Alkalinizing for Health: Is Baking Soda Helpful or Harmful?

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For over three decades, Dr. Russell Jaffe has championed the health benefits of alkalinizing. The importance of alkalinizing has been at the core of everything we do at PERQUE Integrative Health. The Alkaline Way lifestyle program was created specifically to help people alkalinize – achieve and sustain the ideal acid/alkaline balance inside their cells. This is a topic on which we have much to contribute, so we must comment on the recent articles touting baking soda as beneficial in reducing ‘the destructive inflammation of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis’.

We affirm that physiologic alkalinizing is essential to sustainable health. Baking soda for inflammation and autoimmunity, however, turns out to be too good to be true; a mirage that adds more risk than benefit.

Swallowing baking soda harms digestion and does not achieve the cell alkalinizing that is helpful. A remarkable enzyme catalyst (carbonic anhydrase) regulates bicarbonate to carbon dioxide content in the body. Baking soda combines interesting chemistry, surprising medical implications and harmful choices to avoid.

Bicarbonate creates a transient false alkalinity that can impair digestion.

Intake of baking soda does not induce repair or stimulate alkaline cell renewal. We do not recommend consuming baking soda as a method of alkalinizing. In contrast, we advocate the physiologic approach as described in the Joy in Living Alkaline Way. This includes eating a diet that can be digested, assimilated and eliminated without immune burden (for more information about identifying intolerances visit www.ELISAACT.com.) In addition, sufficient alkaline intake to balance acids produced by metabolism is essential to maintain cell energy (ATP/ADP ratio) so the cell can electively protect itself. Net Acid Excess (NAE) is increased by delayed immune reactions, toxic exposures, excess fat and protein intake and processed foods. NAE is reduced by adequate hydration and mineral rich whole foods that nurture microbiome and metabolome.

Maintaining metabolic health requires net acids produced to be balanced by alkaline dietary intake – healthy and sustainable alkalinizing. This is crucial for effective immune defense and repair as well as neurohormonal balance that in turn banishes inflammation while promoting energetic resilience. This can be accomplished by including alkalinizing foods and minerals like magnesium, potassium, and zinc with daily intake based the urine pH after rest. After six or more hours of rest, the fluid in the bladder equilibrates with the cells to give a useful self-assessment of how much alkalinizing intake is needed to balance metabolic net acid production. (Learn more about measuring urine pH.)

The alkalinizing goal is a healthy pH ranging from 6.5-7.5. Below pH 6.5 increasing NAE is observed. The healthier response is to increase intake of alkalinizing MCT (medium chain triglycerides), alkaline amino acids (recycled glutamine with PAK), and minerals (magnesium uptake enhanced by choline citrate).

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is indeed alkaline in the test tube, but it is not the desired path to alkalinizing. By regularly taking baking soda, it is logical to assume that that would be a simple yet effective way to alkalinize. As a wise colleague often says, “Alkalinize or die”. While it is true that it can easily help neutralize many acids and transiently raise the urine pH, there are other bicarbonate effects to consider:

  1. Does it supply the essential alkalinizing minerals the cells need to repair and rebuild cell energy reserves?

Baking soda does not contain the healthy mix of minerals like magnesium to balance calcium, potassium to balance sodium and zinc to balance copper that are essential to maintain cell energy and function.

  1. Is the alkalinizing effect temporary and transient or helpful?

The first morning urine pH is an effective biomarker for tracking the cellular acid/alkaline status of the body – how well you are alkalinizing. The intake of baking soda can skew the results such that it seems that the body has reached its desired acid/alkaline balance. This is not only transient but misleading as well.

  1. Is bicarbonate intake in the stomach helpful or harmful to digestive function?

Alkaline bicarbonate neutralizes stomach acid. Adequate stomach acid is essential for healthy digestion. Taking bicarbonates regularly can create a false alkalinity compromising stomach digestive function. Nausea, bloating and stomach cramps are reported especially in people low in histidine, the amino acid that donates the stomach acid proton and is also the source for histamine, the sensitizing substance in immediate allergy.

  1. Does ‘false alkalinity’ pose a risk to weak kidneys including fluid retention (edema)?

The sodium load from baking soda can cause fluid retention (edema, nephrotic syndrome) in people with compromised kidneys or chronic kidney disease (CKD). Clinically, this means an eGFR of <30 ml/min when >100 ml/min is healthy.

  1. What about the sodium load especially for those with elevated blood pressure and/or other cardiovascular risks?

Sodium bicarbonate can add to the sodium load which for many is not recommended, especially those battling hypertension and cardiac issues. If metabolic alkalosis persists it can lead to decreased coronary blood flow and arrhythmias.

  1. Is the loss of essential minerals in urine, sweat and stool increased?

If taken in higher amounts, bicarbonate can precipitate leaching of magnesium and calcium, potassium and sodium, zinc and copper. These and other microminerals such as manganese and molybdenum, selenomethionine and iodine, chromium and vanadium, silica and boron are trace elements essential for cell health.

We affirm that physiologic alkalinizing is helpful to the body. However, the carbonic anhydrase system regulates bicarbonate to carbon dioxide content in the body. Bicarbonate creates a transient false, non-physiologic alkalinity.

