Baking soda could help fight cancer by making cells easier to target, a study has found.
Researchers discovered tumours cut off the oxygen supply of cells inside them, which makes them more acidic and causes them to effectively shut down.
This makes it difficult for chemotherapy – which targets actively growing cells – to kill them.
Drinking baking soda, however, could reduce the cells’ acidity, tricking them into bursting into action and making them an easier target for chemotherapy drugs.
US scientists at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research hope their findings could pave the way for a cheap but effective boost for cancer treatment.
‘The concept is so easy,’ says study author Chi Van Dang. ‘It’s not some $100,000 per year drug. It’s literally just baking soda.’
Baking soda, also known as bicarbonate of soda, is widely used in baking but some people use it outside the kitchen as mouthwash or to exfoliate their skin
The study looked at breast and colon cancer tumours in mice, and showed drinking water with baking soda boosted cell activity in tumours where there had been less activity before.
Because the cells are more active when baking soda – also known as bicarbonate of soda – is consumed, in theory they are more susceptible to cancer therapies.
Chemotherapy and immunotherapy may therefore be able to target more of the tumour, including dormant cells which cause the disease to come back.
How baking soda weakens tumours
The ability of baking soda to neutralise acids is key to the success of Dr Van Dang’s research.
In solid tumours large numbers of cells have their oxygen supplies cut off – a condition called hypoxia – which causes their pH level to drop and they become acidic.
When this happens the cells stop working properly – they stop producing proteins and their metabolism and body clock is disrupted, so they become inactive, or dormant.
‘Cells don’t want to make proteins or other biomolecules when they’re under stress,’ says Dang. ‘They want to slow things down and only awaken when things return to normal.’
If these dormant cells are cancerous and are not reached by treatment, they may reactivate after the original tumour is removed and make the cancer grow again.
However, baking soda is good at neutralising acid so drinking it could reduce the acidity of a tumour and bring the dormant cells back to life, the study suggests.
Therapy could target hard-to-beat cancer cells
The findings – published today in the science journal Cell – are important because dormant cells cannot typically be killed by chemotherapy.
The team also found that activation of T cells – a type of white blood cell – which is essential to most immunotherapies, is also reduced by acidity.
Dr Van Dang, scientific director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research said: ‘In tumors grafted into mice, we see [cell] activity in spotty places where there’s oxygen.
‘But if you add baking soda to the drinking water given to those mice, the entire tumor lights up with activity.
BAKING SODA’S MANY USES
The kitchen staple can be used for:
- Freshening breath – mix one tsp in a glass of water for a mouthwash replacement
- Exfoliating skin – mix one part baking soda to three parts water and rub in circular motions
- Cleaning carpets – sprinkle on floors overnight and vacuum the following day
- Getting whiter clothes – add one small cup to a wash along with standard detergent
- Removing stubborn stains from pans – shake a generous amount into pans, before adding hot water and washing up liquid. Leave to sit for 15 minutes
- Keeping bins and litter trays fresh – sprinkle onto smelly surfaces
- Easing heartburn – add half a teaspoon to 50ml of water for a natural antacid
‘The prediction would be that by reawakening these cells, you could make the tumor far more sensitive to therapy.’
Baking soda has previously been reported to enhance cancer immunotherapy – in which the body’s own immune system attacks the tumour.
One of the co-authors of the new study, Robert Gillies of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, was involved in that research, but the mechanism behind the effect was unclear.
Baking soda may also help with arthritis
Baking soda is claimed to have other medicinal benefits such as relief for arthritis, avoiding births by Caesarean section, keeping organs healthy, freshening breath, and exfoliating skin.
Research published earlier this year claimed baking soda could help arthritis sufferers by reducing inflammation.
After two weeks of drinking water with baking soda, people produced fewer immune cells that drive inflammation and more that dampen it down, according to research by the Medical College of Georgia.
Study author Dr Paul O’Connor said: ‘The shift from inflammatory to anti-inflammatory is happening everywhere. We saw it in the kidneys, we saw it in the spleen, we see it in the blood.
‘[Drinking baking soda] is potentially a really safe way to treat inflammatory disease.’