What does Stomach Acid do in the Body?

Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is secreted by the stomach to help digest and absorb proteins and other nutrients that we consume in our diet or from supplements. HCl also serves to protect us by killing various pathogenic microorganisms (parasites, yeast, bacteria) that might otherwise cause infection in the digestive tract.

Sufficiently digested food is key for giving the body the nutrients it needs to function well, including producing hormones.

Symptoms of Low Hydrochloric Acid Secretion

People with low HCl (hypochlorhydria) or absent HCl (achlorhydria) may have no symptoms at all, or more commonly, may have symptoms of poor digestion such as gas, bloating and excessive fullness after meals (especially meals high in meat and protein).

Testing methods to check your stomach levels:

Method 1: Baking soda test

You can very easily do this test at home.

  • Mix 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in 4-6 ounces of cold or room-temperature water first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything.
  • Drink the baking soda solution.
  • Time how long it takes you to belch.
  • If you do not belch within 3 minutes, stop timing.

If you do not belch, you have too little stomach acid. If you belch, you are fine.

This is not the most effective test and it often produces false negatives (meaning, it makes you think you have sufficient stomach acid). I, therefore, recommend Method 2 below.


Method 2: The Betaine HCl pill test

The idea here is to dose the HCl pills until you feel a slight discomfort in your stomach. When I was low on stomach acid (due to the bacteria h.pylori), I had to take as many as 7 pills to feel the warmth.

  1. On Day One, start with one capsule (usually 500 to 750mg) of Betaine HCl, at the beginning of each meal. Note: This means a full meal, not a snack.
  2. Watch for any feelings of warmth, discomfort, pain or burning in the throat or stomach.
    • If you experience any of these symptoms after just one capsule, do not take any more pills.
    • If these symptoms are NOT present, go to Step 3.
  3. On Day Two, increase your dose by one capsule (this would be two capsules for a total of 1,000 to 1,500 mg for Day Two) of Betaine HCl at the beginning of each full meal.
    • If you feel any of the symptoms mentioned above (warmth, discomfort, pain or burning in your throat or stomach) decrease your dose to the level at which you had no symptoms and maintain this dose.
    • If you do not feel these symptoms go to Step 4.
  4. On Day Three, increase your dose as described in Step 3. Each day increase the dose until you feel a warming sensation or until you reach a dose of seven capsules per meal. Do not take more than eight (8) capsules with a meal. 

The brand I like to use is Betaine HCl w Pepsin from Hormone Balance Nutritionals.


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