Sodium bicarbonate is the chemical name for baking soda. Commonly used in cooking, cleaning and deodorizing, sodium bicarbonate can be safely used for a variety of applications. It is an ingredient in antacids, pharmaceuticals, as well as baked goods and other foods.
Chemically speaking, sodium bicarbonate is very mildly basic or alkaline (most soaps are more strongly basic). It is a "chemical buffer," which means it tends to neutralize strong acids (including citric acid and stomach acid). Like table salt, it is a source of sodium.
Safety in Food and Drugs
All chemicals (including water, salt and other "safe" household items) can be hazardous if consumed in very large amounts. With that in mind, sodium bicarbonate is actually produced by the human body and is relatively nontoxic when consumed in small amounts. Because of its neutralizing properties, consumption of larger amounts can interfere with digestion. Symptoms of baking soda overdose include thirst and abdominal pain. The LD50 of sodium bicarbonate in mice (an official measure of toxicity that corresponds to the amount of a substance that is lethal to 50 percent of the mice that ingest it) is about 3.3g per kg of body weight.
Safety as a Performance Enhancer
Some sports trainers have advocated the consumption of large amounts of sodium bicarbonate (200 to 300mg/kg of body weight) as a performance enhancer in sprint-style events. The rationale behind this recommendation is that the neutralizing properties of sodium bicarbonate help reduce lactic acid buildup in the muscles during anaerobic exercise. Sodium bicarbonate has been used as a medical treatment in other forms of acid buildup in the body. However, studies have produced conflicting results as to its effectiveness in enhancing performance, and consumption of such large amounts puts the athlete at risk for stomach upset and other digestive problems, as well as hypernatremia (sodium overdose).
Safety in Household Use
Prolonged immersion in baking soda solutions can be irritating to the skin and cause cracking and drying. Likewise, contact with the eyes can be painful. In either case, flushing the affected area with cold water and avoiding further exposure usually corrects the problem.
Sodium bicarbonate releases carbon dioxide and heat when it comes into contact with a strong acid. Acids often found in the home include citric acid (in some fruits and fruit juice) and muriatic acid (concrete cleaner). Avoid mixing sodium bicarbonate with acids to reduce the risk of burns and difficulty breathing.
When applied to a hot surface (such as a hot stove top) sodium bicarbonate can burn, releasing irritating, foul-smelling smoke. Use on cool surfaces.
Sodium bicarbonate is biodegradable and can be safely disposed of in household trash and rinsed down drains. It is often used in these locations to reduce odor.
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