For over 3 decades, I have championed the health benefits of being alkaline. Helping people alkalinize has long been a key tenet of my clinical practice. The Alkaline Way lifestyle program was created specifically to help people achieve and sustain the ideal acid/alkaline balance inside their cells.
Given my long experience studying and working with acid/alkaline balance, I want to weigh in on the recent articles touting baking soda as beneficial in reducing “the destructive inflammation of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis,” that have been circulating in popular health media this year.
While I applaud this new focus on the benefits of alkalinizing, and wholeheartedly affirm that physiologic alkalinizing is essential to sustainable health, I contend that use of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to quell inflammation and autoimmunity brings more risk than benefit. In my opinion, it is actually a harmful choice that one should avoid.
Baking soda is indeed alkaline in the test tube. So it is logical to assume that regularly taking baking soda would be a simple yet effective way to alkalinize. But this is not the desired path to raising alkalinity.
Oral ingestion of bicarbonate creates a transient false alkalinity that can actually impair digestion. Intake of baking soda does not induce, repair, or stimulate alkaline cell renewal. It would be nice if there were a quick fix for this, like simply downing a daily dose of bicarbonate. But that’s simply not the case.
We advocate taking a physiologic approach that includes eating a diet that can be digested, assimilated, and eliminated without immune burden, and that includes sufficient alkaline foods to balance acid produced by metabolism. It is essential to maintain cellular energy (ATP/ADP ratio) so cells can electively protect themselves. Net Acid Excess (NAE) is increased by delayed immune reactions, toxic exposures, excess fat and protein, and processed foods. NAE is reduced by adequate hydration and mineral rich whole foods that nurture microbiome and metabolome.
Ensuring that net acids are balanced by alkaline food intake is crucial for effective immune defense and repair as well as neurohormonal balance that, in turn, downregulates inflammation while promoting resilience. This can be accomplished by including alkalinizing foods and minerals like magnesium, potassium, and zinc. And it is easy to monitor and guide the process with a daily urine pH after rest.
After six or more hours of rest, the fluid in the bladder equilibrates with the cells to give a useful self-assessment of how much alkaline intake is needed to balance metabolic net acid production. (Learn more about measuring urine pH.) The goal is a healthy pH ranging from 6.5-7.5.
A pH below 6.5 means that NAE is high. This can be ameliorated by increasing intake of alkalinizing MCT (medium chain triglycerides), alkaline amino acids, and minerals.
While it is true that baking soda can easily help neutralize many acids and transiently raise the urine pH, there are other bicarbonate effects to consider:
- Baking soda does not provide a healthy mix of minerals like magnesium to balance calcium, potassium to balance sodium and zinc to balance copper. These minerals are essential to maintain cell energy and function.
- Bicarbonate intake makes it more difficult to test acid-alkaline balance. The first morning urine pH is an effective biomarker for tracking the cellular acid/alkaline status of the body – how well you are alkalinizing. The intake of baking soda can skew the results such that it seems that the body has reached its desired acid/alkaline balance. This is both transient and misleading.
- Bicarbonate neutralizes stomach acid. Adequate stomach acid is essential for healthy digestion. Taking bicarbonates regularly can create a false alkalinity that compromises stomach function. People who routinely use baking soda often experience nausea, bloating and stomach cramps, especially if they are low in histidine, the amino acid that donates the stomach acid proton.
- The sodium load from baking soda can cause fluid retention, particularly edema and nephrotic syndrome in people with compromised kidneys or chronic kidney disease (CKD). Clinically, this means an eGFR of less than 30 ml/min; an eGFR of100 ml/min is considered “healthy.”
- Sodium bicarbonate can raise cardiovascular risk, owing to its high sodium load. Many people, especially those battling hypertension and cardiac issues, need to minimize their salt intake, not raise it.
- In high amounts, bicarbonate can precipitate leaching of minerals, especially magnesium and calcium, potassium and sodium, zinc and copper. These trace elements are essential for cellular health.
I have nothing against baking soda. In fact, I highly recommend using it in place of laundry detergents and various cleaning products. It also makes a good toothpaste alternative.
But for the reasons stated above, I don’t recommend ingesting baking soda as a route to alkalinization. I have always advocated a “physiology-first” approach to alkalinizing. Induce repair and stimulate alkaline cell renewal through a diet that can be digested, assimilated and eliminated without immune burden and that provides sufficient alkaline intake to balance NAE.
To learn more about alkalinizing the Alkaline Way, visit www.AlkalineWay.com.
Further reading and evidence:
- Jaffe R. The Alkaline Way: Integrative Management of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Other Autoimmune Conditions, in Bioactive Food as Interventions for Arthritis and Related Inflammatory Diseases, Ronald Ross Watson & Victor Preedy (Eds), Academic Press. 2013: p97-112.
- Pizzorno J, Frassetto LA, Katzinger J. 2010. Diet-induced acidosis: is it real and clinically relevant? Br J Nutr 103: 1185-1194
- Whiting SJ, Muirhead JA. 2005. Measurement of net acid excretion by use of paper strips. Nutrition 21: 961-3
- Jaffe, R. Brown S. Acid-Alkaline balance and its Effect on Bone Health. Intl J Integrative Med. 2000; 2 (6): 7-18.
- Mikal S. Homeostasis in Man: Fluids, Electrolytes, Proteins, Vitamins and Minerals in Clinical care, Little Brown, 1967.