Study finds that baking soda reduces inflammation, could treat autoimmune diseases

I saw this study appear up in some mainstream science news sources over a week ago. The essentials of the study are that a group of healthy volunteers were able to stimulate the production of regulatory immune cells by consuming baking soda in water for two weeks, as described in this article:

A daily dose of baking soda may help reduce the destructive inflammation of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, scientists say. They have some of the first evidence of how the cheap, over-the-counter antacid can encourage our spleen to promote instead an anti-inflammatory environment that could be therapeutic in the face of inflammatory disease, scientists report…

In the spleen, as well as the blood and kidneys, they found after drinking water with baking soda for two weeks, the population of immune cells called macrophages, shifted from primarily those that promote inflammation, called M1, to those that reduce it, called M2. Macrophages, perhaps best known for their ability to consume garbage in the body like debris from injured or dead cells, are early arrivers to a call for an immune response.

The study involved both rats and healthy human test subjects. The rats were afflicted with chronic kidney disease. And while the scientists found improvement in rats with kidney disease, the improvements were also seen in healthy rats and humans, and expanded beyond the kidneys:

The shifting landscape, he says, is likely due to increased conversion of some of the proinflammatory cells to anti-inflammatory ones coupled with actual production of more anti-inflammatory macrophages. The scientists also saw a shift in other immune cell types, like more regulatory T cells, which generally drive down the immune response and help keep the immune system from attacking our own tissues. That anti-inflammatory shift was sustained for at least four hours in humans and three days in rats.

So what does that mean for patients with autoimmune diseases like Sjogren’s Syndrome? Should we be rushing out to buy more baking soda?

As I’ve previously mentioned, when considering a potential treatment option, I consider 3 key criteria: evidence, cost, and risk. In this case, we have one small study involving rats and healthy medical students, but no actual autoimmune patients. I consider that weak, if promising, evidence. Fortunately, the cost of baking soda is extremely low. The risks are fairly low as well; people have taken baking soda regularly as an antacid for many years, usually at a rate of 1/2 teaspoon. It is worth considering that baking soda contains significant amounts of sodium (the sodium in sodium bicarbonate), so anyone who is on a low-sodium diet or at risk of sodium-related complications should speak with their doctor before trying the regimen.

The original study was locked behind a paywall, and the article above does not describe the actual regimen in detail. Luckily I was able to find articles with more instructions:

Paul O’Connor, co-author of the study told Down To Earth, “We utilised 2g of NaHCO3 per day dissolved in 600 ml of bottled water – sipped throughout the day.”

2 grams of baking soda is roughly equal to a 1/2 teaspoon, dissolved in water and sipped throughout the day. That is a little over 600 mg of sodium, so if you wish to try this regimen, make sure you take the additional sodium into account for your diet, and speak with your physician about any concerns. Personally, I plan to try this regimen myself, as the costs and risks are quite low and would justify any benefits that I see.

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