No doubt about it: baking soda is some pretty versatile stuff. It can be used as an extinguisher for small fires or as a leavening agent for bread. It can neutralize both acids and bases and is very handy when you’re wracked by vicious heartburn. It can slow the progress of late stage chronic kidney disease. You can use baking soda to treat aspirin overdoses or to relieve some of the discomfort from insect bites and stings. It increases the whitening and plaque removal power of toothpaste. You can use it in your homemade deodorants and shampoos, you hippie. Use baking soda to help remove tarnish from your silverware, then spray it on your plants to control that troublesome fungus. And when you’re done, don’t forget to put it back into your refrigerator, because it really reeks in there. Seriously…what died?
You might be saying to yourself: Wow, baking soda is really amazing! Is there anything it can’t do?
As a matter of fact, there is one thing. Baking soda absolutely cannot cure cancer. Not even a little bit.
This horrible bit of wrongness comes from one former Dr. Tullio Simoncini (and others, perhaps). His claim is that many – if not all – forms of cancer are caused by various yeast infections. Whereas yeast is a fungus, and whereas baking soda kills yeast, ergo baking soda cures cancer, or so says the good doctor. Q.E.D., right? Well, not so fast.
First of all, the American Cancer Society says that there’s no evidence at all to suggest that any type of cancer is caused by a yeast infection. If you were hoping to persuade your insurance company to pay for a lifetime supply of Arm & Hammer, I’m afraid your case is without merit. There’s really nothing else to say about it. Baking soda does not cure cancer. Period.
The complete lack of accuracy in this meme makes it a prime candidate for snarky dissection, but there’s more. Let’s ask ourselves a question: why would somebody want to pass this meme along? What motivates the sharer?
I think the most insidious part of this meme is what it doesn’t say. By advocating the use of cheap, easily-obtainable baking soda for cancer treatment, the memer implies that the mainstream medical community’s expensive cancer treatments are unnecessary – possibly even ineffective. The baking soda cancer cure myth plays nicely into the worldview of people who distrust Big Pharma (i.e. the people who make a habit of using the words Big Pharma). You probably know somebody in this camp: their core belief is that all diseases are ultimately treatable by the simplest, most innocuous home-brewed concoctions, and that the medical industry is pervaded by greedy capitalists seeking to line their own pockets by pushing artificially expensive drugs down the throat of the helpless populace. No amount of logic can persuade them otherwise. If you show them the numerous studies that soundly debunk their beliefs about alternative remedies, they are almost contractually bound to argue that the studies themselves were bought and paid for by the evil masterminds trying to sell you the blue pill.
Here’s what troubles me the most: some people do buy into this crap, especially when they are sick and desperate. If a person wants to swallow a spoonful of baking soda between chemo treatments, I suppose it won’t do him much harm. But what about the person who decides to try baking soda instead of chemo? What about the person who is so sold on the idea of Evil Big Pharma that he’s willing to bet his life on it?
There’s an excellent but troubling website called What’s the Harm? The site addresses the far-too-numerous cases of people who were harmed or killed because they failed to think critically. People who create and pass along memes like this one fall squarely into this category: they may not have been hurt yet, but their mentality makes them dangerous. Ironically, in their desire to perform some kind of public service, they have actually done a disservice. They need to be convinced of their mistake – and I’ll admit I have no idea how to do that – before an annoyingly inaccurate idea leads to somebody’s unnecessary demise.