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.