A common ingredient found in your kitchen cupboard may be one answer to treating autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. A recent study found that baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate) created an anti-inflammatory environment in the spleen, suggesting that drinking it daily may reduce the inflammation that can result in autoimmune conditions (when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells).
Baking soda lowers your spleen’s inflammatory immune response
Scientists at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG), Augusta University found that when rats and healthy people consumed a baking soda solution (water and sodium bicarbonate) for two weeks, it triggered their stomachs to create more acid, which helped them to digest the next meal. Scientists also noticed another effect – the baking soda appeared to signal to the spleen’s mesothelial cells (which protect organs with a slippery, protective surface) — that the fist-sized organ didn’t need to go into a reactionary response.
Mesothelial cells prevent your organs from rubbing together. Rubbing causes inflammation and therefore triggers your immune system to respond to perceived invasion by a foreign substance, or in this case, another organ. Drinking baking soda helps your mesothelial cells to tell your spleen to reduce its immune response.
Drinking the baking soda solution also changed the concentration of macrophages — white blood cells of the immune system that devour foreign invaders — so that they were more anti-inflammatory overall. “The shift from inflammatory to an anti-inflammatory profile is happening everywhere,” says O’Connor. “We saw it in the kidneys, we saw it in the spleen, now we see it in the peripheral blood.”
Scientists saw differences in other immune cells as a result of the baking soda. There appeared to be more T cells in the body, which decrease immune response and protect the immune system from self-attack. All of these changes lasted for four hours in people consuming the baking soda solution, and three days in rats.
While the study participants were healthy, O’Connor says he hopes that someday drinking baking soda will yield similar results for people suffering from autoimmune diseases. “You are not really turning anything off or on, you are just pushing it toward one side by giving an anti-inflammatory stimulus,” says O’Connor. “It’s potentially a really safe way to treat inflammatory disease.”
How to drink baking soda to hack your health
Here are some tips on how to incorporate this inexpensive and easy hack into your daily routine:
Baking soda is best taken on an empty stomach, though should not be taken in the morning. If you take baking soda with food, undigested protein molecules can leak into your gut. Aim to take it midday — one hour before lunch — or one hour after your evening meal.
Start with 1/8 teaspoon and work up to 1/4 teaspoon. If you get short of breath or your heart is racing after drinking baking soda, you’ve overdone it. Be aware that if your blood is already alkaline and you take too much baking soda, it can cause harmful side effects, even a heart attack or hyperalkalosis.
Get clear on your sodium levels from the get-go. If you experience irregular heartbeats or notice any other cardiac concerns prior to starting on a baking soda regimen, then you need to have a doctor first check your sodium levels. Your sodium levels might have been too high or too low to begin with. Most people tend to be low in potassium and magnesium and high in sodium, but best to head to the doctor to get your levels checked. Ideally, your potassium, magnesium, and sodium levels should all be balanced with each other, as they work in concert to regulate your circadian rhythm.
Special note if you are on thyroid medication: If you’re taking supplements or thyroid medication, you might not absorb the medicine as well. Unless your supplements require acidity to work, they should be fine in conjunction with baking soda.
Try the Bulletproof approach: Because most people already have high levels of sodium in their body, the Bulletproof approach is to use potassium bicarbonate instead of sodium bicarbonate. (As their names suggest, one form is a potassium derivative, the other is made of sodium.) You can use a bit of both, though don’t take more than a ¼ teaspoon total. Your local health food store may carry potassium bicarbonate as a supplement.
Related: To learn more about how baking soda can enhance your athletic performance, read 5 Quick Biohacks to Try This Weekend.