This common kitchen item can improve your overall health

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS
Published August 19, 2020

Key Takeaways

In the United States, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) has a rich history. Its use dates back to Colonial America when it was imported from England. In 1846, a Connecticut physician named Austin Church and a Massachusetts farmer named John Dwight built a factory in New York to produce the stuff. Dr. Church’s son, John, later established a mill called Vulcan Spice Mills. Vulcan is the Roman god of forge and fire, and the symbol for the company was an arm and a hammer, which became the basis for the modern Arm & Hammer brand.

Besides its purpose for making cookies and bread, baking soda also has a host of health uses. Here are seven you might want to consider.

Tumor ‘neutralizer’

Although preclinical studies of the antineoplastic potential of sodium bicarbonate began in the early 1990s, the use of baking soda as cancer therapy has been slow to take. Nevertheless, it could be therapeutically effective at buffering the tumor environment, although high-powered clinical trials still need to be done.

According to a recent review article published in Integrative Cancer Therapies, the antitumor effects of sodium bicarbonate are related to acidosis of the tumor: “The distinctive metabolic mode of solid tumors leads to acidity in the tumor microenvironment, which results in the activation of multiple factors contributing to tumor development. The most direct method to conquer the acidity is neutralization. Several in vivo experiments have revealed potential anticancer effects of sodium bicarbonate alone or in combination with other therapies.”

Periodontal disease preventer

Dental biofilm is made up of diverse bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. The biofilm forms when bacteria attach to salivary molecules that are adsorbed to the tooth surface. The attached bacteria divide and secrete polymers that create a scaffold for additional biofilm development, which even more bacteria attach themselves to. 

Toothpastes and powders (also called dentifrices) that contain baking soda may act to disrupt biofilms on teeth, which is crucial in maintaining periodontal health.

According to the authors of a review article published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, “Some clinical studies demonstrated the benefits of baking soda dentifrices in plaque and gingivitis reduction. Clinical trials with longer follow-up would be useful to confirm the impact of baking soda on gingival health.”

The authors added, “Regular dental biofilm control and adjunctive use of baking soda dentifrices in an otherwise healthy and compliant patient may provide success in maintenance of gingival health.”

Kidney disease mediator

Sodium phosphate is used to treat constipation and to clean out the colon before examination, as well as being a preservative. Some believe that it can also be used to detoxify the kidneys, which is untrue, according to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF).

However, baking soda may be good for the kidneys. “Sodium bicarbonate (AKA baking soda) is useful for some people with kidney disease. For them, baking soda makes the blood less acid, which slows the progression of kidney disease,” the NKF wrote.

GERD reliever

Sodium bicarbonate is an effective antacid that comes in both tablet and powder formulations. As an antacid, these preparations should be taken 1-2 hours after meals and with a full glass of water. Sodium bicarbonate powder should be dissolved in at least 4 ounces of water.

However, using sodium bicarbonate too often can lead to toxicity in the form of electrolyte and acid-base disturbances including alkalosis, hypernatremia, hypokalemia, hypocalcemia, and hypochloremia.

“The most common case reports of baking soda toxicity involve its excessive use as an antacid,” according to the authors of a review article published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology. “Baking soda has been suggested as a safe replacement for sodium bicarbonate in the management of chronic metabolic acidosis; however, there are case reports of morbidity when baking soda was used for this purpose. Surprisingly, there is one case report of systemic toxicity resulting from topical application of baking soda as a treatment for diaper rash.”

Pathophysiologic effects of overdose include hypercapnia/hypoventilation, decreased cardiac contractility, paresthesias, and tetany. Patient populations at special risk for baking soda toxicity include those with alcoholism and pregnant women with pica.

Sunburn soother

No cure for sunburn exists, but fortunately, various agents can be used to relieve the pain and discomfort of this condition, including baking soda baths.

“Add a few tablespoons of baking soda to cool bath water and soak skin for 15 to 20 minutes,” according to a podcast produced by University of Florida Health. “Baking soda has antiseptic properties, works as an exfoliant and can help with itchiness.” 

Other natural remedies that may help with sunburn include green tea baths and honey.


Sodium bicarbonate is known to have antibacterial and antifungal properties. In an experimental study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology, researchers demonstrated that baking soda is also active against viruses.

“The virucidal efficacy of sodium bicarbonate was enhanced when it was used in combination with aldehydes or hydrogen peroxide,” the authors wrote.

“An advantage of sodium bicarbonate over the available chemical disinfectants for food contact surfaces is its safety, ready availability and low cost. The use of sodium bicarbonate alone or in combination with aldehydes can be an effective and inexpensive method of disinfecting food contact surfaces,” they concluded. 

Hair clarifier

Baking soda is used in cosmetics and a gamut of healthcare products, including skin, bath, and hair preparations. Baking soda also makes for a good hair clarifier. Clarifying is a process where product buildup is stripped from the scalp. 

To use baking soda as a clarifier, mix 1 tbsp of baking soda with a 1/4 cup of warm water and rub gently into your hair. Be careful, however, because baking soda is abrasive and can hurt the scalp if rubbed in too vigorously. Also, clarifying your hair with baking soda should be done only occasionally; frequent use of baking soda can damage hair and irritate the scalp. 

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