Intake of baking soda does not induce repair or stimulate alkaline cell renewal. We advocate a physiology first approach as described in the Joy in Living the Alkaline Way and summarized in the Alkalinizing Tips shown below. We recommend alkalinizing by eating a diet that can be digested, assimilated and eliminated without immune burden. In addition, sufficient physiologic alkalinizing intake to balance NAE is essential to maintain cell energy (ATP/ADP ratio) so the cell can electively protect itself. NAE is increased by delayed immune reactions, toxic exposures, and processed foods. NAE is reduced by adequate hydration and mineral rich whole foods in a healthier microbiome and metabolome.

Suggestions for healthy, sustainable alkalinizing.

  1. Water / Hydration: Drink 2 or more quarts of uncontaminated water daily. Alkaline, hard, mineral-rich water is recommended.
    • Fresh lemon, lime, or other citrus juices added to water and herbal teas are recommended to further your alkalinizing efforts.
    • Warm, hot or room temperature beverages are better than cold. Iced beverages slow down and impair digestion; ice in beverages is not recommended.
  2. Breakfast: Find out what alkalinizing breakfast your body prefers.
    Try the following for two weeks each to find the breakfast your body prefers, the one that gives you sustained energy without energy dips and leaves you feeling and functioning better.
    Fruit and fruit smoothies
    • Eggs and other protein-rich foods
    • Granola or steel cut oatmeal as sources of complex carbs
  3. Snacks: Nuts, seeds, dried fruit, sprouts, and edible flowers. Almonds,
    flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and raisins are some good choices. Find the most alkalinizing choices that that you prefer.
  4. Lunch: If a full or big breakfast works better for you, try a salad or soup and salad for lunch. If you prefer a smaller breakfast, have a full lunch whenever possible. Set your work aside so that your brain is not working on business while you are also consuming foods.
  5. Dinner: Eat light in the evening. If you are managing your weight, drink a glass of room temperature or warm water before the meal. Consider digestive bitters like Compari or Unterborg to strengthen digestion. Include roasted or baked alkalinizing foods like sweet potatoes, yams, lentils, beans, chickpeas, and other root vegetables like parsnips, rutabaga, turnips, and kohlrabi. Herbs, seasonings, and spices are nutrient rich. Avoid those to which you are sensitive or allergic.
  6. Change your oil: Whole fish from deep cold water or wild, line-caught fish such as salmon are recommended. Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) supplements are often helpful. The Omega-3 Index measures your Omega 3 levels. The healthy goal is >8%.
  7. Balance of carbs, fats, protein, nutrients, minerals, and fiber: Whole foods consumed The Alkaline Way™ always give you a better balance of all the healthier carbs, fats, protein, and fiber. Green, cloudy extra virgin olive oil, organic coconut oil, ghee (clarified butter), almond, grape seed and organic peanut oil are recommended dietary and cooking oils. Lots of colorful, fully ripened, nutrient-rich and uncontaminated vegetables, fruits, and whole foods are recommended. Foods high in fat, protein, salt, and sugar should be condiments rather than staples of your diet.
  8. Food Sources: Home grown, locally vine-ripened, organic, and biodynamic sources have better nutritional quality, better taste, and are better for you.
  9. Sweeteners: Using fruit as sweeteners is the best principal. Other than that, small amounts of organic evaporated cane juice/jaggery, whole blue agave, rice bran syrup, maple syrup/flakes, monk fruit concentrate, coconut sugar and stevia are the only added sweeteners to be used for a “healthier for life” goal.
  10. Better NOT: Cyclamates, aspartame / Nutrasweet™, saccharine, Splenda™, Acesulfame K™, and other artificial or synthetic sweeteners are not recommended. Minimize or eliminate highly processed foods.
  11. Beyond diet: Avoid foods to which you react. Consider lymphocyte response assays to determine delayed food and chemical sensitivities.
  12. Movement and mobility: Stretch slowly, move actively, and find ways of continuing to move even when seated, watching screens, or traveling. Movement increases metabolism that helps burn calories more efficiently.
  13. Personal care: Use baking soda and washing soda for laundry and deodorants. Since hormone disrupters often find their way into personal care and cosmetic products, use organically certified products with ingredients whose names show they are from plants rather than artificially produced in a chemistry lab with names to match.
  14. Distress: We can learn to be stressed, or we can learn to be at peace. From active meditation to autogenics to biofeedback to prayer, there are many ways of quieting and focusing the mind. Twenty minutes once or twice a day is sufficient to make a significant difference especially when regular schedules and patterns are followed. Increase the activities you enjoy. More time in community and with friends and loved ones are also recommended.

To learn more about alkalinizing the Alkaline Way, visit www.AlkalineWay.com.

Further reading and evidence:

  • Jaffe R. The Alkaline Way: Integrative Management of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Other Autoimmune Conditions in Bioactive Food as Interventions for Arthritis and Related Inflammatory Diseases, Ronald Ross Watson & Victor Preedy (Eds), Academic Press. 2013: p97-112.
  • Pizzorno J, Frassetto LA, Katzinger J. 2010. Diet-induced acidosis: is it real and clinically relevant? Br J Nutr 103: 1185-1194
  • Whiting SJ, Muirhead JA. 2005. Measurement of net acid excretion by use of paper strips. Nutrition 21: 961-3
  • Jaffe, R. Brown S. Acid-Alkaline balance and its Effect on Bone Health. Intl J Integrative Med

2000; 2 (6): 7-18.

  • Mikal S. Homeostasis in Man: Fluids, Electrolytes, Proteins, Vitamins and Minerals in Clinical care, Little Brown, 1967.
  • https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/243160-overview