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Sodium Bicarbonate & the Body

by Kirstin Hendrickson

About Kirstin Hendrickson

Kirstin Hendrickson is a writer, teacher, coach, athlete and author of the textbook "Chemistry In The World." She's been teaching and writing about health, wellness and nutrition for more than 10 years. She has a Bachelor of Science in zoology, a Bachelor of Science in psychology, a Master of Science in chemistry and a doctoral degree in bioorganic chemistry.

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Sodium bicarbonate is a salt compound that's not only a common household chemical -- it's colloquially called baking soda -- but is also an important component of the body. You use bicarbonate to help maintain the acidity of your bloodstream, and can take sodium bicarbonate internally in order to treat acid reflux.

Sodium Bicarbonate Chemistry

Sodium bicarbonate is a chemical compound classified as a salt, meaning it's made up of separate chemical components called ions. The two ions that comprise sodium bicarbonate are a positively charged sodium ion and a negatively charged bicarbonate ion. In solid form, as in a box of baking soda, the sodium and bicarbonate ions stick to one another. In water or water-based liquids like blood, however, the ions separate from one another and engage in chemical reactions separately.

Acidity

One of the principally important properties of sodium bicarbonate is it's both a weak acid and a weak base, explain Drs. Reginald Garrett and Charles Grisham in their book Biochemistry. At acidity levels like those found in the human body, however, sodium bicarbonate always acts as a base, meaning it can chemically react with acids. When sodium bicarbonate reacts with an acid, it forms carbon dioxide and water.

Respiration

One of the body's main uses of sodium bicarbonate is to help control the acidity, or pH, of the bloodstream. When you breathe, you can change the pH of your blood slightly. Breathing fast tends to reduce the acidity of the blood, while holding your breath increases the acidity of the blood. Bicarbonate in the bloodstream reacts with excess acid in the blood, helping to remove it, explain Drs. Garrett and Grisham.

Antacid Use

While you don't naturally produce sodium bicarbonate in the stomach, you can nevertheless introduce the chemical as an antacid, to help reduce the symptoms of acid stomach and heartburn. Dr. Lauralee Sherwood, in her book Human Physiology, explains that heartburn results from overproduction of stomach acid by stomach cells. If you make a water and sodium bicarbonate solution and drink it, the sodium bicarbonate will react with the acid, reducing symptoms.

Pancreatic Production

Even if you don't produce too much stomach acid, the stomach contents are still very acidic. This can damage the intestine, which isn't protected from strong acid like the stomach is. As such, the pancreas produces sodium bicarbonate solution that it releases into the small intestine as your stomach empties itself. The sodium bicarbonate mixes with the gastric contents and helps to decrease the acidity of food as it enters the intestine, protecting your gastrointestinal tract, explains Dr. Sherwood.

References (2)

  • Biochemistry; Reginald Garrett, Ph.D. and Charles Grisham, Ph.D.
  • Human Physiology; Lauralee Sherwood, Ph.D.

Photo Credits:

  • John Howard/Digital Vision/Getty Images

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.