Baking soda and a glass of water.
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
A daily dose of baking soda in water may help reduce the destructive inflammation of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus erythematosus, according to animal studies carried out at the Medical College of Georgia.
The studies were funded by the US National Institutes of Health and just reported in the Journal of Immunology.
Sodium bicarbonate, a white powder, has been used since ancient times in Egypt for various medical conditions and in modern times to make cakes rise, treat heartburn, clean drains, extinguish fires, brush teeth and kill cockroaches (via carbon dioxide accumulated in the insects’ internal organs). The researchers showed how the cheap, over-the-counter antacid can encourage the spleen to promote instead an anti-inflammatory environment that could be therapeutic in the face of inflammatory disease.
They have shown that when rats or healthy people drink a solution of baking soda, it becomes a trigger for the stomach to make more acid to digest the next meal and for little-studied mesothelial cells sitting on the spleen to tell the fist-sized organ that there’s no need to mount a protective immune response.
When asked to comment, Prof. Yehuda Shoenfeld, head of clinical immunology at Sheba Medical Center who holds a chair in autoimmune diseases at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, urged caution.
“There is something to baking soda. It affects many factors in the microbiome [microbes in the body] or cells in the stomach that affect cytokines that cause inflammation.” He spoke to The Jerusalem Post by phone from the Netherlands, before going to Australia to present a lecture on using diet to improve the immune system.
Don’t exaggerate; if taken, it should be in small amounts, said Shoenfeld. “Baking soda has a lot of salt, so it could raise blood pressure and interfere in diabetics.”
One could ask one’s doctor, but “they don’t know much about it,” he added. It could also interfere with medications. “I can’t make a recommendation before reading the whole paper and studying the effects on humans with chronic conditions,” said the immunologist.
Dr. Paul O’Connor, renal physiologist in the Medical College of Georgia’s physiology department and the study’s corresponding author, explained that mesothelial cells line body cavities, like the one that contains our digestive tract. They also cover the exterior of our organs to quite literally keep them from rubbing together. About a decade ago, it was found that these cells also provide another level of protection – they have little fingers, called microvilli, which sense the environment and warn the organs they cover that there is an invader and an immune response is needed.
Drinking baking soda, the Georgia scientists think, tells the spleen – which is part of the immune system, acts like a big blood filter and is where some white blood cells are stored – to go easy on the immune response. “Certainly drinking bicarbonate affects the spleen and we think it’s through the mesothelial cells,” O’Connor said. The conversation, which occurs with the help of the chemical messenger acetylcholine, appears to promote a landscape that shifts against inflammation, they reported.
A teaspoon of baking soda should be mixed with half a liter of tap water and mixed, allowing it to settle for a minute.
In the spleen, as well as in 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 waste in the body like debris from injured or dead cells, are early arrivers to a call for an immune response. In the case of the lab animals, the problems were hypertension and chronic kidney disease, problems that got O’Connor’s lab thinking about baking soda.