By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
When I was growing up, baking soda --- sodium bicarbonate --- was one of those ubiquitous helpful remedies that made you start to believe your Mom had magical powers. Upset tummy? No problem. She would just stir a little baking soda in a glass of water and abracadabra, your tummy was all good again.
Fast forward 40 years and baking soda is now the darling of a whole movement in natural health, the alkaline diet movement.
The alkaline diet movement gathered momentum when doctors, notably researchers from University of California, San Francisco (Dr. Lynda Frassetto, lead researcher) published a number of important studies that showed that the modern diet is much more acidic than the diet that our ancestors ate for most of our evolutionary history.
The California team, in a 2003 study, makes the observation that our ancestors ate diets with much less salt and much more potassium, and diets which had much less acidity and thus more alkaline than our current diets.
Since we have not changed much genetically in the last 10,000 or so years since the advent of modern agriculture, the scientists theorize that the diets we now eat are mismatched with the true biological needs.
This mismatch, they believe, has caused our blood to become too acidic, with serious complications: kidney disease, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular problems, to name a few.
And you know what? They may be right. But we need a whole lot more research to say so.
The Science of Your Blood PH and Why It Matters
PH is just a measure of how acidic or alkaline something is. Water has a PH of zero. Acidic substances all have a PH under 7. Alkaline substances, also called "base" substances, are the opposite of acidic substances. Alkaline foods or drinks all have a PH above 7.
Almost every living thing on earth exists within a very specific PH range. Our blood must be maintained in a fairly narrow range of PH values of between 7.365 to 7.4 or , to be blunt, we die.
As a result, our bodies will do almost anything to maintain that critical blood PH level. It will steal calcium from your bones, teeth, drain minerals from anywhere it can find them --- literally, anything --- to maintain the precise PH balance of your blood.
Your Diet Is Probably Too Acidic
So long as it can steal what it needs to maintain our blood's PH level, our body survives. The problem is, that almost everything we modern humans eat is very acidic --- grains, sugar, dairy, meat, fish and so on.
The research into the hyperacidity of the modern diet is serious and deserves a place in the discussion of how to fight chronic diseases. But some people take a short cut to balance acidity, and that's where the problems start.
Baking Soda to the Rescue
Many people, aware of how acidic our diets are, fix the problem by eating non-acidic diets. One of the most famous is the paleo diet, which attempts to match what our cave-dwelling ancestors ate:no grains, out with the milk and other dairy, no sugar.
This type of eating, while unquestionably healthy for those who have too much acid in their diets, is hard. Most people can't make the total commitment to this type of eating.
Enter baking soda. This appears to be a short-cut solution for many. Baking soda is an alkaline substance. The reason it works to calm our stomachs is that it neutralizes the acid in our stomachs. Alka-Seltzer's main ingredient is bicarbonate. Bicarb is also the main active ingredient of many products for upset stomachs such as Tums.
Armed with the knowledge that baking soda neutralizes acidity, some have taken it too much to heart.
Cases of Baking Soda Overdose
Too much baking soda can cause you a world of trouble. Here are a few of the health problems caused by taking too much baking soda:
Alkadosis. Too much baking soda is toxic. Your body treats it as a poison. Your blood becomes dangerously alkaline.
A 2014 study from California found that baking soda toxicity is a serious problem.
The study, by the California Poison Control System - San Francisco Division, University of California, surveyed 192 cases of baking soda poisonings. Most of the cases (60.4%) involved people who had taken too much baking soda as an antacid. Another 11.5% of people had taken baking soda to "beat a drug test" and another 4.7% had taken too much baking soda in a attempt to home treat a urinary tract infection (UTI).
The study advises doctors to advise patients against the misuse of baking soda as a home remedy since " Misuse of baking soda can result in serious electrolyte and acid/base imbalances".
Seizures. Too much baking soda in your blood can causes seizures, heart dysrhythmias, cardiac arrest, hypokalemia (too little potassium in your blood), hypernatremia (too much salt in your blood), and even hypoxia (not enough oxygen) and of course death, advises a 199 study from Alameda County Medical Center, Oakland, California.
Gastric Rupture. Too much baking soda can cause gastric rupture, which is as bad as it sounds. Literally, your guts break open. This was the warning in a 1994 study from the Department of Emergency Medicine, East Carolina University School of Medicine, Greenville, NC.
How Much Is Too Much Baking Soda?
Generally following the manufacturer's instruction as to the amount you should take and the purposes you should take it for is a good rule of thumb. But the amount of baking soda that is "too much" depends on your current blood PH.
From the studies on poisonings, what we can say is that if you are taking more than half a teaspoon of baking soda or if you are taking baking soda more than twice a week, you need to be under a doctor's care.
Not many people who decide to self-alkalinize their blood also are careful enough to take a PH blood test each and every day. And, even if you are, you can't embark on a self-alkalinization of your blood stream outside of a doctor's care. The risks are just too great.