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Can Store-Bought Baking Soda Really Treat Acid Reflux?

antacid in water glass

What does acid reflux feel like?

Overview

  1. Baking soda can be used as an antacid to help neutralize stomach acid.
  2. It can quickly provide temporary relief from acid reflux.
  3. Drinking a solution of baking soda too fast can cause side effects like gas and diarrhea.
  4. Baking soda isn’t a long-term solution for symptoms, especially for GERD.

Acid reflux is a digestive condition where stomach acid flows from the stomach back into the esophagus (the tract that connects your mouth to your stomach). This backwash of acid can irritate your esophagus and cause heartburn. Heartburn is the burning feeling that can occur anywhere from the middle of your abdomen to your throat.

Other symptoms of acid reflux can include:

  • bad breath
  • pain in your chest or upper stomach
  • nausea and vomiting
  • difficulty or painful swallowing
  • sensitive teeth
  • problems with breathing
  • bad taste in your mouth
  • a nagging cough

If the symptoms remain consistent and worsen, then it may have progressed into gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This means that the acid reflux happens at least twice a week, interferes with your daily life, and has possibly damaged your esophagus.

Many pharmacies and stores sell acid reflux medications, such as Tums or proton pump inhibitors, as over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. But there’s one inexpensive treatment you may already have at home: baking soda.

Baking soda is a popular method for treating digestive problems like heartburn, acid indigestion, and upset stomachs.

Why baking soda works

The key to baking soda’s ability to treat acid reflux lies in the ingredient sodium bicarbonate. In fact, your pancreas naturally produces sodium bicarbonate to protect your intestines. As an absorbable antacid, sodium bicarbonate quickly neutralizes stomach acid and relieves symptoms of acid reflux.

Baking soda is thought to mimic the effects of natural sodium bicarbonate production in the body. OTC antacids like Alka-Seltzer contain sodium bicarbonate, the active ingredient in baking soda.

Baking soda products

The same type of baking soda you use in baking or to absorb smells from your fridge can neutralize stomach acid. It’s also cheaper in that form, compared to OTC medications.

You can buy baking soda in other forms as well, including:

  • capsules
  • tablets
  • granules
  • solutions

Alka-Seltzer is the most common brand name OTC medication that contains sodium bicarbonate. Sodium bicarbonate is also available in some medications with omeprazole, a type of proton pump inhibitor (PPI), called Zegerid. In this case, the sodium bicarbonate is used to help the omeprazole be more effective, rather than for immediate relief of reflux symptoms.

How to use baking soda

Always ask your doctor for instructions if you’re unsure about the dosage. The amount of baking soda recommended is based on age. It’s meant to provide short-term relief and not be a long-term treatment for GERD.

The recommended dose of sodium bicarbonate powder is:

AgeDosage (teaspoon)
Childrenmust be determined by doctor
Adults and teenagers1/2 tsp. dissolved in a 4-ounce glass of water, may be repeated in 2 hours

Avoid:

  • taking more than 3 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in a day
  • taking more than 1 1/2 teaspoon a day if you’re over 60 years old
  • taking the maximum dosage for more than two weeks
  • taking the dosage when you’re overly full, to avoid gastric rupture
  • drinking baking soda solution too quickly, as it can lead to increased diarrhea and gas

Too much baking soda can cause acid rebound, which is increased acid production, and make your symptoms worse. You’ll also want to make sure the baking soda is completely dissolved.

See a doctor immediately if you have severe stomach pains after taking your dosage.

How to treat acid reflux in infants »

For people who don’t like the taste of baking soda, there are OTC and prescription tablets. Most of these tablets dissolve easily in water. Follow the instructions on the box for the recommended dosage.

Baking soda is intended to be used for immediate relief of heartburn and indigestion. See your doctor if your acid reflux lasts more than two weeks. Your doctor may recommend using other medications like H2 blockers or PPIs to decrease stomach acid production.

What are the potential side effects?

While baking soda provides fast relief, this method isn’t right for everyone. The most common cause of baking soda toxicity is overuse. You should avoid using baking soda if you’re following a low-sodium diet. One-half teaspoon of baking soda contains about one-third of your recommended sodium intake for the day.

Ask your doctor if baking soda is a good alternative treatment for you. They’ll be able to tell you if baking soda will interact with your medications or increase your sodium levels.

Side effects may include:

  • gas
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • stomach pain

Long-term and overuse of baking soda can increase your risk for:

  • hypokalemia, or potassium blood deficiency
  • hypochloremia, or chloride blood deficiency
  • hypernatremia, or rise in sodium levels
  • worsening kidney disease
  • worsening heart failure
  • muscle weakness and cramps
  • increased stomach acid production

People who drink excessive amounts of alcohol also have a greater risk for serious complications. The sodium in baking soda can increase dehydration and worsen other symptoms.

See your doctor right away if you have these symptoms:

  • frequent urination
  • loss of appetite and/or unexplained weight loss
  • breathing difficulties
  • swelling in limbs and feet
  • bloody or tar-like stools
  • blood in the urine
  • vomit that looks like coffee grounds

Pregnant women and children under the age of 6 should avoid baking soda as a treatment for acid reflux.

Managing acid reflux

These lifestyle changes have shown to be effective for GERD symptoms:

  • avoiding meals that are high in fat two to three hours before lying down
  • working toward weight loss, if you’re overweight
  • sleeping at an angle, with your head raised 6 to 8 inches

Avoiding certain foods is a popular recommendation, but dietary changes don’t decrease reflux symptoms. A comprehensive review of over 2,000 studies found that no evidence for food elimination as a treatment.

In fact, the American College of Gastroenterology updated their 2013 guidelines to not recommend food elimination. The foods included:

  • alcohol
  • chocolate
  • wine
  • spicy foods
  • citrus
  • peppermint
  • tomato products

But some foods, like chocolate and carbonated beverages, may reduce the pressure on your control valve, allowing for food and stomach acid to reverse.

Takeaway

Baking soda is a good treatment for immediate relief from acid reflux. The recommended dosage for adults is 1/2 teaspoon dissolved in a 4-ounce glass of water. It’s best to sip this drink slowly to avoid side effects like gas and diarrhea. You can repeat every two hours.

But baking soda isn’t recommended as a long-term treatment, especially if you have GERD or need to be on a low-salt diet.

Talk to your doctor if your acid reflux interferes with your daily life or occurs two or more times per week. Your doctor will be able to recommend treatments that may more effectively help your symptoms.

You asked, we answered

  • Can I use baking powder to treat heartburn?
  • Baking powder is different than baking soda. Baking soda contains only sodium bicarbonate, a weak base, so it is able to neutralize stomach acid. Baking powder contains some sodium bicarbonate, but it also contains the acid, cream of tartar. So while there is sodium bicarbonate in baking powder, the addition of the acid makes it a less effective acid reducer. Therefore it is not recommended as a treatment.

    - Judith Marcin, MD

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Home Remedies for Acid Reflux/GERD
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What Complementary and Alternative Medicines Work for Acid Reflux?
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