Can Baking Soda Help Fight Cancer?

Baking soda does not prevent cancer. There is, however, research suggesting that it might be helpful as a complementary treatment for cancer patients by increasing the efficacy of chemotherapy treatments.

Chemotherapy works by destroying actively growing cells, but tumors often cut off the oxygen supply of cells inside of them. This causes the cells to shut down, making it difficult for chemotherapy to work.

Scientists at Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and Moffitt Cancer Center looked at breast and colon cancers in mice and saw an increase in cell activity after giving the mice water mixed with baking soda. The theory is by reactivating these cells, you could make the tumor far more sensitive to cancer therapies.

However, the evidence is mostly limited to animal and cell studies, so extensive human-based research is needed.

Never discontinue doctor-prescribed cancer treatment. If you wish to use baking soda to complement your treatment you must discuss this with your doctor, as there can be risks associated with ingesting the substance.

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) may be a complementary cancer treatment
Boogich / iStock / Getty Images

What Is Baking Soda?

Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, is a white crystalline powder that is naturally alkaline and has a variety of household uses and health benefits. Inexpensive and widely available, sodium bicarbonate may be a well-known rising agent in baking but has also been shown to have effects on oral and digestive health.

It can be dissolved in water to be used as a general mouthwash and as a way to whiten teeth, with a review of five studies finding that toothpastes containing baking soda removed plaque from teeth more effectively than non-baking soda toothpastes.

Due to the neutralizing effects of baking soda, some people can find relief from heartburn by mixing a small amount with water.

Baking soda is also a popular supplement among athletes. Some studies show that baking soda can help you perform at your peak for longer, especially during high intensity training and sprinting.

Cancer and pH Levels

The pH scale is how you measure acidity. It ranges from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. The human body has a very tightly controlled pH level of about 7.4. This means that your blood is slightly alkaline.

Acidic extracellular (outside of the cell) pH is a major feature of tumor tissue. The extracellular pH (pHe) of solid tumors such as sarcomas, carcinomas, and lymphomas are acidic, ranging from 6.5 to 6.9, whereas the pHe of normal tissues is significantly more alkaline, 7.2 to 7.4.

This change in pH is due to cancer cells converting glucose, or sugar, into lactic acid. This build-up of lactic acid may accelerate as the disease progresses and cause acidosis, a serious condition in which there is too much acid in the body fluids.

Once cancer cells begin to grow, they can produce an acidic microenvironment (the immediate small-scale environment of a cell or tissue), that encourages malignant cancer growth and metastases.

An Aid to Cancer Treatment

Cancer cells tend to grow fast, and chemotherapy drugs kill fast-growing cells. However, many cells in solid tumors have their oxygen supply shut off in a process known as hypoxia. This causes the pH levels of the cells to drop and become acidic.

When this happens, the cells stop working properly. They stop producing proteins and their metabolism is disrupted, so they become inactive or dormant. If these dormant cells are cancerous and not responsive to treatment, they may reactivate when the original tumor is removed, causing the cancer to grow again.

For radiotherapy to work effectively, oxygen must be present at the time of radiation and under hypoxic conditions, there may be insufficient oxygen for this radiosensitization.

Since baking soda can neutralize acid, some researchers believe drinking it could reduce a tumor’s acidity and bring inactive cells back to life, making them easier targets for cancer treatments.

Any use of baking soda to complement cancer treatment should only be done under the direction and supervision of your healthcare provider.

What the Research Says

So far, most of the evidence for sodium bicarbonate’s effect on cancer cells comes from animal studies and laboratory experiments. The lack of clinical studies on humans indicates that any use of sodium bicarbonate as a complementary cancer therapy should be approached with caution.

Transarterial Chemoembolization Trial

A small clinical trial published in eLife in 2016 indicated that bicarbonate therapy may be effective for patients with large liver tumors that are not amenable to surgery.

