, investigators added a 5% sodium bicarbonate solution to chemotherapy drugs followed by the TACE procedure. Though the study was small, the findings suggest that sodium bicarbonate shows promise when used in combination with TACE procedures. Larger clinical trials are needed to confirm the results.

Effects of Alkalization Therapy on Chemotherapy Outcomes

A 2020 study investigated the effects of alkalization therapy combined with chemotherapy on individuals with advanced pancreatic cancer. In the study, participants were given “alkalization therapy," which consisted of eating an alkaline diet (more fruits and vegetables, less meat and dairy) and 3.0-5.0 grams of oral sodium bicarbonate. 

Study findings suggest that chemotherapy may be more effective when combined with an alkaline diet and supplemental sodium bicarbonate, More studies are needed to investigate if alkalization therapy can help make chemotherapy more effective.

Risks

Baking soda is considered non-toxic when used in small amounts, but ingesting large amounts or taking it too often can cause side effects and lead to health risks. 

Side effects of baking soda include:

  • Gas
  • Increased thirst
  • Stomach cramps

Severe side effects include: 

  • Frequent urination 
  • Irritability 
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Slow breathing
  • Swelling of feet or lower legs
  • Blood in urine or stool 

Talk to your healthcare provider before consuming baking soda. They can tell you how baking soda will interact with your medications and affect your health.

Alkaline Foods

Eating an alkaline diet is a good way to reduce your intake of acidic foods and introduce alkalinity safely. 

Alkaline-forming foods include: 

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fresh juices (containing only fruits or vegetables) 
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Lentils 
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh 

There is no evidence to suggest that eating this diet can significantly alter pH levels in the body. However, it may offer health benefits thanks to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of fruits and vegetables.

Because the alkaline diet excludes foods high in protein (e.g., meats, dairy) it’s important to replace these foods with protein-rich alternatives. Individuals with cancer require more protein to promote healing, and drastically reducing your protein intake is not recommended.

Summary

Baking soda is an alkaline mineral (meaning it can neutralize acidity) that is used in a variety of ways. Since cancer cells flourish in acidic environments, some people believe that baking soda may help neutralize acidity in the body to help fight against cancer.

Baking soda does not prevent or cure cancer, but animal studies and small trials suggest it may help make chemotherapy and other cancer treatments more effective. Though baking soda shows promise as a complementary treatment, the lack of human clinical trials means that you must approach its use with caution.

A Word From Verywell

A cancer diagnosis is devastating and can make you want to try anything to improve your health. However, it's always best to discuss complementary treatments with your healthcare provider before moving forward. They can assess your individual case and help you determine if a treatment could be helpful or harmful.

While the consumption of baking soda in average amounts (such as when it's used in baked goods) is usually fine, consuming above-average amounts could have negative consequences.

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