Antibiotic Resistance and Bicarbonate

With antibiotic resistance on the rise, scientists are looking everywhere for better treatment approaches, even inside a box of baking soda—otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate. Bicarbonate ions, like the ones in this kitchen staple, act as a ubiquitous buffer in the human body. In a new study, scientists have figured out that bicarbonate diminishes the pH gradient across bacterial membranes, which can help usher some antibiotics in and keep some out.[1]

Eric D. Brown of McMaster University found that bicarbonate increased bacteria-killing for some drug classes. The activity of many antibiotics is influenced by proton motive force, the product of cellular respiration that generates the energy molecule ATP. The large shifts in activity they observed were strong clues that bicarbonate was impacting this aspect of bacterial physiology.

Of course we know, or should know that many viruses are pH sensitive to bicarbonates. Fusion of viral and cellular membranes is pH dependent. “The plasma membrane of eukaryotic cells serves as a barrier against invading parasites and viruses.

[1] ACS Infect. Dis. 2017, DOI: 10.1021/acsinfecdis.7b00194