Transarterial chemoembolization (TACE) is widely employed for the local control of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) lesions which are too large to be surgically resected. However, embolization also prevents lactic acid from being removed, which may reduce the effectiveness of treatment.

A pilot clinical investigation was carried out, including a nonrandomized (57 patients with large HCC) and a randomized controlled (20 patients with large HCC) study. The investigators added 5% sodium bicarbonate to cytotoxic drugs and then performed chemoembolization.

TACE combined with bicarbonate yielded a 100% objective response rate (ORR), whereas the ORR treated with TACE alone was 44.4% (nonrandomized) and 63.6% (randomized).

The data suggested that sodium bicarbonate may bring survival benefit although the sample size was small and larger clinical trials will need to be undertaken to prove the hypothesis.

Prostate Cancer Trial

Research published in the Journal of Urology in 2012 looked to explore the anticancer effects of sodium bicarbonate on the progression of prostate cancer in mice as the transgenic adenocarcinoma of the mouse prostate (TRAMP) model closely mirrors the disease development of human prostate cancer.

A total of 37 TRAMP mice were randomized to a control group or to one of four treatment groups. In the latter groups, 200 mM sodium bicarbonate was added to drinking water starting between ages 4 and 10 weeks.

When sodium bicarbonate was started from an early age it was effective in significantly delaying tumor progression. These findings indicate that the use of alkalinizing drugs could be considered, in association with standard chemotherapy, for treatment of prostate tumors.

Breast and Colon Cancer Study

A Ludwig Cancer Research study published in the journal Cell in 2018 looked at breast and colon cancer tumors in mice and showed drinking water with baking soda boosted cell activity in tumors. Because the cells are more active, in theory they are more susceptible to cancer therapies.

The study looked at tumors grafted into mice and detailed that in response to acidity cells turn off a critical molecular switch known as mTORC1, shutting down the cell’s production of proteins, disrupting their metabolic activity, and pushing them into an inactive state.

Researchers found that when mice were given baking soda in their drinking water, the acidity of the inactive regions of tumors was reversed. The prediction would be that by reawakening these cells, you could make the tumor far more sensitive to therapy.

The above are the results from clinical studies and not on humans, so it is worth noting that there is insufficient clinical evidence to support routine cancer therapy being replaced with drinking water containing baking soda.

Risks

Consumption of baking soda can pose health risks if ingested too often or in high amounts due to its high sodium level. You should avoid using baking soda if you’re following a low-sodium diet.

If you ingest too much baking soda, vomiting and diarrhea are common as the body tries to correct the high sodium concentration by pulling more water into the digestive tract. After absorption, high sodium concentrations can cause seizures, dehydration, and kidney failure.

Increased thirst, stomach cramps, and gas may also occur with medicinal use. More serious side effects may occur with extremely high oral doses or in individuals with impaired kidney function, including severe headache, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, weakness, slow breathing, swelling of lower legs, blood in urine, and altered electrolytes in the blood.

Ask your doctor if baking soda is a good alternative treatment for you. They’ll be able to tell you if baking soda will interact with your current medications or increase your sodium levels.

Alkaline Foods

Baking soda isn’t the only way to introduce alkalinity into your body as many foods are known to be naturally alkaline producing. Many people follow a diet that focuses on alkaline-producing food such as:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Fresh fruit juices or vegetable juices
  • Tofu and tempeh
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Lentils

The alkaline diet is fairly healthy, encouraging a high intake of plant-based foods while restricting processed foods. However, the idea that the diet boosts health because of its alkalizing effects has not been proven by any reliable human studies.

A Word From Verywell

Despite the promising results from laboratory and animal studies on the effect of sodium bicarbonate on cancer, the lack of large-scale clinical trials on humans means this research must be received with caution.

Baking soda is not a miracle cancer cure and does not prevent cancer from occurring. Never discontinue doctor prescribed cancer treatment. If you wish to use baking soda to compliment your treatment you must discuss this with your doctor first. 

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