The People's Perspective on Medicine

Beware Of Baking Soda Overdose

Q. 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.

A. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) can be an effective antacid, but only in the proper dose. Your husband’s misadventure demonstrates that it is possible to overdose on both sodium and bicarbonate. An excess can lower potassium levels. Vomiting could make this situation worse. If potassium drops too far it could lead to cardiac arrest.

Q. I’m having difficulty controlling my triglycerides. My doctor says my cholesterol is OK, but elevated triglycerides are also a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.

By greatly reducing the amount of fat in my diet and taking niacin, I have reduced my triglycerides considerably. The levels still fluctuate between 135 and 300, though. Does the fat in food affect triglycerides? Will almonds, pecans, peanuts and cashews help or hurt? Should I ever eat a single French fry again?

Is there a difference between regular niacin and extended-release formulas? I have read that extended release niacin is bad for the liver.

A. Niacin is quite effective at lowering triglycerides and raising good HDL cholesterol. Extended-release formulas are more likely to raise liver enzymes than standard niacin. Medical supervision and periodic blood tests are essential for someone using niacin to control blood lipids.

Fish oil can also lower triglycerides. We are sending you our Guide to Cholesterol and Heart Health which provides pros and cons about these natural approaches. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $2 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped, self-addressed envelope: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No.C-8, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

Nuts (especially walnuts, pecans, almonds and macadamias) are heart healthy as long as you don’t overdo and gain weight. French fries should stay off the menu for someone like you.

Q. Can you tell me if it is safe to use a tanning bed while pregnant?

A. Dermatologists discourage indoor tanning because it can damage the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer. Our dermatological consultant tells us it is unlikely to damage the fetus, since pregnant women are occasionally treated for certain skin disorders with artificial UV light. Ask your obstetrician whether a sunless tanning lotion would be a safe substitute.

Q. I travel several times a week and am wondering if the X-ray scanners at airports can damage my blood pressure medications. I have first-hand experience with the damage they do to film!

A. No worries. Pills are not susceptible to damage from X-rays.

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    About the Author
    Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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    Haha, I was actually drinking a glass of water with baking soda in it when I ran across the term “baking soda poisoning” on the internet. *Gulp, I guess I will reduce my dependence on it. Any sugar in my diet seems to set my stomach on fire and baking soda seems to put out that fire. I also use it to help my kidneys.

    I wonder if it is possible to absorb it through your skin. I suffer from seborrhea and have found that not using oils or soaps on my skin greatly reduces flare ups. I often stir some baking soda into a sink full of warm water to wash my face and hair.

    I have been taking baking soda for about a year now, with no problems. I have been taking 1 teaspoon twice a day for no more than 2 weeks at a time. I then quit taking it for a week, and then start up again. I have not had a problem with a low potassium level that I know of, but I am now going to reduce to 1/2 teaspoon twice daily for two weeks, not so much for a potassium level problem, but rather because of the sodium content of 1,200 mg per teaspoon. I have not had a problem with my acid reflex since doing this, but I do not eat any spicy foods anymore. My reason for starting with baking soda in the first place is to try to reverse my low kidney function.

    To answere John’s question on how much is too much , I have found a flat teaspoon in long glass, stir until clear is about right. In the same circumstances that the husband with heartburn was in, I was also recently in panic and pain, I grabbed the Bi Carb and tipped some from the packet into the glass while holding it under the tap.

    No stirring, no waiting for it to clear. Bad mistake. 3days ago, still have dizzy headache, room spins, drinking heaps but still thirsty. Sore throat, on going……be careful.

    Not a very informative article. Saying “he drank too much baking soda” tells readers nothing. It would be more informative to say how much he drank, and how much is too much.

    @John Spot on

    * Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^