a box of baking soda

People have been using a natural antacid (sodium bicarbonate, aka baking soda) for a very long time. It is cheap and surprisingly effective for easing symptoms of indigestion. But too much of a good thing, especially after a big meal, can be disastrous!

Will Baking Soda Cause a Violent Reaction in the Stomach?

Q. My dad passed away at the age of 75. He was notorious for taking a small amount of baking soda from the kitchen cupboard to eliminate stomach acid or heartburn. He would let out a loud burp and bingo, his indigestion was gone.

I know how violent the reaction is between baking soda and battery acid. When you put baking soda into stomach acid, is the resulting reaction just as violent?

A. Usually a person taking a small amount of sodium bicarbonate as an antacid suffers no harm. Gastroenterologists have estimated that 1/2 teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate (bicarb) would release only a small amount of gas (Gastroenterology, Nov. 1984).

Too Much Sodium Bicarbonate Could Disastrous:

The authors of this report note, however:

“Some people selected doses of bicarbonate that would result in several hundred milliliters of gas release within 3 min; it seems likely that such injudicious ingestion of sodium bicarbonate, if taken when the stomach was distended with air, food, and liquid, could be an important factor in spontaneous gastric rupture.”

Ruptured Stomachs from Bicarb and Overindulgence:

There are about 15 cases in the medical literature in which people ruptured their stomachs by taking large doses of baking soda after eating too much. In one notorious case, a man ate a large meal, accompanied by margaritas, at a Mexican restaurant (Annals of Internal Medicine, Nov. 1984).

A reader of our syndicated newspaper column shared this story of excess:

“I want to warn people about using baking soda to treat heartburn and indigestion. Although there are instructions right on the package for treating GI upset with baking soda, I must stress the importance of following the directions exactly.

“My husband had chronic indigestion due to an ulcer. He insisted it could be treated with baking soda, but he was not careful and drank much more baking soda in water than is recommended. He didn’t even wait for it to dissolve. Instead of helping, it made him throw up and he took more baking soda to counteract that.

“He ended up in the hospital with a potassium level of 1.9, the lowest the ER doctors had ever seen in a living person. If people want to use baking soda for heartburn I think they should stick with something like Alka Seltzer because the dose is controlled.”

Too much sodium bicarbonate can lower potassium levels. Vomiting can make the problem worse. And the ER physician was right to be very concerned. Very low potassium levels can trigger cardiac arrest (Anestezjologia Intensywna Terapia, Jul-Sept 2008).

Debbie in Georgia has a worry about regular use of baking soda:

“My grandfather used baking soda daily. He developed Alzheimer’s.

“My husband also had to use baking soda daily, 1 teaspoon morning, 1 teaspoon evening. He now has Alzheimer’s.

“My son-in law’s grandmother was also a heavy user of baking soda. She developed Alzheimer’s. Can’t help but wonder about its use and connection.”

We have no idea if there is a connection between heavy use of sodium bicarbonate and dementia. But there is a LOT of sodium in baking soda. Used occasionally for mild heartburn, we wouldn’t worry. Used daily, however, we would be concerned.

Doug in Lucas, Texas, changed from bicarb to yellow mustard:

“I used to take baking soda occasionally for heartburn at night. One night I took a teaspoon of yellow mustard for a cramp in my foot then realized that my heartburn was instantly gone! Now if I have heartburn I use the yellow mustard instead of the baking soda.”

What Do You Do for Heartburn?

Please share your own experience with baking soda or any other antacid for mild indigestion in the comment section below.

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  1. Patty
    Reply

    “Ginger, cayenne …black pepper work wonders …” Egads! All of those give me terrible stomach pain. Certain remedies obviously work for one person or another, depending on the individual. Adding more acid makes matters far worse for me, whether it’s mustard, apple cider vinegar, or others mentioned. Normally, when I get indigestion, it is due to eating something that was acidic to begin with, and antacids bring me quick relief. If bloated, I usually need the combination of a gas reliever (Doctor’s Choice tabs $.88/bottle) and a few Tums, but drinking warm water after chewing and swallowing them is the key. Anyone who uses Tums or such should be aware that they don’t work very well unless you actually drink some water after taking them. The warmer the water (or even hot tea) can bring the quickest relief when combined with antacids.

