Who isn’t acquainted with “Baking Soda” – those tiny, white crystals used to make cakes fluffy? It has now also made its way as an effective dead-skin exfoliator (when used sparingly), a teeth whitening agent as well as a DIY solution for “unclogging” toilet pipes. For some years now, many articles have surfaced in the open-access media about how drinking Baking Soda (NOT Baking Powder) can help “flush your healthy kidneys of toxins” and promote kidney health.
Anything Kidney naturally catches the attention of Team ATK and sets our neurons in action. So, we decided to investigate if these claims hold any water from the clinical standpoint. But first things first.
WHAT MAKES BAKING SODA, A HIT WITH KIDNEY DETOX ADVOCATES?
Baking soda is basically, a chemical compound called Sodium Bicarbonate – the same stuff that’s found in your average Soda or any “fizzy” soft-drink. You will easily find these tiny, white crystals with any local grocery or supermarket.
If you rub a pinch of Baking Soda on the back of your palm, you’ll be able to feel the rough, abrasive texture of it. This is the exact characteristic that grants Baking Soda, its ability to remove grime off surfaces to make them squeaky clean. This is also why the beauty industry finds it an effective dead-skin exfoliator & teeth-whitening agent. Now, the detox industry derives its motivation from the need to “cleanse” our blood. The false perception that Kidneys get “unclean” because they produce waste-loaded Urine has perhaps greatly contributed to the idea of using Baking soda to “flush” kidneys. (Kidney Detox)
CAN BAKING SODA REALLY “CLEANSE” YOUR HEALTHY KIDNEYS?
Using Baking Soda as a “Kidney Cleanse” is quite a rage for a few years now, isn’t it? But how useful is it? Let’s investigate. In this age of increased awareness on leading healthier lives, the emphasis on taking care of the overall metabolism of our body certainly qualifies as sensible advice. Simply put, “Metabolism” refers to the process by which cells absorb & process various nutrients from food to garner the necessary abilities to “run” our body. But as an “exhaust” of metabolism, cells also “give-off” various waste products into the bloodstream. These wastes are toxic to our cells if they are permitted to circulate in our blood for long. Hence, it is imperative to constantly remove the excess toxic waste products of metabolism from our body.
This “perceived need for cleansing of blood wastes” is precisely what the idea of “Detox Drinks” is born out of.
However, what popular media coverage in this regard stops short of highlighting is the simple fact that Mother Nature has gifted us with our very own “In-house Detox Organ Systems”. And these are none other than our uber-efficient Liver, Kidneys, Gut & Lungs. The liver turns toxic wastes into a less damaging form and transfers these via blood to the Kidneys and the Gut. These, in turn, remove the blood wastes through Urine & Faeces (stool) respectively. Lungs obviously allow us to breathe-out excess Carbon Dioxide from our blood. Keeping these organs healthy is all the Detoxification you need! This is a vast subject area in Human Medicine. But this portal being all about Kidneys, let’s get back to discussing why the concept of using Baking Soda to “flush” reasonably healthy Kidneys doesn’t “hold water” (pun intended!).
KIDNEYS ARE NOT TOILET PIPES!
Kidneys comprise of beautifully delicate and complex tube-like filtration units called Nephrons. These are made of living, breathing & actively metabolizing cells lined neatly in sophisticated patterns.
Take a look at the images below showing a tiny section of the tubes & filtration zone in a nephron (kidney filtration unit) to see for yourself.
Just like all other cells in the body, the metabolic waste produced by cells within the kidneys is given-off into the general bloodstream. From here, the detox machinery gladly jumps into action. Once processed by the liver, the tiny waste particles get distributed to the “outlet organs” (kidney, gut & lungs) based on the nature of the wastes.
There is NO way that this level of sophistication could compare with the “non-living” porcelain or PVC surfaces of toilet pipes where “Baking Soda” effectively “scrapes-off” any surface grime or “unclogs” the pipes, right? Since kidneys produce urine that finds its way out of the body via these delicate tube systems in the Nephrons, “toilet pipes” were a mere analogy to help everyone grasp this concept. Hence, the question of “flushing” kidneys with an abrasive agent such as Baking Soda simply does not arise.
REGULARLY DRINKING BAKING SODA FOR “KIDNEY DETOX” IS HARMFUL!
Baking Soda or Sodium Bicarbonate is an alkaline substance. In other words, it kills the acidity of any solution including blood and makes it increasingly alkaline.
