Sodium bicarbonate is not ‘lethal’ to all cancers

10 January 2023
What was claimed

Sodium bicarbonate is a lethal poison to all cancers.

Our verdict

There’s no evidence sodium bicarbonate can be used to cure cancer. Some studies have looked at its use in reducing tumour pH levels, but none have suggested it could be used as a cancer treatment in itself.

A Facebook post claims that sodium bicarbonate (commonly known as baking soda) is a “lethal poison to all cancers”, and can be used to treat cancers and tumours by being baked into cookies.

The post suggests that eating “cancer-killing cookies” made from several spoons of baking soda mixed with molasses after fasting for two days can “[trick] the cancer into absorbing a chemical that poisons it without damaging healthy cells”, and that this can also be used as a preventative treatment.

This is not a scientifically proven treatment for cancer, and should not be used as an alternative to legitimate cancer treatments. There is currently no single proven cure for cancer, although there have been significant advancements in treating cancers, and cancer survival in the UK has more than doubled in the last 40 years.

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No evidence sodium bicarbonate is ‘lethal’ to cancer

There is no evidence that sodium bicarbonate is a “lethal poison” to all cancers, as the Facebook post suggests.

Some studies have looked into whether sodium bicarbonate could be used to alter the pH levels of tumours, which studies have shown thrive in acidic environments. Sodium bicarbonate is alkaline, meaning it reduces acidity.

Cancer Research UK has written about one such study, which suggested that sodium bicarbonate “can affect cancers transplanted into mice or cells grown in the lab, by neutralising the acidity in the microenvironment immediately surrounding a tumour.”

A 2020 scientific review paper also looked into the use of sodium bicarbonate as a form of “buffer therapy” to reduce tumour acidity, but cautioned that “there are insufficient clinical evidences to support that routine anticancer therapy could be replaced with drinking water containing baking soda.”

However, Cancer Research UK says: “As far as we are aware, there have been no published clinical trials of sodium bicarbonate as a treatment for cancer.”

Dr Thomas Drake, clinical research fellow at the University of Edinburgh told Full Fact: “Consuming Sodium Bicarbonate or a diet that is rich in ‘alkaline’ foods is based on the idea you can alter the acidity or alkalinity of your whole body based on what you eat.

“Whilst it is true that in [a] petri dish alkaline conditions kill cancer cells, these conditions also kill normal cells. Both normal and cancer cells cannot grow in acidic or alkaline conditions.

“Consuming large amounts of sodium bicarbonate by mouth is unlikely to have any benefit on cancer treatment or risk and does not taste very nice at all. In fact, consuming large amounts will result in it simply being excreted in urine and could potentially be harmful, particularly for people with kidney problems.”

Dr Suzanne Zaremba, lecturer in nutrition for the School of Medicine, University of Dundee said: “The bottom line is that there is no scientific literature to support consumption of bicarbonate soda or alkaline diets for curing cancer. Individuals living with cancer are extremely vulnerable to ‘cancer cures’ that are not backed up by scientific evidence and therefore not included in clinical treatment guidelines. These fads are potentially very dangerous for health.”

Cancer and sugar

The post also specifies that you should “fast for two days” prior to eating the cookies.

It says: “You will be ravenous at the end of this period. So will the cancer. It will crave sugar and will ingest any sugars you put in your body immediately. It will absorb the molasses (and sodium bicarbonate) frenziedly.”

It’s true that cancer cells need glucose (a simple form of sugar which powers our cells) to grow; however this is also the case for healthy cells.

Cancer Research says: “There’s no way of telling our bodies to let healthy cells have the glucose they need, but not give it to cancer cells.

“There’s no evidence that following a “sugar-free” diet lowers the risk of getting cancer, or boosts the chances of surviving if you are diagnosed.”

So while the cancer cells would gain energy from glucose converted from the molasses, it’s not accurate to say that the molasses itself would act as a “trojan horse” enabling the sodium bicarbonate to be absorbed by the cancer cells.

“Trojan horse” drugs which are able to trick cancer cells have been tested in recent years, but there’s no evidence that cookies containing sodium bicarbonate would have the same effect.

Eating lots of sugar over time has been indirectly linked to an increased cancer risk.

Dr Drake said: “The best way to reduce risk from cancer is through a healthy diet, exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing alcohol consumption and stopping smoking. If this is still something you are worried about or have questions about, it is worth discussing it with your general practitioner, oncologist or a registered dietician.”

We’ve written previously about home remedies falsely advertised as cancer “cures” or treatments, including hydrogen peroxide, cannabis oil and lemons.

Image courtesy of NatureFriend

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