If you’re one of the 1.5 million American adults living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may be considering natural remedies to reduce inflammation caused by RA. One home remedy involves baking soda, which has been used for decades to whiten teeth, reduce heartburn, and stop acid reflux.
A small-scale 2018 study, involving rat subjects and human subjects, found that baking soda led to anti-inflammatory responses in the body. Given the findings, some people are hopeful that baking soda can help improve the inflammatory symptoms of autoimmune diseases such as RA.
“Has anyone tried or heard of drinking baking soda to relieve inflammation from RA?” one myRAteam member wrote. “I just read this article about new information showing how drinking baking soda can help alleviate symptoms from autoimmune diseases.” Another replied, “I wouldn’t do it — it seems risky.”
Before you consider using baking soda as a supplemental treatment for RA, it’s important to know what evidence is out there and which questions remain.
Rheumatoid arthritis is considered both an autoimmune and an inflammatory disease. In people living with RA, the immune system attacks the body’s healthy cells, causing inflammation as an immune response.
Symptoms of inflammation can occur throughout the body, primarily affecting the joints in the hands, wrists, and knees. Over the long term, constant inflammation caused by RA can lead to damage in tissues and organs, such as the eyes, lungs, and heart.
This is why many treatments for RA, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), aim to block inflammatory pathways to reduce these painful symptoms. This is also why people with RA often find their symptoms improve when they eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Ultimately, if you are living with RA, your goal is to reduce symptoms such as pain, tenderness, and swelling by combating your body’s autoimmune response.
In the 2018 study, researchers found that baking soda — also known as sodium bicarbonate — has anti-inflammatory properties. They uncovered the pathway that sodium bicarbonate takes in the spleen to reduce inflammation. The team included study co-author Dr. Paul O’Connor, a renal physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.
As reported in the Journal of Immunology, the researchers found that when healthy people drank a sodium bicarbonate solution, it triggered the cells that line the spleen, called mesothelial cells, to reduce the spleen’s autoimmune response.
Scientists don’t know much about the mechanisms of mesothelial cells besides their role as a protective barrier for internal organs. However, researchers do know that the cells contain fingerlike sensors called microvilli that identify potential invaders to the body. Mesothelial cells increase the detection and signaling properties of the spleen, making this organ an important part of the immune system. In people with autoimmune diseases such as RA, however, mesothelial cells are too sensitive, causing the spleen to overreact and attack the body’s own healthy cells.
The study findings indicated that in both animals and healthy individuals, baking soda was successful in reducing the spleen’s immune response. The researchers determined this by assessing the number of macrophages, which are immune cells that show up to the scene of an immune response.
At the end of two weeks, rats that drank a daily dose of baking soda had a reduced number of inflammatory macrophages and a greater number of anti-inflammatory macrophages in their bloodstream. The researchers then noted a similar effect in people who drank a single bottle of water containing baking soda. This led the research team to conclude that baking soda helps promote an anti-inflammatory environment in the body.
The potential health benefits of baking soda have led many people in the RA community to wonder if they should start drinking baking soda to treat their inflammatory symptoms.
Unfortunately, there is currently no concrete answer about whether baking soda safely helps alleviate symptoms of RA or in what quantity it would be effective. Although the study findings suggest an exciting prospect for those living with chronic inflammation, this data is only exploratory.
The study population included rats and healthy people, not individuals living with RA or other autoimmune conditions. Additional research is needed to evaluate the direct effects of baking soda on inflammation caused by RA. In addition, more studies will help pinpoint a safe dosage and contraindications with other RA medications.
Despite the potential benefits of drinking baking soda as an anti-inflammatory treatment, researchers have yet to assess the risks and side effects of this alternative remedy. Too much baking soda can disrupt the natural pH and electrolyte balance of the body (also known as alkalosis) and interact negatively with medications such as diuretics.
Although injectable sodium bicarbonate has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for conditions such as uncontrolled diabetes and severe kidney disease, oral baking soda has not been clinically recommended for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, it should not be used as a replacement for prescription medications.
Remember to always speak to your health care team before starting any new treatments, including home remedies.
On myRAteam, the social network for people with rheumatoid arthritis and their loved ones, more than 190,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with RA. Here, finding home remedies to alleviate inflammation is a commonly discussed topic.
Are you looking for ways to find relief from RA inflammation? Have you tried drinking baking soda to relieve inflammatory symptoms? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.