by Dr. David A. Jernigan

Low stomach acid can cause a host of issues in the body and is a major contributor to chronic unwellness. Many health problems we see at the Hansa Center are directly caused or at least aggravated by poor digestion, setting up food sensitivities, toxic food, metabolites, leaky bowel syndrome, and malabsorption of nutrients.

For many people, poor digestion starts with poor dietary choices, and not chewing each bite well. However, in many people poor digestion is from antibiotics and other types of medicine that damage the stomach’s ability to produce enough Hydrochloric Acid (HCL).

When stomach acid is depleted it only takes half the number of pathogenic bacteria to cause disease. This was proven in research using Cholera bacteria. In other words, if the test subjects’ stomach acid levels were normal, it required twice as many Cholera bacteria to be swallowed before the person would develop the disease from Cholera!

At-Home Test for Low Stomach Acid

Testing your HCl levels is easy. The following is an excerpt from Dr. Joseph Debe and I couldn’t say it better.

“For this test you will need some baking soda. The purpose of this test is to give us a rough indication as to whether your stomach is producing adequate amounts of hydrochloric acid.

Hydrochloric acid is important for digestion and absorption of many nutrients. When hydrochloric acid is lacking, (a condition termed hypochlorhydria) malnutrition results. At the same time, one can develop multiple food sensitivities as abnormally large, inadequately digested food particles are absorbed, triggering an immune response. Also, because hydrochloric acid kills many bacteria, yeasts, and parasites, its insufficiency is associated with greater incidence of dysbiosis. (gastrointestinal infection) Hypochlorhydria is linked to not only gastrointestinal symptoms (including belching, gas, indigestion, poor appetite, prolonged fullness after meals, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea), but also to autoimmune diseases and degenerative diseases of all kinds. It is a major contributor to chronic unwellness that is under-appreciated. Although hypochlohydria can occur at any age, older individuals are especially effected. Some estimates suggest half of individuals over age 65 have inadequate stomach acid.

To perform this test: mix one quarter teaspoon of baking soda in eight ounces of cold water, first thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything except water. Drink the baking soda solution. Time how long it takes to belch. Time up to five minutes. If you have not belched within five minutes stop timing anyway.

If your stomach is producing adequate amounts of hydrochloric acid you should probably belch within two to three minutes. Early and repeated belching may be due to excessive stomach acid. Belching results from the acid and baking soda reacting to form carbon dioxide gas. The Heidelberg or Gastrocap tests can be employed for confirmation of the results of this test.

I also look for signs and symptoms of low stomach acid. There are many laboratory test indicators of this condition. Some of these include deficiencies of amino acids, minerals, B vitamins, and, on digestive analysis, elevated levels of putrefactive short chain fatty acids in the stool.

I like to have patients do a therapeutic trial with supplemental betaine HCL. (hydrochloric acid) If you take Betaine HCL after a meal and feel nothing, your stomach is probably not producing enough hydrochloric acid. A normal response to taking betaine HCL is a feeling of warmth in the stomach.

For an individual whose hydrochloric acid levels are lacking, I have them gradually work up to supplementing as many as 5 Betaine HCL capsules after meals. Although this may sound like a lot, in response to a very big meal, a healthy stomach produces the equivalent of at least 14 betaine HCL capsules. For optimal results, the protein digesting enzyme, pepsin, should be part of the betaine HCL formulation. This is derived from animal sources and so is not appropriate for everyone. I recommend working with a qualified healthcare practitioner when it comes to betaine HCL.”

Correcting Low Stomach Acid

The following is another excerpt from Dr. Debé concerning possible dietary supplements that may help correct the problem.

“Hypochlorhydria is the very common condition of inadequate production of hydrochloric acid by the parietal cells in the stomach. It is estimated that hypochlorhydria effects half of all people over age sixty-five. However, it can be present at any age.

Hydrochloric acid (HCL) is necessary for proper digestion and nutrient absorption. It also kills many organisms and helps to keep the stomach sterile. Hypochlorhydria can produce: belching, bloating, fullness for extended time after eating, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, hair loss, weak finger nails…virtually any symptom. Autoimmune and degenerative diseases are caused in part by hypochlorhydria.

Hypochlorhydria, or the more severe achlorhydria (complete lack of hydrochloric acid), can result from several causes. One cause is use of acid blocking medications. These are often used for digestive symptoms that are actually due to lack of HCL!

Nutrient deficiencies can contribute to impaired HCL production. Histidine (an amino acid), zinc, and vitamin B1 are all needed for HCL production. If any of these are lacking in the diet or not absorbed properly, this can result in hypochlorhydria. Interestingly, the absorption of histidine and zinc are dependent upon the presence of adequate levels of HCL!

Stress can also impair HCL production. Various stress reduction techniques can be helpful.

Alcohol consumption can damage the HCL producing cells in the stomach. So can consumption of food allergens. Avoidance is important.

Infection with the bacteria helicobacter pylori can also impair HCL production. This organism appears to be spread, at least in some instances, by flies. People with type O blood are more susceptible to infection with helicobacter pylori, as are those with a weakened immune system. Again, stress plays a role here. Medication or herbs can be used to eradicate this bacterium.

Supplementing with glutamine, deglycyrrhizinated licorice, duodenum concentrate, and vitamins A and B5 can help repair the acid secreting cells.

Until the body can begin secreting adequate levels of HCL on it’s own, supplemental HCL should be used (some cases of hypochlorhydria are irreversible). Only use supplemental HCL under the supervision of a healthcare professional.”