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Baking soda is a fast-acting and very effective natural heartburn remedy, but taking it too often isn't the best idea. What are the potential side effects of using baking soda as an acid reflux treatment in the long-term?

Imagine this — you suffer from an acute episode of heartburn, as around 15 percent of Americans do about once a week [1]. Unfortunately, you don't have any antacids handy, and if you're anything like many people who often get heartburn, the episode has also struck you late at night, perhaps even after you went to bed [2]. You don't really want to go to the pharmacy right now, obviously, but you still want to get rid of heartburn fast

The proverbial cogs in your brain are turning: could you have anything in your kitchen that might help relieve heartburn?

Well, you have yogurt, but is yogurt a good heartburn remedy? Not really, because yogurt is actually a pretty acidic substance — just like the stomach acid that's torturing your esophagus [3]. You've also heard that baking soda works to relieve heartburn, so you give that a go instead. To your amazement, it does the job, and pretty fast to boot. 

Once you discover that baking soda is a pretty great short-term natural heartburn remedy, you might be tempted to just keep using it as needed. Is that really a good idea, though?

How Does Baking Soda Get Rid Of Heartburn — And How Well?

The stomach acid that backs up into your esophagus when you suffer from acid reflux is, need I mention it, rather acidic. Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, on the other hand, has a pH of somewhere between 8 and 9 when dissolved in water, making it an alkaline substance [4]. When the two combine, a chemical reaction occurs, and the baking soda neutralizes the effect of the stomach acid. Baking soda is, in other words, simply a natural antacid.

You might let out a great big carbon dioxide burp, and then your heartburn is "magically" gone. Interestingly, the carbon dioxide produced during the process also creates a kind of "raft" that floats atop your stomach acids, that is pH neutral, and that can potentially enter the esophagus instead of stomach acid [5]. 

Does it work? Does this process really treat heartburn? You bet. There's a reason carbonates and bicarbonates are used in commercial antacids [6]!

Antacids, in general, do not, unfortunately, have a very long-lasting effect: baking soda may give you relief from heartburn for 20 minutes to an hour, after which the nightmare may just start all over again [6]. You may then be tempted to use more baking soda. Considering that baking soda is one of the best natural heartburn remedies, you may not even realize you could be doing your body more harm than good. It's only natural, right? Think again. 

Baking Soda As A Heartburn Remedy: What Are The Side Effects?

Take lots and lots of baking soda orally, and you'll find yourself at risk of a whole bunch of scary-sounding and actually scary medical terms that come with the prefixes "hypo" and "hyper". Translated into plain English, those include high blood pressure and really out of whack electrolytes. There's also the risk of alkalizing your urine and your whole metabolic system.

What does that mean in real terms, for people who use baking soda as a heartburn remedy on a very regular basis? All you need to know is that cases of people needing to be hospitalized several times over the course of a few months for doing the exact same thing have been reported in the scientific literature [7].

Besides the already mentioned possible side effects, taking really high doses of baking soda orally can even result in stomach rupture [8] and heart problems [9]. 

Does This Mean I Shouldn't Take Baking Soda For My Heartburn?

Nope — if you dissolve half a teaspoon to a teaspoon of baking soda into a glass of water to treat your acute heartburn once in a while, you should be absolutely fine.

Baking soda should not become a permanent crutch to lean on for people who have chronic heartburn, however. If you suffer from heartburn at least twice a week, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and you should consult a doctor. 

In the meantime, you will also want to look out for some more permanent solutions to your heartburn that do not come with potential side effects:

  • With an acid reflux diet, food is a natural heartburn remedy. If you avoid consuming foods and beverages that are known to trigger heartburn in many people, you may find that you suffer from acid reflux considerably less often. Foods to avoid include peppermint, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, spicy foods, and fatty foods. [10]
  • A higher body mass index increases intra-abdominal pressure and places you at a greater risk of frequent acid reflux. Try to lose weight if you are overweight or obese. [11]
  • Eat smaller portions more often, rather than three large meals a day. 
  • Try chewing gum for half an hour after eating a meal, or going for a brisk walk for the same amount of time. [12]
  • Sleeping on your left side may lessen your risk of nightly heartburn. [13]

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