Problems with baking soda

Q. My dad passed away at 75. He was notorious for taking a small amount of baking soda from the kitchen cupboard to eliminate stomach acid or heartburn. He would let out a loud burp, and bingo – his indigestion was gone.

I know how violent the reaction is between baking soda and battery acid. When you put baking soda into stomach acid, is the resulting reaction just as violent?

A. Usually a person taking a small amount of baking soda as an antacid suffers no harm. Gastroenterologists have estimated that 1/2 teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) would release only a small amount of gas (Gastroenterology, November 1984).

The authors of this report note, however: “Some people selected doses of bicarbonate that would result in several hundred milliliters of gas release within three minutes; it seems likely that such injudicious ingestion of sodium bicarbonate, if taken when the stomach was distended with air, food and liquid, could be an important factor in spontaneous gastric rupture.”

There are about 15 cases in the medical literature in which people ruptured their stomach by taking large doses of baking soda after eating too much. In one notorious case, a man ate a large meal, accompanied by margaritas, at a Mexican restaurant (Annals of Internal Medicine, November 1984).

Q. Does garlic have health benefits? I have heard that it can lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Is there any evidence to support such claims?

A. A six-year study in Iran recently found that people who eat onions and garlic frequently are 64 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke (Journal of Hypertension, September 2017). They also were 26 percent less likely to get a new diagnosis of high blood pressure.

Another review of the health benefits of garlic noted that randomized clinical trials show that aged garlic extract is more effective than placebo in lowering blood pressure (Food & Function, June 21, 2017). It also might modestly lower cholesterol.

Q. I think that preventive medicine is good medicine. I decided to try that for my frequent urinary tract infections.

In the past, when I would develop symptoms such as urgent, painful urination, I was told to drink cranberry juice. I started following that suggestion before I got an infection.

Since I started drinking cranberry juice every day, I have had no infections, and in addition, my blood pressure is better. Am I mistaken that cranberry juice is responsible?

A. Cranberry juice has long been controversial for preventing or treating urinary tract infections. A study published in JAMA found that cranberry capsules were no better than placebo in preventing bacteria in the urine of nursing home residents (Nov. 8, 2016).

In another study, however, scientists found that women at higher risk for recurrent UTIs were 40 percent less likely to experience an infection when they were drinking cranberry juice (Journal of the American College of Nutrition, February 2018).

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