When stomach acid or bile flows into the food pipe and irritates your esophageal lining, it can cause heartburn, regurgitation, sore throat, and more. Finding fast and effective relief from the pain and discomfort of this acid reflux isn’t always easy.
Thankfully, there are many ways to treat and soothe the symptoms of acid reflux, including over-the-counter (OTC) medications and remedies you can make at home, like mixing baking soda with water.
However, not all at-home remedies help acid reflux, especially if not used properly. To help you find relief, in this article, I’ll explain what acid reflux is, why baking soda helps with reflux, how to use baking soda in this manner, and potential side effects to watch out for.
I’ll also share other home remedies and OTC treatments for acid reflux and when to see a doctor.
Symptoms and Causes of Acid Reflux
Acid reflux is a common condition that affects more than 15 million Americans daily.
It happens when the valve at the end of the esophagus doesn’t close properly, allowing stomach acid to flow up into the esophagus. When acid reflux becomes chronic, it’s called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Heartburn is the main symptom of both acid reflux and GERD. Heartburn describes an uncomfortable burning feeling in the chest that can move up and down the throat.
Other symptoms of acid reflux can include:
- Regurgitation, or the feeling of fluid or food coming up into the chest
- Chest pain or burning that worsens when lying down or bending over
- Bitter, hot, sour, acidic, or unpleasant taste in the mouth
- Sore throat
- Pain or discomfort that appears after a large or spicy meal
Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (a ring of muscles at the end of the esophagus, where it meets the stomach) weakens or relaxes too much. This allows acid from the stomach to flow back up the esophagus. Lifestyle and diet habits can trigger acid reflux in some people.
You are more at risk for developing acid reflux if you:
- Eat large meals
- Eat spicy, fatty, or greasy foods
- Eat acidic foods such as tomatoes or citrus
- Eat close to bedtime
- Drink large amounts of caffeinated, alcoholic, or carbonated drinks
- Experience stress
- Wear tight-fitting clothes
Additionally, the following conditions may lead to acid reflux in certain individuals:
- Too much acid in the stomach
- Delayed stomach emptying
- Poor clearance of food or acid from the esophagus
- Hiatal hernia
Though everyone may get acid reflux from time to time, GERD is a chronic condition that can lead to more serious problems if not treated.
Why Baking Soda Works for Acid Reflux
One common home remedy for acid reflux is baking soda (a.k.a. sodium bicarbonate). Baking soda works to neutralize stomach acid and temporarily relieve some symptoms of indigestion and heartburn.
In fact, the active ingredient in some safe and effective OTC antacids, like Alka-Seltzer, is baking soda.
How to Use Baking Soda for Acid Reflux
It’s pretty easy to use baking soda for acid reflux. All you need is baking soda and water.
However, be sure to use the proper dosage, mix well, and never take this mixture more than four times a day.
Dosage by age
Children under the age of 12 should not take baking soda unless directed otherwise by their pediatrician. Teens and adults older than 12 years of age can take 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda mixed with four ounces of water up to four times a day.
Adults over the age of 60 should not take baking soda mixed with water more than three times a day.
If using conventional baking soda at home, simply measure out 1/2 teaspoon and mix it with at least four ounces of water. Measure the dosage carefully and drink the entire solution within 1-2 hours after a meal.
Never take baking soda for longer than two weeks. If your acid reflux symptoms persist, contact your healthcare provider.
Potential Side Effects of Using Baking Soda to Treat Acid Reflux
Taking baking soda mixed with water for acid reflux can cause some potential mild side effects, including:
- Increased thirst
- Stomach cramps
When used in excessive amounts, baking soda can cause a variety of potentially serious metabolic abnormalities, including:
- Hemorrhagic encephalopathy (a brain disease)
- Metabolic alkalosis (a body pH higher than 7.45)
- Hypernatremia (high concentration of sodium in the blood)
- Hypokalemia (lower than normal blood potassium levels)
- Hypochloremia (lower than normal blood chloride levels)
- Hypoxia (oxygen deficiency)
Other Home Remedies for Acid Reflux
You can find many home remedies for acid reflux and heartburn online. However, some of these suggested treatments don’t have enough scientific evidence to show that they work to soothe reflux.
So keep in mind that it may take some trial and error to find the right remedy for your symptoms. You may also want to speak to a provider who can recommend OTC or prescription medications.
That said, the following home remedies may help with acid reflux:
- Drinking ginger tea or taking ginger supplements. The herb appears to decrease pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter and improve emptying of the stomach.
- Eating a diet rich in healthy unsaturated fats (found in foods such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish) as opposed to saturated fats (found in foods such as whole milk and meat).
- Identifying and avoiding trigger foods. Common ones include fried and fatty foods, alcohol, citrus foods, and tomatoes.
- Waiting at least three hours after a meal before laying down.
- Wearing loose clothing to reduce pressure on the abdomen.
- Quitting or avoiding smoking. Smoking can disrupt how the lower esophageal sphincter functions.
Over-the-Counter Acid Reflux Treatments
If baking soda and other home remedies don’t work to keep your acid under control, OTC treatment options include:
- Antacids: OTC antacids are usually the first-line recommendation for acid reflux and heartburn. They work by neutralizing acids in your stomach and can provide fast, short-term relief. Antacids are available as chewables, dissolving tablets, and liquids. Some examples of antacids include calcium carbonate (Tums), simethicone (Mylanta), and sodium bicarbonate (Alka-Seltzer).
- Histamine-2 (H2) blockers: Available both by prescription and OTC, these medicines help alleviate heartburn by decreasing how much acid your stomach produces. H2 blockers work less quickly than antacids, however, their effect on reflux lasts longer. Examples of H2 blockers include famotidine (Pepcid AC), nizatidine (Axid AR), and ranitidine (Zantac 75).
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): Like H2 blockers, PPIs cause the stomach to produce less acid. PPIs are more effective and often recommended if antacids or H2 blockers fail to provide relief from acid reflux. Some PPIs are available OTC, including esomeprazole (Nexium) and omeprazole (Prilosec). Other PPIs, such as rabeprazole (AcipHex), are only available with a prescription. When used long-term, side effects of PPIs may be more serious, including kidney disease and kidney failure. Experts recommend using PPIs only when necessary and not as a regular medication.
When to See a Doctor
Many mild cases of acid reflux can be managed with home remedies and OTC medication.
However, if you experience any of the below symptoms, contact your healthcare provider:
- Severe headache
- Unintentional weight loss or loss of appetite
- Bloody vomit or vomit that resembles coffee grounds
- Frequent vomiting
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Black, tarry stool
- Severe, constant stomach pain
- Difficulty swallowing that gets progressively worse
- Fatigue or weakness
- Shortness of breath, sweating, or chest pain that radiates to the neck, jaw, or arm
- Chest pain with stress or exertion
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
- Heartburn or acid reflux symptoms that last longer than two weeks
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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Diet Changes for GERD. (n.d.).
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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). (n.d.).
Ginger in Gastrointestinal Disorders: A Systematic Review of Clinical Trials. (2019).
Hemorrhagic Encephalopathy From Acute Baking Soda Ingestion. (2016).
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Heartburn Treatment. (2021).
Proton Pump Inhibitors and the Kidney: Implications of Current Evidence for Clinical Practice and When and How to Deprescribe. (2020).
[Self-Treatment With Baking Soda Can Lead to Severe Metabolic Alkalosis]. (2014).
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