Why should you care? Well, that’s because each component of our human body functions within an extremely narrow pH range. (pH is the measure of acidity or alkalinity of a solution). To make matters complicated, each organ can have separate acidity or alkalinity requirements for their cells to function optimally. And it is one of the jobs of Healthy Kidneys to regulate these separate pH range requirements of blood simultaneously. Talk about multi-tasking!
These organ-specific variations in pH requirement are minuscule by the usual day-to-day mathematics we use. However, even a minor deviation from the expected pH range is enough to trigger organ malfunction.
Baking soda drinks don’t help healthy kidneys in any way. In fact, taking it regularly in “enthusiastic” quantities (heaped spoonfuls) can interfere with the normal pH-regulating workflow of kidneys.
It will tend to make our blood more alkaline than desired, which can potentially grow into a dangerous condition called “Metabolic Alkalosis” if unchecked. Metabolic Alkalosis adversely affects our muscles, nerves, heart & brain.
To prevent the consequence above, kidneys need to work overtime fighting-off the needless alkalinity to restore normal pH range.
Just like excessive alkalinity, a high acidity of the blood is harmful too. This is again something that overburdens kidneys with restoring a normal pH range. Many foods that we eat on a daily basis tend to make our blood go acidic. So, many Kidney Detox Advocates who recommend Baking Soda drinks justify its use due to the “acidity curbing” aspect of Baking Soda.
While this appears to make sense & works well in petri-dish experiments in the lab as well, the human body is a tad more complex than that. It is more like a colony of myriad cell populations with respective metabolic requirements. It is also a place where multiple factors such as body temperature, blood pH, the general biochemical composition of the blood etc. work all at a time with mind-boggling co-ordination. Guess who is in charge of all this? Kidneys! duh!
Regular consumption of Baking Soda solutions randomly changes a single parameter, namely blood pH. This only confuses and over-burdens the delicate but uber-efficient pH-regulation system by our Kidneys.
Don’t worry now, it’s completely safe to eat that cake you may be eyeing! Your kidneys are efficient enough to handle that tiny bit of Baking Soda. But regularly going overboard with baking soda for the so-called detox as well as gulping down from shelf-loads of Soda cans regularly do raise valid concerns.
DOES ANY VIABLE “DETOX PLAN” EVEN EXIST?
And there is nothing too fancy about it. Keeping our “In-house Detox Machinery” namely our Liver, Kidneys, Gut and Lungs healthy is the only approach to ensuring our body remains free of toxins. Gradually incorporating the following in your lifestyle will be a great start:
Drink adequate plain (NOT sparkling) water throughout the day. Usually 2-2.5 Litres per day suffices across most geographies.
Limit intake of processed, preserved food. There is no beating that yummy aroma of freshly cooked food. Our cells love it too!
Limit or even better, abstain from Alcohol. It is a major dehydrator. In short, it sucks water out of cells especially in the stomach & liver, shrinks them and triggers stomach ulcers & liver disease.
Steer clear of tobacco (smoking or chewing), nicotine products and narcotics (drugs). These things kill. And they do so painfully. Enough said.
Get adequate exercise (usually 30 minutes for 3-4 days a week provided you have a healthy heart) to:
Keep your breathing healthy &
Achieve a healthy weight target for your height, age & gender.
Try to catch-up on at least 6-7 hours of sleep every night. Sleep is a natural process for repair of daily wear & tear in our body, hence the emphasis. Goes without saying that depending on sleeping pills is a BIG NO.
So, you now understand how kidneys in good health don’t really need baking soda drinks to “cleanse” themselves. You also understand the valid health risks associated with consuming Baking Soda regularly in over-enthusiastic “detox-grade” quantities. But all said and done, the chief chemical component in Baking Soda, i.e. Sodium Bicarbonate serves as an indispensable part of treating late-stage Chronic Kidney Disease. If you have CKD or know someone who does, it is natural for you to wonder why CKD patients are put on Sodium Bicarbonate tablets after all, despite the health risks highlighted above.
That’s a valid question that Team ATK has covered that aspect in the next article in the series. Keep a tab of this space to learn about that crucial aspect of CKD treatment. Till then, make it a point to cultivate a habit of obtaining full information about any health hack being marketed in domains not regulated by the FDA or your local competent regulatory body. You know how they say, that if you find something that’s too good to be true, it probably is! When it comes to your health, stay cynical! Never stop asking relevant questions and choose to stay empowered!
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