    A forewarning though – If the abdominal pain continues for hours and/or becomes severe, go to the emergency room or see your doctor soon. Yesterday, my hub ate a lunch with beans, and supper later was a bowl of cereal with cow’s milk. He was up all of last night with what appeared to be terrible indigestion. It would seem to get better, but then the pain would get worse. At 5 AM this morning, he went to the emergency room. He’d been having undiagnosed pain in the abdomen for months. Several trips to different doctor had not resulted in a clear cause. Today, it was determined that he had a number of gallstones, and some had enetered his pancreas, blocking it. He is now receiving appropriate medical care.

    On another note, someone here may have alluded to the fact that they drink Alka Seltzer before it is fully dissolved. My husband tried to tell me that was the way one is supposed to take it too, but the lable directions state to wait until fully dissolved. Drinking while it’s vigorously bubbling just adds to the bloating misery, IMHO.

  2. Shmuel
    Israel
    Reply

    Five raw almonds fix the heartburn for me.

  3. ray
    ga
    Reply

    I use 1/3 teaspoon, a swallow of pepsi instant burp. I limit it to 1 tablespoon max per day because of sodium and i take med for blood pressure. high dose will rise your bp about 10-15 points.its not just heartburn but will help with gerd.i also heard mustard or vinegar will work also.like anything else,more dont make it better.if you mix baking soda and pepsi in a glass you would see the chemical reaction. i could see a high dose and pepsi could blow out a tummy.i am 64 and have never had an issue with it

  4. Teresa
    California
    Reply

    OMG, I have been taking Prilosec (generic) for 9 yrs , gone thru numerous upper GI procedures.
    I was taking Pepcid complete and papaya with acidophilus
    Doctor gave me a list of foods to stay away from : red base food , coffee, and chocolate ! When chocolate has digest it gives off acid
    I now have been diagnosed with Gerds
    I have an extended stomach always
    I ate rolaids like candy and drank it in liquid form ( by the way liquid Rolaids has been recalled something to do with what the bottle is made from)
    Don’t eat late and still have problems
    Just recently had major back surgery
    Someone told me to drink teaspoon of apple cider vinegar baaaaaad idea !!
    I couldn’t breath was wheezing so bad , had a gravely cough for days !
    Baking soda 1/2 teaspoon , sat up for 2 hours extra then went to bed no problem
    I’m concerned that the nine yrs of Prilosec have affected my liver , beware
    I now have a non-alcohol fatty liver
    Still under investigation on that one
    Don’t over eat, don’t eat late , watch what your eating . Teresa

  5. Dee
    Pa
    Reply

    This is hard to believe but I totally stopped my heartburn by drinking a cup of warm water or two until the pain was gone. I also stopped eating dinner late and now eat 5pm and leave a five hour time slot until I go to bed. Hope this works for you!

  6. Peggy
    McLeansville, NC
    Reply

    I have great success with a few slices of Apple or a tablespoon of vinegar in 16 oz. of water.

  7. Patti
    Texas
    Reply

    I take a couple of swallows of 7up to burp or a altoid peppermint.

  8. Sue E.
    Reply

    When I get heartburn I have a mug of hot water with a teaspoon of apple cider vinigar, I sip it slowly over about 10 minutes and it fixes the problem.

  9. frank
    va
    Reply

    my grandfather from italy used brioshe which is no longer avail. but 6oz water with oz or two of vinegar then stir in a 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and watch it foam. drink while it does that and it works, just like the crystals of broishe

  10. Pilla
    WA state
    Reply

    Tums work fine for me. But I’m curious abut a remedy I saw my grandparents use when I was little kid in the ’30s-’40s – they poured something back and forth between two glasses, I think that made it fizz. Now I think bicarb must have been mixed with water but wonder if there was something else too? Anyone else old enough to remember what this was?

    • jeanine
      California
      Reply

      I think it was Alka Seltzer, You opened a little packet to get the wafer of Alka Seltzer, put it in a glass with water and poured it back and forth to another glass; it fizzed up hugely and you drank it quickly. To cure anything from a headache to indigestion or a hangover.

      Personally liked to cure my hangover with a juicy hamburger and a scoop of cottage cheese. Try it.

  11. James
    Jacksonville, FL
    Reply

    For years I took Tums and rolaids, as well as Doctor prescribed Nexium, until I found that what I really needed was more acid instead of less!
    Now, I use a shot Bourbon or Scotch which solves the problem faster.
    Proves what the Apostle Paul told Timothy, take a little wine for your stomach.

  12. Larry
    Greenacres, FL
    Reply

    Alzheimer’s runs in families. So does the family tradition of medicating with baking soda. Not much of a link I would think. Nevertheless, “1 teaspoon morning, 1 teaspoon evening” is massive. I was warned long ago that sodium bicarbonate is a systemic antacid. It changes the ph of the whole body, not just the stomach, and should be used in extreme moderation.

