According to the American College of Gastroenterology, over 60 million Americans experience acid reflux at least once a month. Some studies suggest over 15 million have it daily.
Anyone who experiences acid reflux more than twice a week should seek medical treatment, as it may be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or another underlying condition.
However, if acid reflux comes and goes and lasts less than 2 weeks, baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate may help.
Some over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs for acid reflux contain sodium bicarbonate. For example, Zegerid combines sodium bicarbonate with omeprazole.
However, some people also use baking soda from the kitchen as an antacid to counteract acid reflux.
Benefits of baking soda
Add half a teaspoon of baking soda to a glass of water to relieve occasional heartburn.
Baking soda — or sodium bicarbonate — is a salt that consists of sodium ions and bicarbonate ions.
It usually appears as white crystalline solid or a fine powder. Tablets and capsules containing sodium bicarbonate are also available.
People mainly use baking soda as a rising agent, for example in cake making. It is also an ingredient in dental hygiene products and a natural cleaning agent.
For medical purposes, sodium bicarbonate can make the urine more alkaline, for example, if a person has a urinary tract infection. A doctor should supervise its use, however, as it can have adverse effects.
Baking soda and heartburn
Baking soda has an alkaline pH, and it is a common remedy for the relief of heartburn and acid reflux. It neutralizes the excess stomach acid that causes symptoms.
The Canadian Society of Intestinal Research remind people that baking soda is a temporary solution to acid reflux. They advise people that sodium bicarbonate is available from a pharmacy in the form of tablets and effervescent powder.
However, they add: "If you are in a pinch, a half teaspoon of baking soda mixed in at least 125 milliliters (ml), or half a cup of water may provide a quick relief of symptoms."
If you are using an OTC or prescription medication, follow the instructions on the package.
Doctors only recommend using baking soda temporarily, when symptoms first appear. This is because other problems may develop if the body becomes too alkaline. Baking soda is also a salt, and too much salt can lead to further problems.
As with other medications, it is essential to talk to a doctor about suitable dosages of sodium bicarbonate.
Children under 6 years old should only use sodium bicarbonate if a doctor prescribes it.
Acid reflux remedies containing baking soda are available for purchase online.
Risks and side effects
Common side effects of baking soda include:
- gas and bloating
- increased thirst
- stomach cramps
If any of these symptoms persist or are severe, contact a doctor.
Anyone who experiences heartburn for longer than 2 weeks should also see a doctor.
Baking soda and existing medical conditions
People with the following medical conditions should avoid taking baking soda unless their doctor advises them to:
- alkalosis, when the body's pH is higher, or more alkali, than normal
- edema, which is swelling caused by excess fluid in the body's tissues
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- kidney disease
- liver disease
- preeclampsia, a condition during pregnancy that features high blood pressure, edema, and excess proteins in the urine
Baking soda is not suitable for acid reflux during pregnancy unless a doctor recommends it.
Sodium bicarbonate interactions
Baking soda can interfere with how the body absorbs some medications. People should not take it within 2 hours of other medicines.
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:
Make sure you take baking soda with plenty of water, and check first with a doctor if you are taking another medication.
- amphetamines, including dextroamphetamine and methamphetamine
This list is not exhaustive, and sodium bicarbonate can interact with other medications.
People should always tell their doctor which medications they are taking, whether prescription, OTC, supplements, or alternative remedies when discussing the use of baking soda as an antacid.
Other treatment for acid reflux
There are many different treatments for acid reflux, including lifestyle changes, prescription and OTC medications, and surgical interventions.
People can reduce heartburn and acid reflux 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 prevents the stomach acid from being forced up the food pipe.
Knowing and avoiding food triggers: Certain foods and drinks trigger acid reflux. Triggers vary between individuals, but they most commonly 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 as a valve that separates the food pipe from the stomach and stops acid from rising. Eating too quickly can also contribute to heartburn.
Sit up straight: Other eating habits that can reduce the risk of getting heartburn include sitting up straight to eat and waiting at least 2 to 3 hours after eating before lying down.
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
See a doctor for acid reflux that lasts more than 2 weeks.
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 any 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, a doctor may recommend surgery.
Options include surgery to tighten the LES, or surgery to insert a magnetic device that prevents stomach acid from entering the LES.
When to see a doctor
People should talk to a doctor before taking baking soda for acid reflux.
Anyone who has an existing medical condition or is taking any medication should speak to a doctor before taking baking soda.
Without treatment, acid reflux can lead to more serious conditions and complications. If symptoms last for more than 2 weeks, the individual should contact their doctor.