Sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda, is used as a medication to neutralize stomach acid in ulcer patients and as a home remedy for stomach distress. Now researchers in Greece have shown that it may neutralize the acid in muscles during intense exercise and helps athletes to exercise longer (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, October 2006).

If you run or cycle as hard as you can, you start to breathe hard, and suddenly your leg muscles start to burn because your muscles have become acidic. It’s the burning in your muscles that forces you to slow down. Muscles get the energy to move your body from the food that you eat. Carbohydrates are broken down step by step in a chain of reactions to release energy for your muscles. Each step requires oxygen. If you have enough oxygen, the carbohydrates are eventually broken down to carbon dioxide and water that you can blow off from your lungs. However, if you can’t get all the oxygen that you need, the series of reactions stops and lactic acid accumulates in your muscles and spills over into your bloodstream. The acidity in muscles caused by the accumulation of lactic acid is what makes your muscles burn.

When acid is exposed to an alkaline or base, it combines with it to neutralize the acid and form water. What would happen when an athlete takes the base, sodium bicarbonate, before he competes? He would be able to exercise longer if the bicarbonate got into the muscle and neutralized the burning caused by the acid. The authors of this study showed that higher doses of sodium bicarbonate were more effective in preventing burning. This exercise aid is still experimental, so we will have to wait for further research to see if it really works.


Reports from

Chronic stuffy nose
How to lower triglycerides
Bad breath


Dear Dr. Mirkin: Why would calorie restriction prolong life? Many studies have shown that animals on calorie restricted diets live longer, have less diabetes, heart attacks and cancers and appear younger. In the latest work at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, monkeys eating only 30 percent of their normal caloric intake live much longer and appear much younger than those eating their full diets (American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, August 2006).

Nobody really knows how calorie restriction with adequate nutrients prolongs life and prevents disease, or whether the animal studies can be applied to humans. The leading theory for calorie restriction with adequate nutrition is that it teaches your mitochondria to burn food to produce much lower amounts of oxidants. Mitochondria are the furnaces in cells that turn food into energy. Converting food to energy produces free electrons that form reactive chemicals called oxidants that can bind to and damage DNA and shorten life. Exercise also reduces the amount of oxidants and so should prolong life. Another theory is that excess calories cause fat cells to fill up with fat. Full fat cells produce cytokines that turn on your immunity to cause inflammation that damages all the cells in your body, which would shorten life and cause disease. Anything that prevents excess fat storage should reduce inflammation and thus prolong life. Exercise burns calories, and food restriction lowers calorie intake in humans as well as animals.


Dear Dr. Mirkin: Is it harmful to work out after donating blood?

A healthy athlete should be able to recover completely from donating blood in eight weeks, but he may lose some of his ability to train for a few days. Following a donation of one pint, blood volume is reduced by about ten percent and returns to normal in 48 hours. For two days after donating, you should drink lots of fluids and probably exercise at a reduced intensity or not at all. Donating blood markedly reduces competitive performance for three to four weeks as it takes that long for blood hemoglobin levels to return to normal.

You should not donate blood more often than every eight weeks because it takes that long to replace lost nutrients. If you donate blood frequently, you need to make sure to replace the B vitamins and possibly the iron that you lose with the blood. You can meet your needs for iron by eating meat, fish or chicken or by taking iron supplements; and you can meet your needs for the B vitamins with whole grains and diary products. Donating blood at least four times a year may help to prevent heart attacks by lowering blood cholesterol levels significantly and reducing iron levels. Iron in the bloodstream converts LDL cholesterol to oxidized LDL which forms plaques in arteries.


Recipe of the Week

Baked Fish with Portobello Mushrooms

You’ll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book – it’s FREE