What Is Sodium Bicarbonate?

Baking soda is used for oral and digestive health

Close-Up Of Baking Soda Spilled From Measuring Spoon On Table

 Michelle Arnold / EyeEm / Getty Images

Sodium bicarbonate may sound like something you’ve never heard of, but chances are there is some sitting in your kitchen cupboard right now. Otherwise known as baking soda, the chemical compound is a salt made of a sodium cation and a bicarbonate anion.

Baking soda is often found as a fine powder substance, despite the fact that it is actually a crystalline solid. It is considered a monosodium (only containing one atom of sodium) and has a slight alkaline value.

While sodium bicarbonate is frequently used in cooling, it is also commonly used for many health ailments and to improve exercise stamina and performance.

Uses

There are many uses for baking soda, some of which may surprise you. The chemical compound is used for a variety of different health conditions and can often be found in at-home remedies, as well as in some over-the-counter (OTC) medications. The storied history of the use of baking soda suggests that it is one of the most versatile compounds available.  

Oral Health

Baking soda has been shown to have great effects on oral health because it can act as a bactericidal agent against some periodontal pathogens. It has also been used as a general mouthwash and as an inexpensive way to whiten teeth.

Canker sores have also shown improvement when treated with a baking soda mouthwash, with ongoing treatment soothing the pain that is associated with the small and painful ulcers.

Digestive Health

Heartburn affects roughly 60 million Americans. It is a symptom caused by acid reflux and leads to pain and burning up through the esophagus and into the throat. When the condition is chronic, it can be difficult to manage.

Because of the neutralizing effects of baking soda on stomach acid, people can find relief from heartburn by mixing a small amount with water. It has also been shown to help treat bouts of indigestion.

It should be noted that the ingestion of baking soda for prolonged periods may lead to heart problems and metabolic alkalosis.

Athletic Performance

Although studies are varied when it comes to the use of baking soda as an exercise aid, some have suggested that it can lead to enhanced performance by improving levels of stamina. It is thought that the high pH level of the powder decreases fatigue in those performing high-intensity exercises by helping to buffer acidic byproducts that may result from prolonged activity.

Use in Treatment

Proper kidney function is important, because the kidneys are designed to remove both waste and excess water from the bloodstream that could build up and cause health problems. They also play an integral role in the balance of essential minerals. When the kidneys aren't functioning at their best, the acid-base balance in the body can be thrown off, causing systemic and very dangerous problems.

Research suggests that those with less than desirable kidney function might slow the progression of their disease by taking baking soda supplements because of its higher Ph. Baking soda could also help increase the efficacy of chemotherapy treatments in cancer patients by encouraging a less acidic environment for tumors. However, neither of these uses should be implemented without the guidance of a medical professional. Serious side effects can result with improper use.

Cleaning and Deodorizing

Baking soda has long been used as a cleaning agent. The strength of the powder can do wonders for tough kitchen or laundry stains. It is suggested that you use enough baking soda mixed with water to create a paste-like substance for best results. It has also been shown to be a great way to remove pesticides from fruit.

It's also effective in getting rid of odors, since baking soda neutralizes both acidic and basic molecules. It can also be used as a personal deodorant, household deodorant for furniture and carpets, and to keep both the fridge and freezer smelling fresh.

Dowsing Kitchen Fires

Grease fires are hard to combat and must never be put out using water. Baking soda can come in handy when there is no fire extinguisher around, because it smothers flames by emitting carbon dioxide. 

Forms

Baking soda most typically comes in the form of a powder. However, it can also be found in capsules, granules, and solutions. Some over-the-counter medications contain small amounts of baking soda, including Alka-Seltzer.

Risks and Side Effects

Although baking soda is a versatile agent used for many things, it can still pose health risks if ingested too often or in high amounts. Even limited, short-term use of baking soda can lead to gastrointestinal distress, such as nausea, cramps, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Research has also shown that, when large amounts are consumed, it can lead to hemorrhagic encephalopathy, a serious condition that can cause shock, thinning of the blood and an inability for blood to clot, liver and kidney problems, and changes in the function and structure of the brain.

Although long-term use may not be the sole cause for some conditions, it can lead to an increased risk of worsening or developing new illnesses. One specific condition known as metabolic alkalosis occurs when the body’s pH reaches dangerously high levels. This can lead to confusion, light-headedness, nausea and vomiting, muscle spasms that don’t’ go away, and hand tremors.

Always speak to your doctor prior to initiating a new supplement regime or using sodium bicarbonate for any condition.

A Word From Verywell 

Although the general use of baking soda is considered safe, it’s important to remember the risks associated with prolonged ingestion of this chemical compound. In contrast, the use of baking soda for household cleaning and deodorizing has been widely accepted for many years and isn’t likely to pose any health risks when used responsibly.

When seemingly benign at-home remedies are used, especially in conjunction with pre-existing health conditions, there is heightened risk for serious complications. Always speak to your health care professional about your questions or concerns regarding the use of baking soda.

If you are given the go-ahead, it can be an inexpensive and readily available product that you can use in the fight against oral health issues, fatigue while exercising, and household odors.

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