Risks of Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda)

Baking soda has lots of uses in the kitchen and throughout the house. It's mostly safe and natural, but it does have a toxic level.

Baking soda has lots of uses in the kitchen and throughout the house. (Image: Eskay Lim / EyeEm/EyeEm/GettyImages)

Drinking Baking Soda — Dangers

Baking soda can be dissolved in water as an antacid relief. Baking soda, also called by its chemical name sodium bicarbonate, can be used to relieve heartburn, sour stomach or acid indigestion, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's sometimes used to treat stomach ulcers.

Baking soda can neutralize excess stomach acid. It can also be used to make urine more alkaline if needed. But the disadvantages of baking soda can happen if you take too much. Drinking baking soda dangers mainly come from overdosing on baking soda.

An article in the September 2016 issue of the_ Western Journal of Emergency Medicine_ outlines some of those dangers. "Sodium bicarbonate is generally safe when used appropriately. However, if misused, it has the potential for significant toxicity," the authors wrote.

Common Risks From Baking Soda

Baking soda, most commonly used for baking and cleaning purposes, has also been used for medicinal reasons for many years. According to the American Chemical Society, the Journal of Chemical Education back in 1927 said that through regulated doses, baking soda could prevent the common cold by keeping an alkaline balance in the body. However, when it comes to keeping your body's pH levels balanced, the Cleveland Clinic says it's better to rely on your body's own mechanisms.

There are, however, medications of sodium bicarbonate used to treat heartburn and other stomach problems. MedlinePlus says these are generally safe, if used properly.

Sodium bicarbonate, according to the National Institutes of Health Toxicology Data Network, has a low toxic risk. It's a slight skin and eye irritant, and can cause increased thirst. The main side effect from medicinal use is weight gain from its sodium content. At high doses, however, it can damage the kidneys and cause severe headache, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, swelling of blood in the lower legs, slow breathing and blood in urine. It can also alter the electrolyte balance in your blood.

Why Baking Soda?

Baking soda can be prescribed as an antacid by your doctor. But it's important to follow your doctor's directions and take the dosage your doctor gives you. Baking soda has a lot of sodium, so that's something to consider if you're watching your salt intake. One teaspoon has 1,260 grams of sodium, according to the USDA Food Composition Database. Baking soda is also sometimes used by athletes as a performance enhancer.

According to an article in the June 2015 issue of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, has been shown to improve the body's tolerance to exercise. The small study of 13 trained male athletes concluded that baking soda does help with high-intensity interval exercise.

The reason baking soda works is because of its ability to neutralize acid in your body, the study said. The same ingredients that help buffer your stomach from the effects of too much stomach acid can help your muscles when they're being taxed and building up lactic acid. Another study, in the August 2017 issue of the journal PLOS One, explained it like this: After ingesting the sodium from sodium bicarbonate, the sodium works to provide additional oxygen to your muscles. It may also increase your blood volume.

That study also found that the increase in performance given by sodium bicarbonate doesn't necessarily last over a longer duration. The authors also said that side effects caused by the sodium could counteract any benefit from sodium bicarbonate.

Side Effects of Sodium Bicarbonate

So, there are side effects. This is why MedlinePlus, the U.S. Medical Library, has a section on "Baking Soda Overdose," where it is stated that baking soda can be poisonous in large amounts. MedlinePlus does not recommend athletes take baking soda as a way to help their performances.

MedlinePlus says, "Some athletes and coaches believe that drinking baking soda before competition helps a person perform for longer periods of time. This is very dangerous. Besides having side effects, it makes the athletes unable to perform." According to the National Capital Poison Center, taking too much baking soda is where the danger lies.

If you take too much baking soda, early on, you'll probably vomit and have diarrhea. That's because of the high sodium content of baking soda. That sodium content will cause your body to correct that high sodium imbalance by pulling more water into your digestive tract.

Out of Balance

What the excess bicarbonate of soda has done is pull your body out of balance. Your body is good at maintaining a healthy pH balance, the Cleveland Clinic says. If your blood becomes too acidic, for example, you exhale more carbon dioxide to bring those levels down. Unless you have kidney disease or a respiratory disease, your body maintains a healthy pH balance, the Cleveland Clinic says.

That can change if you take in too much baking soda, however, according to Poison Control. Sodium bicarbonate is alkaline, and too much of it throws your pH out of balance. If you take too much, gas may rapidly form in your stomach. Once too much baking soda is in your body, the excess sodium can cause seizures, dehydration and kidney failure.

Also, if you take too much baking soda after drinking a lot of alcohol or eating a large meal, you could cause your stomach to rupture. That's why the National Capital Poison Center recommends you check with your doctor before using sodium bicarbonate to treat your upset stomach.

Overdose — What to Do

If you, your child or someone close to you has overdosed on sodium bicarbonate, symptoms to look for include constipation, convulsions, diarrhea, feeling of being full, frequent urination, irritability, muscle spasms, muscle weakness and vomiting.

MedlinePlus says if sodium bicarbonate overdose occurs, seek help immediately. If you have the container of sodium bicarbonate, take it with you to the emergency room. There, the patient will probably receive activated charcoal, blood and urine tests, an electrocardiogram or ECG and intravenous fluids.

These are some of the factors that can determine the outcome:

  • Amount of baking soda swallowed
  • Time between the overdose and when treatment began
  • Person's age, weight and overall health
  • Type of complications that develop

Without controlling nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can occur, MedlinePlus says.

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