Are Potassium Bicarbonate Supplements Safe?

Medically reviewed by Alan Carter, PharmD on December 13, 2017Written by Corey Whelan on December 13, 2017

Overview

Potassium bicarbonate (KHCO3) is an alkaline mineral that’s available in supplement form.

Potassium is an important nutrient and electrolyte. It’s found in many foods. Fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, potatoes, and spinach are excellent sources. Potassium is necessary for cardiovascular health, strong bones, and muscle function. It supports the ability of muscles to contract. This makes it important for maintaining a strong, regular heartbeat, and for digestive health. Potassium can also help counter the negative effects of a diet that is too acidic.

Abnormally low levels of this mineral can result in:

  • muscle weakness and cramping
  • irregular heartbeat
  • gastric distress
  • low energy

Potassium bicarbonate supplements may help to counter these effects.

In addition to its potential health benefits, potassium bicarbonate has a number of nonmedical uses. For example, it:

  • works as a leavening agent to help dough rise
  • softens carbonation in soda water
  • reduces the acid content in wine, to improve flavor
  • neutralizes acid in soil, aiding crop growth
  • improves the taste of bottled water
  • is used as a flame retardant to combat fire
  • is used as a fungicide to destroy fungus and mildew

Is it safe?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes potassium bicarbonate as a safe substance, when used appropriately. The FDA limits over-the-counter potassium supplements to 100 milligrams per dosage. The FDA also specifies no knowledge of long-term studies that show this substance is hazardous.

Potassium bicarbonate is classified as a category C substance. This means it’s not recommended for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. It’s not currently known if potassium bicarbonate can pass into breast milk or if it will harm a nursing baby. If you’re pregnant or nursing, be sure to discuss your use of this supplement with your doctor.

What does the research say about its benefits?

If you’re not getting enough potassium in your diet, your doctor might recommend potassium bicarbonate supplements. Medical benefits include:

Improves heart health

One study suggested that adding potassium bicarbonate to your diet reduces blood pressure and benefits cardiovascular health in people who are already on a high-potassium, low-salt diet. Study participants taking potassium bicarbonate showed significant improvement in several areas, including endothelial function. The endothelium (inner lining of blood vessels) is important for blood flow, to and from the heart. Potassium may also help lower the risk of stroke.

Strengthens bones

The same study found that potassium bicarbonate reduces calcium loss, making it beneficial for bone strength and bone density. Another study suggested that potassium bicarbonate promoted calcium absorption in older individuals. It also reduced the impact of too-high levels of acid in the blood, protecting the musculoskeletal system from damage.

Dissolves kidney stones formed by excess uric acid

Uric acid stones may form in people who have diets high in purines. Purines are a natural, chemical compound. Purines may produce more uric acid than the kidneys can process, causing the formation of uric acid kidney stones. Potassium is highly alkaline in nature, making it beneficial for neutralizing excess acid. A case report suggested that taking an alkaline supplement such as potassium bicarbonate — in addition to dietary changes and mineral water ingestion — was enough to reduce uric acid and dissolve uric acid kidney stones. This eliminated the need for surgery.

Reduces potassium deficiency

Too little potassium (hypokalemia) can result from excessive or long-term vomiting, diarrhea, and conditions which affect the bowels, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Your doctor might recommend potassium bicarbonate supplements if your potassium levels are too low.

When to avoid this product

Having too much potassium in the body (hyperkalemia) can be as dangerous as having too little. It may even cause death. It’s important to discuss your specific medical needs with your doctor before taking supplements.

Too much potassium can cause:

In addition to pregnant and nursing women, people with specific disorders shouldn’t take this supplement. Others may require a lower dose based upon their doctor’s recommendations. These conditions include:

Potassium bicarbonate may interfere or interact with certain medications, some of which affect potassium levels. These include:

Potassium may also be added to certain foods, such as no- or low-salt substitutes. In order to avoid hyperkalemia, make sure to read all labels. Avoid products high in potassium if you’re using a potassium bicarbonate supplement.

Potassium bicarbonate is available as an over-the-counter (OTC) product. However, it’s not recommended that you use it without a doctor’s prescription or approval.

The takeaway

Potassium bicarbonate supplements may have health benefits for some people. Certain people, such as those with kidney disease, shouldn’t take potassium bicarbonate. It’s important to discuss your specific medical needs and conditions with your doctor prior to using this supplement. Even though potassium bicarbonate is readily available as an OTC product, it’s best to use only per your doctor’s recommendations.

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