Misleading: Cancer cells increase acidity in their surroundings, but acidity isn't the cause of cancer. Cancer is caused by genetic mutations in the cells, due to environmental factors or errors during cell replication.
FULL CLAIM: “Cancer doctors do not like baking soda treatment because it’s too effective and cheap”
Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, is a chemical compound commonly used as a raising agent in baking and household cleaning. It is an alkaline substance, which means that it reduces acidity. This property has also led it to be used for medical purposes, such as relieving heartburn or acid indigestion by neutralizing excess stomach acid.
Several posts published in social media platforms in late February 2023 (like this and this) claimed that baking soda can be used to treat cancer. The source of the information in these posts is this article, which states that baking soda balances the body acidity. This information is misleading, as cancer isn’t caused by acidity. Moreover, as we will explain in this article, there isn’t clinical evidence that baking soda can be used as a cancer treatment.
Cancer is caused by mutations, not by body acidity
The claim that cancer is caused by excessive acidity in the body isn’t new, and likely arises from a misinterpretation of the research carried out by the chemist and physician Otto Warburg. Warburg conducted research on how cells obtain energy, a process known as cellular respiration, which earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1931.
Warburg discovered that the process of cellular respiration was different in cancer cells and healthy cells, as Health Feedback explained in previous reviews. These changes in cellular respiration lead to excessive production of lactic acid, which increases the acidity around the cancer cells. Studies have shown that this acidity around cancerous cells might promote cancer growth[2,3].
Based on his findings, Warburg theorized that low-oxygen and highly-acidic conditions were the cause of cancer. However, we now know that acidic body conditions are not the cause of cancer. Cancer is caused by genetic mutations that alter how cells regulate their development, leading to uncontrolled cell growth. These mutations can be caused by errors in DNA replication during cell division, exposure to environmental mutagens, or viral infections.
The false notion that the body’s acidity is the cause of cancer has led to the promotion of pseudo-therapies such as the alkaline diet. This diet supposedly alters the body’s acidity through the intake of fruits and vegetables. Alkaline diet isn’t based on scientific evidence, as the acidity of food doesn’t alter the acidity of the body.
Our lungs and kidneys are largely responsible for controlling the acidity or pH of our blood, which must be kept at stable levels, around 7.3 to 7.4. The lungs release carbon dioxide produced by the cells, which is acidic, while the kidneys excrete excess acids or bases present in the blood. Certain metabolic disorders, excessive alcohol consumption, or impaired lung function may lead to excess acidity in the body, a condition known as acidosis that causes nausea, headache and rapid heartbeat.
No clinical evidence supports the use of baking soda as a cancer treatment
As explained above, acidity doesn’t cause cancer, but the acidic environment around cancer cells may promote their spread[2,3]. Some studies have tested whether bicarbonate (baking soda) could be used to alter the acidity around solid tumors, to prevent their growth or as a support for chemotherapy.
One of these studies tested the effect of orally administered bicarbonate in inhibiting metastasis of tumors (migration of cancer cells from one part of the body to another) that were implanted in mice. The study found that bicarbonate inhibited metastasis, but the authors warned of the limitations of the study, as the diffusion of bicarbonate and its effect may not be the same in humans.
One technique being investigated is locally administering bicarbonate in the body using a very small tube known as a catheter to reduce the acidity around the tumor. This procedure would complement chemotherapy to facilitate the elimination of the tumor. However, this technique is still at an early stage of development, with studies focused on laboratory-grown cells, not in humans.
A review published in 2022 on different possible therapies involving the use of bicarbonate in the treatment of cancer, including both oral and catheter administration, concluded that clinical investigations are still needed to verify their potential effectiveness.
According to Cancer Research U.K., the world’s largest independent cancer research organization, there is a lack of published clinical trials of sodium bicarbonate as a treatment for cancer. The organization also warns that “high doses of sodium bicarbonate can lead to very serious consequences”.
Excessive consumption of bicarbonate can be harmful, as it can alter the body acidity. Prolonged consumption over time is known to cause metabolic alkalosis, which can lead to seizures and abnormal heart rhythm.
Unproven cancer therapies have an overall negative health impact. Several studies have found that the use of unproven cancer therapies is associated with an increased risk of death in cancer patients, as they lead patients to reject accepted medical cancer therapies[8,9].
In conclusion, doctors who treat cancer don’t use baking soda because there isn’t clinical evidence showing that baking soda is effective in people, not because “it’s too effective and cheap”, as claimed. In fact its excessive consumption may lead to health problems.
- 1 – Lee and Griffiths (2020) How and Why Are Cancers Acidic? Carbonic Anhydrase IX and the Homeostatic Control of Tumour Extracellular pH. Cancers.
- 2 – Bogdanov et al. (2022) Tumor acidity: From hallmark of cancer to target of treatment. Frontiers in Oncology.
- 3 – Estrella et al. (2014) Acidity generated by the tumor microenvironment drives local invasion. Cancer Research.
- 4 – Robey et al. (2009) Bicarbonate Increases Tumor pH and Inhibits Spontaneous Metastases. Cancer Research.
- 5 – Zhang H. (2017) Will cancer cells be defeated by sodium bicarbonate? Science China Life Sciences.
- 6 – Hamaguchi et al. (2022) Clinical review of alkalization therapy in cancer treatment. Frontiers in Oncology.
- 7 – Thomas and Stone (1994) Acute toxicity from baking soda ingestion. American Journal of Emergency Medicine.
- 8 – Johnson et al. (2017) Use of Alternative Medicine for Cancer and Its Impact on Survival. Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
- 9 – Johnson et al. (2018) Complementary Medicine, Refusal of Conventional Cancer Therapy, and Survival Among Patients With Curable Cancers. JAMA Oncology.