Acid reflux occurs when some of the acid in the stomach flows back up into the food pipe, or esophagus. The acid irritates the lining of the food pipe and a person may experience a burning sensation in the chest, known as heartburn. A person with acid reflux might also have a sour taste in their mouth.
If a person experiences acid reflux more than twice a week they should see a doctor as they may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). If left untreated, GERD can cause ulcers and permanent damage to the food pipe. It also increases the risk of cancer of the food pipe.
Baking soda can be used as an antacid to counteract the acid in the stomach caused by acid reflux.
Baking soda and acid reflux
Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, is a salt made up of sodium ions and bicarbonate ions. It is typically found as a white crystalline solid or a fine powder, although tablets and capsules containing sodium bicarbonate are also available.
Baking soda is a common home remedy for acid reflux, but should not be used too frequently.
Baking soda is primarily used in baking as a rising agent, but it is also used in other ways, including as an ingredient in dental hygiene products and as a natural cleaning agent.
In addition to being used as an antacid, sodium bicarbonate is used in certain medical situations to make the blood and urine more alkaline.
Treating acid reflux
As it has an alkaline pH, baking soda is a common remedy for the relief of heartburn and acid reflux. It works by neutralizing the excess stomach acid that causes symptoms.
In general, adults and children over 12 years take ½ teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate powder mixed with a glass of water every 2 hours until symptoms go away. The dosage of tablets and other forms of sodium bicarbonate varies, so always follow the directions on the label.
Doctors only recommend using baking soda temporarily, at the first onset of symptoms. This is because other problems may develop if the body becomes too alkaline.
As with other medications, it is important to talk to a doctor about suitable dosages of sodium bicarbonate.
Children under 12 years old should always have their dosage prescribed by a doctor. Antacids are not commonly prescribed to children under 6 years of age.
Risks and side effects
Common side effects of baking soda include gas and bloating. Increased thirst and stomach cramps are other possible reactions. If any of these symptoms persist, or are severe, contact a doctor.
Baking soda can interfere with how the body absorbs some medications. Users should also bear in mind that baking soda has a very high salt content.
More serious side effects are rare. They include:
- Blood in the urine, stool, or vomit
- Difficulty breathing normally
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle spasms and contractions
- Severe headache
- Swollen feet, ankles, or legs
- Weakness or lethargy
Anyone experiencing any of the above symptoms should stop taking baking soda and contact a doctor without delay.
If a person experiences heartburn for longer than 2 weeks, they should see a doctor.
Baking soda and existing medical conditions
People with the following medical conditions should avoid taking baking soda, unless told to do so by their doctor:
- Alkalosis: When the body’s pH is higher than normal
- Appendicitis: Inflammation of the appendix
- Edema: Swelling caused by excess fluid in the body’s tissues
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Preeclampsia: A condition during pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure, edema, and excess proteins in the urine
Pregnant women should not take baking soda for acid reflux without discussing it with their doctor first.
Sodium bicarbonate interactions
Sodium bicarbonate should not be taken within 2 hours of other medications. It lowers stomach acid levels, which means it can interfere with the body’s ability to break down and absorb medications.
In addition, baking soda can interact with the following types of medications:
Baking soda can lower stomach acid levels, making it harder for the body to break down and absorb drugs.
- Iron sulfate or ferrous sulfate
This list is not exhaustive, and sodium bicarbonate can interact with other medications. Therefore, it is always important for individuals to provide their doctor with a complete list of the prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications they are taking when discussing the use of baking soda as an antacid.
Other acid reflux treatments
There are many other treatments for acid reflux, including lifestyle changes, prescription and nonprescription medications, and surgical interventions.
Heartburn and acid reflux may be reduced naturally by implementing some, or all, of the following changes:
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Staying within a healthy weight range in relation to height can reduce some of the pressure on the stomach. This means the stomach acid isn’t being forced up the food pipe.
- Knowing and avoiding food triggers: Certain foods and drinks trigger acid reflux. Although triggers vary from person to person, the most common include alcohol, chocolate, garlic, onions, caffeine, fried foods, and high-fat foods. Avoiding triggers is a simple way to reduce heartburn.
- Avoiding overeating or eating too quickly: Eating large meals makes it difficult for the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to close properly. The LES acts like a valve that separates the food pipe from the stomach, and stops acid from rising. Eating too quickly can also contribute to heartburn.
- Avoiding eating while lying down.
- Waiting at least 2 to 3 hours before lying down after eating.
- Wearing loose clothing: Tight-fitting clothing puts pressure on the stomach.
- Quitting smoking: There is a clear link between smoking and GERD.
- Raising the head of the bed: People who experience acid reflux at night may benefit from raising the head of their bed with blocks or wooden wedges.
Medications for acid reflux
If lifestyle changes do not help acid reflux, medication is usually the next treatment option. Some common prescription and OTC medications include:
- Antacids: There are several antacids available other than baking soda for the relief of acid reflux and heartburn. A doctor or pharmacist can advise on the different options.
- H-2-receptor blockers: These medications lower acid production in the stomach for up to 12 hours. They are available from the pharmacy, with stronger versions available on prescription.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): These medications are stronger than H-2-receptor blockers, and block acid production for longer periods of time. This allows the damaged tissue in the food pipe time to heal. PPIs are available over the counter or on prescription.
Surgery for acid reflux and GERD
Medication is usually enough to treat GERD and acid reflux in most people.
If not, surgical solutions can be considered. These include surgery to tighten the lower esophageal sphincter, or surgery to insert a magnetic device which helps the LES remain closed to stomach acid.
When to see a doctor
It is advisable to discuss taking baking soda for acid reflux with a doctor.
Those with existing medical conditions, or people on prescription or OTC medications, should consult their doctor before taking baking soda.
As acid reflux can lead to more serious conditions if left untreated, those who experience symptoms for more than 2 weeks should contact their doctor.