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. If you have been diagnosed with GERD, follow your doctor’s instructions for managing your symptoms. If you suspect you have GERD, see your doctor to avoid long-term complications.
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 on an occasional basis only.
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 temporarily relieves symptoms of acid reflux. Caution: The sudden decrease in stomach acidity can cause acid rebound and your symptoms of acid reflux may return even worse than before. Relief may only be temporary.
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:
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.
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 acid stomach symptoms.
The recommended dose of sodium bicarbonate powder is:
|Children||must be determined by doctor|
|Adults and teenagers||1/2 tsp. dissolved in a 4-ounce glass of water, may be repeated in 2 hours|
- taking more than 3½ teaspoons of baking soda (seven ½-tsp doses) in a day
- taking more than 1½ teaspoons of baking soda (three ½-tsp doses) in a day if you’re over 60 years old
- using baking soda if you’ve been diagnosed with GERD
- 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
Remember: Too much baking soda can cause acid rebound (increased acid production) and make your symptoms worse. You’ll also want to make sure the baking soda is completely dissolved in at least 4 ounces of water, and sipped slowly.
See a doctor immediately if you have severe stomach pains after taking your dosage.
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 but not for regular use or treatment of GERD. 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.
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:
- 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.
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 six to eight 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 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 updated guidelines no longer recommend routine global elimination of the following foods:
- spicy foods
- 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.
Baking soda is a good treatment for immediate relief from occasional 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 can recommend treatments that may more effectively help your symptoms.