It is already used as a household cleaning product, a remedy for acid indigestion and a relief for bee stings.

But now research has found that a daily dose of sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, can also prevent patients with advanced chronic kidney disease from needing dialysis.

About three million people in the UK suffer from chronic kidney disease. Doctors said the latest study showed that sodium bicarbonate was "very effective" at slowing the decline of kidney function in some patients.

Professor Magdi Yaqoob, professor of Renal Medicine at The Royal London Hospital in London, said: "This study shows baking soda can be useful for people with kidney failure - that is, as long as the dose is regulated and under supervision. What happens is the inflammation of kidney is prevented by baking soda because a chemical reaction takes place limiting ammonia production in the kidney.

"This cheap and simple strategy also improves patients' nutritional well-being and has the potential to improve quality of life and of course a clinical outcome that can remove the need for dialysis."

An estimated 37,800 patients in the UK receive renal replacement therapy, which may involve dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Doctors have long wondered about the potential value of baking soda for kidney disease patients who commonly suffer from low bicarbonate levels, but the pilot study, which is published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, was the first trial of its kind.