Sodium Bicarbonate: Its Use in Medicine

Baking soda is a common remedy for heartburn. Not everyone knows, however, that it can be used in medicine, if properly prepared.

Some products we use at home were used for healing many years ago and still are today. An example here is sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3). It has its medical usefulness as it relieves the symptoms of various diseases, but has gradually been replaced by more effective drugs over the years.

Also known as baking soda, sodium hydrogen carbonate, or vichy salt, is a white, crystalline, water-soluble powder made from a natural mineral called natron.

At home, we use it to clean different types of surfaces and in baking too.

In the medical field, bicarbonate can be administered both orally and intravenously. In fact, few people know that it’s possible to find the compound in the form of injectable powders, tablets or ampoules. The form of administration depends on the condition being treated and its severity.

Functions of bicarbonate within the body

Bicarbonate is very related to the kidneys.
The kidneys regulate the use of bicarbonate within the body.

Baking soda performs various functions within the body. The main one is to participate in a process called acid-base balance. This process is responsible for maintaining the body’s pH within normal levels, avoiding its increase or decrease.

The body uses several ways to obtain the required amount of bicarbonate. The kidneys, according to scientific research, are the organs of the human body responsible for replenishing the bicarbonate used to buffer the pH of the blood. They are able, in fact, to increase its synthesis and slow down its elimination.

Some of the bicarbonate present in the blood comes from intestinal absorption through food. The process of absorption of the compound can increase or decrease, depending on the needs of the organism.

The bicarbonate produced by the human body is able to capture and neutralize the substances that lower the pH of the blood, bringing them to more basic levels. The compounds generated by this decomposition will be water and carbon dioxide, which will be excreted through urine and respiration.

What is baking soda used for?

Baking soda has numerous domestic uses, one of the main uses being home cleaning. This is because it’s able to quickly remove grease and dirt from many different surfaces, as well as eliminate bad odors.

Strange as it may sound, baking soda has medicinal applications when properly processed. It can be used in the treatment of some pathologies, among which the following stand out.

Metabolic acidosis

Acidosis is an acid-base balance disorder characterized by a decrease in the pH of the blood, which makes it more acidic than normal. This disorder can generate a systemic syndrome if it isn’t corrected in time and can cause damage to vital organs.

The causes of metabolic acidosis can be very varied, for example uncontrolled diabetes mellitus. This condition can already be present at birth, if the kidney damage is congenital.

Numerous studies show that bicarbonate is useful in treating acidosis when it’s the product of a specific deficiency of this compound. However, there’s no scientific evidence to conclusively support its use in other types of acidosis.

Heartburn or heartburn

A common use of baking soda is to treat heartburn. The cause of heartburn is an increase in the amount of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which usually leads to pain, burning, and gastroesophageal reflux.

Baking soda can be combined with other medications to give quicker and longer relief. Studies show that a combined intake of omeprazole and sodium bicarbonate pills provides complete symptom relief within 30 minutes.

Baking soda is an essential component of some antacids, as it quickly fights heartburn. When taken orally, it neutralizes the hydrochloric acid in the stomach and relieves symptoms immediately.

Infections of the oral cavity

The oral cavity has its own natural microbiota, which is the habitat of many microorganisms. Excessive bacterial overgrowth can lead to mouth and throat disorders. Among the most common problems are bad breath, stomatitis or canker sores, and periodontitis.

Bicarbonate, having antimicrobial action, is able to eliminate different types of pathogens. Research has shown that, when diluted in water and used as a mouthwash, it helps treat the most common infections of the mouth.

Intoxications and poisonings

Most drugs and substances are disposed of through the kidneys. It’s important to remember that urine has an acidic pH under physiological conditions, which causes medicines with a basic pH to be attracted and excreted faster.

A high concentration of bicarbonate in the body makes the pH of the urine more basic. This ability can be used in case of intoxication with heavy substances and metals. By making the urine more basic, it facilitates the excretion of acidic drugs such as some antidepressants, thus reducing the effects of intoxication.

Side effects of baking soda

Too much baking soda can cause dizziness.
Excessive consumption of baking soda can cause thirst and intestinal cramps.

Like all drugs on the market, bicarbonate is not free from side effects, although these depend on the route of intake and the dose ingested.

When administered orally, it can cause symptoms such as:

  • Feeling thirsty
  • Intestinal cramps
  • Gas or flatulence
  • Loss of appetite

These effects usually wear off on their own within a few hours, however, it’s best to see your doctor if they get worse or are very intense.

Also, taking bicarbonate by mouth can cause bleeding. See your doctor right away if you vomit with blood, black stools, blood in stools, or urine.

Intravenous administration can generate side effects if done at high doses or very quickly. In these cases, the patient may develop the following signs and symptoms:

  • Excessive increase in blood pH
  • Decrease in calcium and potassium levels in the blood
  • Prolonged muscle spasms
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Arrhythmias and hypotension
  • Cerebral hemorrhage
  • Increased levels of sodium in the blood and water retention

A compound with many uses and with side effects

Sodium bicarbonate has been used for a long time to treat heartburn. However, these days it isn’t a first-choice drug. Over the years, other compounds have emerged that are more effective and cause fewer side effects.

It’s currently used to enhance the action of drugs and in the treatment of some specific metabolic disorders. However, its administration must be carried out under strict medical supervision, especially in the case of injectable ampoules.

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