Many products you can buy have similar-sounding names and ingredients, but are quite different in their use and safety. Sodium bicarbonate and sodium chloride, or table salt, have the sodium atom in common. Both are used to prepare food. Both have health and household applications. The sodium atom they share, however, also means that both can negatively impact your health.
Sodium Bicarbonate Sources
Sodium bicarbonate is a naturally occurring chemical substance. Your body produces sodium bicarbonate in part of your small intestine to neutralize the powerful acid produced by your stomach. Sodium bicarbonate is also found naturally in mineral water. The sodium bicarbonate you buy is manufactured using sodium chloride, or table salt, and calcium carbonate -- found in sea shells and chalk -- as the main ingredients. Sodium bicarbonate is also called baking soda, bicarbonate of soda, sodium bicarb or bicarb.
Sodium Bicarbonate Uses
When you take sodium bicarbonate, it breaks up into two parts: sodium and bicarbonate. Each part has a different pharmacological effect on the body. The bicarbonate is the part that is most useful in medicine. Bicarbonate acts as an antacid to treat heartburn and indigestion. Doctors sometimes prescribe sodium bicarbonate to help control the acid level or pH of your bodily fluids. Sodium bicarbonate has been used as an alternative treatment for cancer based on the unproven belief that cancer is caused by yeast or fungi. No scientific evidence, however, supports this claim.
Taking sodium bicarbonate may adversely affect your health. Some drugs are absorbed or work better if there is plenty of acid in your stomach. Since sodium bicarbonate can neutralize stomach acid, it can interfere with the effectiveness of these drugs. In addition, the sodium contained in bicarbonate can cause you to retain fluid and raise your blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure or heart or kidney disease, talk with your doctor about the safety of taking sodium bicarbonate.
Table Salt Sources
Table salt is a refined version of the salt found in seawater and in salt deposits in the ground. Pure salt is a chemical composed of the elements sodium and chloride. Table salt contains up to 99 percent pure sodium chloride. Other substances in table salt include calcium, magnesium, sulfur-compounds, copper, sodium silico aluminate, iron and some moisture. Table salt you buy in stores often has iodine added to it to prevent thyroid problems in the general population.
Table Salt Uses
While pure sodium chloride has some medical uses, table salt is used primarily to flavor food and as a pickling agent and food preservative. Table salt is also used to melt or keep ice from forming on roads, driveways and steps. Carefully prepared tablet salt and water solutions can be used as mouthwash and eyewash.
Like sodium bicarbonate, the sodium content of table salt can pose a threat to your health. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 95 percent of the dietary sodium you ingest comes from table salt. In addition to the increased risk of stroke and heart disease, too much salt in your diet may cause you to lose bone mass. Talk with your physician about ways you can reduce the risks from too much dietary sodium.