The sodium bicarbonate has been used as a home remedy for generations due to its antacid properties. However, its benefits are even more profound, and new research may explain why it is an effective aid in treating autoimmune diseases such as arthritis.
How can this kitchen staple change the body’s inflammatory response? Baking soda is a kitchen staple that is commonly used as a rising agent for cakes.
With that said, it has also made a name for itself as a home remedy for various conditions. The half teaspoon of baking soda is often taken to relieve heartburn or acid reflux, for example, and this substance is also used for quick teeth whitening.
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Baking soda to treat autoimmune diseases
In a new study, whose findings are now published in The Journal of Immunology, researchers from the Georgia School of Medicine at Augusta University reveal exactly how drinking a baking soda solution could boost the immune system against inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Paul O’Connor, a kidney physiologist at Augusta University, and his colleagues tested the effects that drinking a sodium bicarbonate solution would have, first in animal subjects and then in humans.
His experiments tell a complex story about how this salt provides a signal to a special type of cell called “mesothelial cells,” and tells them that the body is fine and not under attack, making an aggressive immune system unnecessary. Thus, harmful autoimmune responses are avoided.
Sodium bicarbonate and mesothelial cells
Mesothelial cells line the internal organs, as well as many different cavities in the body. Not only do they prevent organs and other internal tissues from sticking together, but they also serve other functions, and not all of them have been studied in detail.
In the new study, O’Connor and his team tested the effect that a sodium bicarbonate solution would have first in rats, and then in healthy human participants, and noted that it influenced an intriguing mechanism.
Bicarbonate neutralizes the threat that the immune system detects
Sodium bicarbonate “prompts” the stomach to produce more gastric acid, allowing it to digest food more quickly and easily. But in addition to this, it also seems to tell the mesothelial cells lining the spleen to “take it easy”, because there is no threat.
Basically, in O’Connor’s words, mesothelial cells learn that “it’s more likely to be a hamburger, not a bacterial infection.” So, in turn, they don’t activate the spleen’s macrophage “army”, or the white blood cells responsible for removing potentially harmful cellular debris.
“Certainly, drinking bicarbonate affects the spleen and we think it’s through the mesothelial cells,” O’Connor explains.
Mesothelial cells communicate with the organs they cover using small projections called microvilli, and the medium through which they send their message is the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
Baking soda to treat kidney disease too?
So, what really happens? The study authors note that those who drank the sodium bicarbonate solution experienced a change in the types of activated immune cells in the spleen. In fact, the pro-inflammatory macrophages (M1) decreased in number, while the levels of anti-inflammatory cells (M2) increased.
The same types of cells also live in the blood and kidneys, and sodium bicarbonate is used in the treatment of chronic kidney disease. This idea led the authors of the new study to explore the mechanisms through which this substance could help improve kidney function.
“We started to think, how does baking soda slow the progression of kidney disease?” O’Connor says.
At first, the researchers analyzed the effects of the sodium bicarbonate solution in a rat kidney disease model, and then again in healthy rats, which acted as the control sample.
This is when the researchers noticed that the levels of M1 cells in the kidneys decreased, while those of the M2 cells increased.
Both the rats with kidney disease and the healthy rats showed the same development. And it was this change that marked the notion that sodium bicarbonate could influence the inflammatory response at the cellular level.
When the researchers recruited healthy medical students and asked them to drink the sodium bicarbonate solution, the anti-inflammatory effect of this substance on the spleen and blood became apparent.
“The change from inflammatory to anti-inflammatory profile is happening everywhere. We saw it in the kidneys, we saw it in the spleen, now we see it in the peripheral blood, ”says O’Connor.
Is bicarbonate safe to treat inflammatory disease?
One of the main revelations of the authors was the fact that it was the mesothelial cells that mediated the anti-inflammatory signals.
An existing working theory had been that the signals were transmitted to the relevant cells via the vagus nerve, a long cranial nerve that communicates with the heart, lungs, and various organs in the abdomen.
But experiments revealed that this idea was wrong. When the scientists tried to cut this nerve, this did not affect the behavior of the mesothelial cells. Instead, it became clear that these cells had more direct communication with the organs they aligned than previously thought.
O’Connor and his team realized this when they noticed that moving the spleen affected the mesothelial cells that lined it, and the signals that modulated the inflammatory response were lost.
“We believe that the cholinergic (acetylcholine) signals that we know mediate this anti-inflammatory response do not come directly from the vagal nerve that innervates the spleen, but from the mesothelial cells that form these connections with the spleen,” O’Connor explains.
The results are beginning to provide an answer as to why baking soda can help with autoimmune diseases, including arthritis, and further research on these mechanisms could help optimize the results obtained through this common compound.
“It’s potentially a really safe way to treat inflammatory disease,” O’Connor concludes.