How to Test Your Stomach Acid Level

Polly: Many of us have found that adding an hydrochloric acid supplement is helpful. If you need it, it is very important because higher acid levels not only are important for digestion, but they help keep the yeast and bacteria levels down. Also, there is something called the digestive cascade — stomach acid triggers the pancreas to release its enzymes and bicarbonates, and it also triggers the release of bile. Without the trigger of enough stomach acid, the whole digestive system suffers.

Jane: What is the test for low stomach acid? I suspect this may be one of my problems and want to check it out.

Polly: One of my doctors suggested that I just try a little hydrochloric acid (HCL) and see if it made me feel better after a meal. If you have stomach ulcers, I assume this isn’t a good idea. Also, you should be careful if you are taking medications that might increase your chances of getting a peptic ulcer. Eg, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or cortisone-like drugs. If you try HCL tablets, don’t chew the tablets because they may harm your tooth enamel.

At Dr. Mercola’s site, he describes a simple test to determine if you need stomach acid. Feel for a tender spot on your rib near the stomach area. The spot is about one inch across from your midline. If tender, there is a good chance you need extra acid. This is his article:…otocol.htm

There is a good overview on tests for stomach acid in Ralph Golan’s book, Optimal Wellness. Also, this article may be helpful,…ID=2808009

Mary Kay: Dr. John Trowbridge checked me for low stomach acid back in 1983 (there may be a more up-to-date test now). He did what is known as the Heidelberg test. I swallowed an electronic capsule that could communicate with the receptor outside of me. It relayed the pH of my stomach.

Marilyn in Seattle: My naturopathic doctor said they could no longer get these capsules and now a challenge test is what they rely on to determine stomach acid requirements.

(Note, with the challenge test, a person ingests one hydrochloric acid tablet, and if they don’t feel any warmth or a peppery feeling in their chest and/or their throat after a few minutes, they add another tablet. They continue adding hydrochloric acid (HCL) tablets in this manner until some warmth is felt. If too much is taken, some baking soda or milk can be used to neutralize the acid.)

Linda in Virginia: I tried the challenge test last night using Twin Lab Betaine HCL, which contains ten grains per capsule. It took ten capsules (100 grains) before I felt anything. No wonder I am having problems. I have been taking hydrochloric acid (HCL), but not near enough. I have been fearful of taking too much and burning a hole in my stomach or something. This means I will have to take 9 capsules per meal. I’m still shaking my head

Polly: Typical doses are 10 to 30 grains, which is only one to three pills of the product you tried. If you are up to 100 grains, you better check with your doctor. [4] (Sometimes measurements are given in grains and sometimes they are in grams. 10 grains are approximately 650 gm.)

Linda in Virginia: Hi Polly, thanks so much for your reply. My doctor said that they are finding the average dose for people with rosacea is about 70 grains. After writing about taking 100 grains, my next meal only required 60 grains. This seems to be a meal by meal process. I also notice that I seem to need less as I go along. It’s as if it builds up in my system? Does this make any sense? Has anyone else noticed this when taking Betaine HCL? Thanks.

MM: I did the test that you had outlined, and never reach a SAFE HCL supplemental level when I felt the supposed “burn.” So I did supplement at about 5 or so tablets at meals. This did NOTHING to help my symptoms. Then, I had my stomach acid levels tested in my doc’s office, and my own stomach acid levels were GOOD — indicating that I needed NO supplementation. My conclusion is that the “take tablets until you feel the burn” test is NOT valid. Rather than creating a NEW problem for yourself by supplementing IF you don’t need it, I’d suggest having your doctor do a stomach acid test for you! Just my $.02.

Linda in Virginia: MM, it is interesting you had no reaction from the HCL. I am glad you mentioned this. It is important for everyone to know. I do have a lot of symptoms associated with low stomach acid, but it couldn’t hurt to have the test. More to think about. Thanks.

Polly: Another person told me that she didn’t “feel the burn” from the stomach acid until after a NAET session to clear her reaction to stomach acid. Indeed, there is much to learn, and there is good reason to always be cautious.

Marilyn found an article at that describes a safer test for stomach acid. Remember those old science classes where you mixed vinegar and baking soda and watched it bubble? When baking soda comes in contact with vinegar or any acid, then carbon dioxide gas is released. If you ingest baking soda on an empty stomach, and the baking soda comes in contact with sufficient stomach acid, you may burp up the gas. Dr. Joseph A. Debé suggests putting a quarter teaspoon of baking soda in 8 ounces of water and then drinking it first thing in the morning, before eating anything. Then check how long it takes before you belch. If it is longer than 2 or 3 minutes before you produce a belch, then perhaps you are not producing enough stomach acid. A lot of immediate repeated belching might indicate excess stomach acid.

Once the food leaves the stomach, the pancreas dumps bicarbonates and pancreatic enzymes into the first part of the small intestine. The bicarbonates are necessary in order to neutralize the acid mixture. Otherwise, the pancreatic enzymes won’t work in such a high acidic environment. The stomach dumps its contents usually about an hour and a half after eating. One could try using some bicarbonates at this time to support the role of the pancreas.

Kippy: Is hydrochloric acid available under the name “hydrochloric acid” or under a different name?

Polly: Usually it is found as betaine HCL. Supposedly you can also find glutamic HCL, but I haven’t seen it. One of my doctors told me to get a homeopathic remedy for stomach acid. I was to get the 4x or 6x type, but avoid the 9x. There is a school of thought that suggests the stronger 9x homeopathic remedy may actually work to suppress stomach acid.

Carol: Stomach acid is a paradoxical substance: too little can actually make you think you have too much. Many people think they have acid reflux or GERD, and they take Prilosec or other antacids to reduce the amount of stomach acid. In actuality, they may not have enough acid in their stomach to trigger the opening of a valve at its base. When food begins to fill the stomach, acid is released to assist with digestion. When enough acid is detected, the valve opens, releasing the food into the small intestine. If there isn’t enough acid, the valve doesn’t open. The food, mixed with what little acid is present, is forced back up the esophagus, creating a burning sensation. Paradoxically, the answer to the burning sensation is more acid, not less. Antacids can create a vicious cycle in these cases.

As with so many things, the dose of Betaine HCL is very individualized. If you take too little, you will have that paradoxical burning sensation from the food/acid mixture coming back up the esophagus, because there is not enough acid to trigger the release of food into the small intestine. If you take more, but still not quite enough, the food/acid mixture will still come back up the esophagus. However, now it will burn even worse because it has more acid in it — just not enough to open the valve at the bottom of the stomach. If you take too much, you will experience “dumping”, as Dr. Cheney calls it, usually diarrhea or a general “yucky” feeling.

Polly: GERD is due to the wrong movement of the stomach. Either the stomach does not empty when it should or the stomach pushes acid back up the esophagus. More acid might help the stomach empty when it should, but if the esophagus is injured, then what do you do? Adding stomach acid before the sore has time to heal may pose an immediate problem. Perhaps a good gastroenterologist can help you. Smaller meals may help your body deal with the GERD. Fat slows the emptying of the stomach, and so less fat in the diet might help. Saliva from chewing your food well will help protect the esophagus.

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