Old-Fashioned Health Hero

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

If you ever find yourself packing for an indefinite stay on a desert island, may I suggest that you bring along some baking soda? Just a few months ago, I wrote about how this household staple helped stave off further damage for people with chronic kidney disease (see Daily Health News, May 11, 2010, “5-Cent Cure for Kidney Disease”)… so I decided to explore what other ways this household staple might be helpful for our health. As it turns out, there are plenty — and in a few cases in particular, baking soda is a far safer solution than the chemical concoctions most people turn to in order to solve certain problems!

What we know as “baking soda” actually is properly called bicarbonate of soda or (if you are a chemist) NaHCO3. It’s a natural substance that can be found in dissolved form in many mineral springs and also in our own bodies in bile, where it serves to neutralize the hydrochloric acid produced by the stomach as it passes into the intestines. To learn more, I contacted Vicki Lansky, author of the book Baking Soda: Over 500 Fabulous, Fun & Frugal Uses You’ve Probably Never Thought Of, who has done exhaustive research on the topic. She pointed out that besides being safe and quite effective, baking soda is a very inexpensive antidote to many health problems that plague us today.

Here’s her list of helpful, healthful applications for baking soda…

Easy, effective wash for fresh produce to protect against foodborne bacteria and pesticide residue. The powdery quality of baking soda makes it useful as a gentle scrub for fruits and vegetables, and it’s especially effective for fruit such as pears and apples that you may want to eat raw without peeling. How to use it: Shake some dry baking soda into your hands, rub it over the fruit and then rinse off under your kitchen faucet.

Safe insect repellent to keep ants, cockroaches and other undesirable critters from your kitchen cabinets. Place jar lids filled with water (for the insects to drink) and sprinkle baking soda (for them to eat) nearby on the bottoms of cabinets and under the sink. The chemical reaction of the two together kills the ants. There’s an outdoor version, too — combine a teaspoon of baking soda with one-third of a cup of cooking oil… shake well in a watering can then sprinkle the mixture lightly on plants.

Relief from stinging and itching. If a bee or other insect stings you, make a paste of baking soda and water (aim for the consistency of toothpaste) and rub onto the site — you’ll find that the pain subsides quickly. The reason it works: The baking soda neutralizes the toxins that trigger the pain along with some of the reactive compounds produced in the affected tissue. This paste also is useful in soothing itching from bites by mosquitoes and other insects, as well as for rashes, hives and even poison ivy.

To soothe an upset stomach after a large or troublesome meal. If you can’t get your stomach to quiet down after eating something that disagrees with you (or when you’ve eaten too much), try completely dissolving one-half teaspoon of baking soda in four ounces of water. This is essentially the same compound that your stomach produces to neutralize stomach acid. There are some important caveats: Don’t take within two hours of medications (especially tetracycline, which is used to treat bacterial infections), and don’t take with large amounts of milk (it increases the likelihood of allergic reaction). Don’t use this remedy if you are on a sodium-restricted diet for high blood pressure. And, since frequent gastritis and heartburn can be signs of more serious issues, including heart disease, don’t rely on this remedy more than once in a while. If you are having regular digestive difficulties, see your doctor.

As an underarm deodorant. You can pat a bit of baking soda onto each armpit after a morning shower, just like an old-fashioned dusting powder. While this won’t stop you from sweating, it will diminish the unpleasant odor. Not only is this far less expensive than commercial deodorants, it’s also perfectly safe. Antiperspirants actually plug the sweat glands, and some people think this may cause cancer. (See Daily Health News, April 15, 2010, “The Antiperspirant-Cancer Connection.”) Along the same lines, you also can use baking soda as a foot deodorant — just sprinkle a bit on your feet or in your shoes.

As an exfoliant. Baking soda is a gentle and effective exfoliant that almost all skin types can tolerate and only rarely causes an allergic reaction — it’s a good way to clean and open pores, diminishing whiteheads and clearing oily skin.To remove dead cells on the outer layer of skin, splash some water on your face… put some baking soda into the palm of your hand… and gently rub on the baking soda, using circular motions. Rinse.

And a final tip — baking soda is baking soda, so you can save money by purchasing a store brand instead of the better-known national ones. Not that they’re expensive either, but now that you know about all these nifty uses, you just might find that you’re going through a lot more baking soda than before.


Vicki Lansky, author of more than two dozen books on parenting and household management, lives in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Her Web site is www.PracticalParenting.com or go to www.BookPeddlers.com/BP.BSoda.html for more information on her book on baking soda.