    Prilosec and Pepcid together worked fine, but caused a B12 deficiency in me.

  13. Larry
    Greenacres, FL
    Reply

    Alzheimer’s runs in families. So does the family tradition of medicating with baking soda. Not much of a link I would think. Nevertheless, “1 teaspoon morning, 1 teaspoon evening” is massive. I was warned long ago that sodium bicarbonate is a systemic antacid. It changes the ph of the whole body, not just the stomach, and should be used in extreme moderation.

    Prilosec and Pepcid together worked fine, but caused a B12 deficiency in me.

    • Richard
      New Jersey
      Reply

      Pila, I think it was called Briosky and was sold in a dark blue bottle. You would take a capful and mix it with water..pouring two glasses into one another…I don’t think I ever used it but that’s what was done in the tv commercial.

  14. Laura
    Maryland
    Reply

    Pickle juice will stop heartburn. Just drink a tablespoon of it.

  15. Marla
    Dallas, TX
    Reply

    My mom and my grandmother both used baking soda for heartburn regularly. Neither got Alzheimer’s or dementia and mom will be celebrating her 92nd birthday in two weeks. My partner cured his heartburn/reflux by drinking a shot of Braggs Apple cider vinegar (mixed with some juice) before ever meal, and the direction of a PhD pharmacologist, who told him the reflux is typically caused by too little, not too much acid (so the prescription drugs are just making the condition worse), and drinking the vinegar helps rebalance your acid system. Worked for my partner. He no longer takes antacids, baking soda or the vinegar!

  16. Anne
    NC
    Reply

    With increasing age, I sometimes have occasional problems with heartburn. In addition to stomach discomfort, one of the most irritating symptoms was hiccups, which began without warning soon after I started eating a meal. I found that by stirring a teaspoon or half a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar into my drinking water and sipping it throughout the meal, my stomach discomfort went away and the hiccups disappeared within a couple of minutes. ( It seems illogical that vinegar might improve digestion when the symptoms suggests overly acidic stomach conditions, but for whatever reason it always works for me).

  17. Reno
    Reply

    i use angostura bitters 10 to 15 drops in a little water,works very well tastes good.

  18. Sally B.
    Charlotte, NC
    Reply

    Baking soda & water has worked wonders for me at times. . .but it tastes so bad it’s also enough to make you puke! TUMS are calcium carbonate, something men need just like women. I say Tums are the better bet. I’m now just recalling making clay volcanoes for art class in school. We used a mix of vinegar & baking soda to create a very effective “volcanic eruption”. Makes ya’ think, huh? As for Alka Seltzer, way to druggie for me.

  19. Kim
    LA
    Reply

    I use slippery elm for stomach pain associated with food like gas or diarrhea. Anything to be concerned with using slippery elm?

  20. Cindy
    Reply

    Almonds – that is all I ever need. I learned about it from you folks. About 4 to 6 raw almonds. I carry a small jar of them in my car.

    • Sally B.
      Charlotte, NC
      Reply

      Love it Cindy, thanks for sharing! They are the healthiest nuts you can eat! If they can help heartburn/nausea, what a fantastic blessing! Take care and be well!! Sally

    • Susan
      Reply

      Almonds work for me too. Just a few are all that’s needed. So simple, and good for you.

      Papaya Enzyme – get it at health food stores, works too.

  21. Debbie
    Reply

    My husband had to take baking soda everyday morning and night on doctors orders . He had a Kidney disease. He developed Alzheimer’s. Passed away this year at age 68. No history of anyone in his family ever having Alzheimer’s or Dementia.

  22. Sean
    usa
    Reply

    Ginger, cayenne, turmeric, black pepper work wonders on your stomach issues. Usually ginger works instantaneous. Mix ground ginger with a beverage and drink. Also I make my own capsules of all of the above. It works for me☮

  23. Carolyn
    Texas
    Reply

    My first line of defense for heartburn and gas is to take digestive enzymes with meals. When I do get heartburn, I find that Tums work fine, and I feel that I need the calcium they contain, since I have eliminated most dairy from my diet (having learned that it is commonly associated with digestive issues.) Not wanting to throw off my other mineral levels with too much calcium – and for its other benefits – I take 250 mg of magnesium most days, and 50 mg of zinc about once a week. Potassium is a concern, but I drink fresh-squeezed orange juice daily that I believe is taking care of that. (Although it is high in acid, and I know I run the risk of starting the heartburn cycle all over again!)

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