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A 35-year-old woman from St. Louis walked into her local hospital in 2013 feeling abnormally dizzy and weak. She was pregnant, but doctors didn’t think the symptoms she showed were connected. Then the woman confessed to an unusual craving she had. Moreover, her appetite for this one household ingredient had put both her life and that of her baby’s at severe risk.

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The woman was admitted to hospital where her condition worsened; she had an irregular heartbeat which grew increasingly rapid. Doctors discovered that she had gravely low levels of potassium, which can impair muscle, nerve and brain function. Indeed, such a deficiency can lead to tiredness, loss of strength, cramping and, in extreme cases, heart issues. The medics, however, were unclear what was causing the woman’s symptoms.

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Doctors diagnosed a condition called peripartum cardiomyopathy, a condition with no known cause that weakens the heart muscle. Although the woman’s cardiac condition could be treated with medication, her unborn baby’s life remained in danger. However, at 37 weeks, doctors felt it was safe to induce labor, and she gave birth to a healthy boy. Then attention turned back to his mom.

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The woman’s exceptionally low levels of potassium made no sense to her doctors. But within a few days she gave an indication as to what lay at the root of her health problems. It came from a pregnancy craving she’d had for a substance she’d consumed for years to prevent hiccups. Her habit, however, could have been deadly.

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It transpired that the new mom’s bad habit was baking soda, which she had been eating by the box load. As Dr. Sarah Bedell explained to website HealthyWay in July 2017, “Eating large amounts of baking soda (which contains sodium bicarbonate) can lead to severe electrolyte disturbances, muscle breakdown and ultimately heart failure or cardiomyopathy.” Happily, once she ditched the substance, the woman’s health returned to normal.